World’s first ‘open assisted living lab’ seeks solutions to care sector’s COVID-19 crisis

Additional care providers, industry and end users sought for collaboration 

Scientists from Heriot-Watt University are launching what is believed to be the world’s first open and remote access living lab to research and create solutions for Ambient Assisted Living (OpenAAL).

The multi-disciplinary lab will target the fast co-creation of scalable and affordable solutions to support the care of vulnerable people whose urgent need has been exemplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project is funded by EPSRC under the Impact Acceleration Accounts scheme and has already gained support from NHS Lothian, The Digital Health and Care Institute (DHI), Blackwood Home and Care Group, Consequential Robotics, Alcuris Ltd, Cyberselves and The Data Lab – Scotland’s innovation centre for data and AI.

Additional collaborators from the care sector are now urged to join the project. The Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland (CCPS) will play a key role in connecting the project to members in its supporting organisations, including over 80 of the most significant care and support providers in Scotland’s third sector.

Part of the National Robotarium, based at Heriot-Watt University, the OpenAAL lab will use digital twin, Internet of Things (IoT) and Cloud technologies to provide a platform where researchers, industry and care providers, alongside end users of assisted living services, can co-create technology.

The platform, which utilises the facilities from Heriot-Watt’s existing living lab – a complete flat with adjoining workshop – will ensure both time and distance are no longer barriers to research and innovation.  It is hoped that, as the project expands, researchers from all over the world may use the space to collaborate.

The project will initially support key priority groups in the UK whose conditions have been compounded by the social isolation measures necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. These include those with multi-morbidity conditions, disabilities, and those in acute stages of mental ill health.

Heriot-Watt University has unique laboratory facilities and world-leading expertise including microsystems, (wireless) sensing, antenna, microwave and embedded systems, signal processing, data science, machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), human-computer-interaction and Robotics.

These technologies can be used to enable non-intrusive monitoring of behaviour and vital signs, detect patterns and trends in behaviour and individual health status, identify problems, support self-management, decision-making and risk assessment, triage issues, facilitate communication and social connectedness, and provide social, cognitive and physical assistance when needed.

Dr Mauro Dragone, assistant professor at Heriot-Watt University, is leading the OpenAAL project. He said: “Our priority is to ensure that the devised solutions we create are practical and feasible, so they can be quickly implemented in the face of challenging social and economic conditions. There is huge potential to unify efforts and provide better support to the nation’s most vulnerable at this time. By combining the University’s unique laboratories with expertise in the care sector, we have the opportunity to tackle the current challenges head-on, but also establish long-term and cost-effective solutions to the wider challenges faced by individuals with assisted living needs in the home.

“Successful innovation in this field is crucial to alleviate the strain on our health and social care services and enhance the resilience of our communities. By collaborating across sectors and mobilising Scotland’s ground-breaking technology, this project has the potential to bridge considerable gaps in communication, break down institutional silos and facilitate wide-scale industry cooperation.”

Ahead of the project’s official launch on July 1st 2020, organisers are encouraging those working in the care sector or associated industries to get involved by participating in co-design workshops and focus groups to identify the most urgent challenges faced by the sector. This will help assess the most promising existing and emerging technologies for the project.

National Service veteran David Weir, 87, is registered blind. Prior to lockdown, he was a regular attendee at charity Scottish War Blinded’s West Lothian activity hub for veterans with sight loss, the Linburn Centre.

Mr Weir said: “The biggest challenge I’ve faced in recent months has been the lack of social contact. I used to go to Linburn three times a week to attend cookery and woodwork classes, visit the IT suite and enjoy quizzes. These activities are so important to keep your mind occupied.

“I’ve always been interested in new technologies and I readily embrace any assistive solutions that are available so I’m keen to see what solutions this new research can come up with. For example, my adapted mobile, provided by the charity, has overcome so many communication struggles.

“Over the day, I face a series of challenges which I hope this type of research and technology can support and overcome. Measuring the right volume of liquid for medication, for example, would be invaluable as I can’t see the liquid or lines on the measuring tubes. At present, I can accept an incoming video call but can’t easily place one, even with the benefit of voice activation. Smart home technologies are of particular interest. For example, I have a digital thermostat, but I can’t read the digital display and setting the temperature on the cooker and grill is extremely difficult.

“During lockdown, shopping online has become even more important, but all websites are designed differently and navigating them, even with text-to-speech capabilities, is tough. If I touch the wrong area of the website for more information, I can end up lost and I can’t navigate back. Having the opportunity to interact with researchers in the course of their work will be really beneficial to end users like me.”

The lab is also welcoming support from producers, suppliers and service companies of assistive technology, telecare, telehealth, smart home solutions, and other Internet of Things products, such as ambient sensors, alarm systems, wearable fitness devices, smart video calling software, and also network and infrastructure providers.

The National Robotarium is a world-leading centre for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. Its responsible and collaborative approach creates innovative solutions to global challenges. Its pioneering research develops new prototypes, supports early stage product development, and drives forward productivity. Key areas of research application include power systems, manufacturing, healthcare, human-robot interaction, assisted living, agritech and hazardous environments.

The National Robotarium building will open on Heriot-Watt’s Edinburgh campus in 2021. For more information about the work of the National Robotarium, please visit here or follow @NRobotarium.


For industry, care service providers and end-user organisations interested in taking part in the project, more information can be found on the project’s website:


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