Ostrava researchers develop “home care” flats to help disabled, elderly live independently

Home care flat

The Technical University of Ostrava has developed a “smart flat” to help the elderly age in place and make life easier for handicapped people. Researchers are now testing out the system with the help of volunteers who will live in outfitted model flats – under constant surveillance.

At first glance, the laboratory apartment is no different than any other modern flat. But attached to every kitchen cabinet drawer, every appliance, door and scores of other places are sensors sending data back to the researchers.

Its current occupant is a volunteer student “lab rat” named David Očka, who has agreed to stay in the flat for at least a month – alone.

“It really is a strange feeling to know that you are being monitored constantly – every step you take, every cabinet or door you open, when you open the refrigerator...

“Everyone who has access to the data knows what action you took and when. That feeling of knowing you are being monitored and at the same time being all alone is sometimes a bit oppressive.

“But from a professional perspective, when you look at the data and can see that there really isn’t anyone else in the building, that everything’s fine – that, on the other hand, has a calming effect.”

Photo: Technical University Ostrava

Apart from all modern conveniences (“all mod cons”), the home care flats are outfitted with electronic drug dispensers, timers, visually controlled eyeglasses and a host of other automated gadgets, says Dr Martin Černý of the university’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Informatics.

“There really are a quite lot of technologies installed and placed throughout the apartment – from the fields of telemedicine, assisted living and in use in facilities for people with various disabilities.

Student volunteer David Očka will be leaving the laboratory apartment at the close of the week, and Technical University of Ostrava researchers are already tweaking the system based on data his actions generated.

Dr Černý says they are now looking for a senior citizen who will volunteer to live in the home care flat, to get a better picture of how the system serves the needs of intended beneficiaries. It could also influence the design of user interfaces for people with disabilities.

“The [senior volunteer] won’t be living here permanently. We expect we will need a month, or six weeks at most, so we can study as much data as possible, evaluate what technology they find helpful in real life.”

The home care flat is likely to be the first of many “assisted living” innovations coming from the Technical University of Ostrava, which recently opened a new Biomedical Assistive Technology branch of study, focused exclusively on practical applications of technology in the medical and health care sectors.

Authors: Brian Kenety , Klára Křižáková
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