The Universidade da Beira Interior is developing technologies for attending the elderly
José Pichel Andrés/DICYT The NetGNA (Next Generation Networks and Applications Group) research team of the Universidade da Beira Interior is working to develop technologies that can be applied to the field of the health and in particular the care of the elderly. Technological developments such as body sensors and mobile signals can improve the quality of life of the elderly and help them to be more independent.
This is what is known as Ambient Assisted Living (AAL), which encourages the elderly to retain their independence as long as possible with the aid of new technologies. Given the ageing of the population, especially in Europe, the objective is to extend the time that people can live in dignity in their own homes and improve the economic efficiency of care services.
One of the most recent projects of this team (which is linked to the Computer Science Department of the Universidade da Beira Interior) has been the AAL4ALL - Ambient Assisted Living for All project, which has involved the participation of 34 partners including multinationals such as Microsoft. In this initiative, which has been developed from 2011 to date, “we take on the leadership of mobile technology”, explains the researcher Joel Rodrigues.
The objective of the project has been the promoting of a series of products and services validated by large-scale tests, that in some cases are already available for marketing. An example of the technology developed by the team of the Universidad de Beira Interior is a tracing system that can be fitted to a shoe. By means of GPS and Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) signals it gives out its position in real time. In this manner, people suffering from neurodegenerative problems such as Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia can enjoy increased freedom to go out as they are monitored by their family or carers.
In the same way technology can provide body sensors to measure temperature or trace a cardiogram and store this information in real time by using a mobile phone. “With the help of technology some patients may not need to be in hospital; both they and their carers achieve greater independence”, Joel Rodrigues explains.
In collaboration with Microsoft, the NetGNA group carried out a monitoring experiment in the town of Covilhã with people aged over 65. Over several weeks a multitude of data was stored and "very good" results were obtained, for instance with the installation of environmental sensors in rooms to measure air quality.
This line of research into health technology is of great importance given world forecasts, which suggest that in 2050 some 16% of the population will be over 65, a figure that can be multiplied for some European countries.
However, the NetGNA team also carries out research into other sectors of new technologies, such as large computer networks. The drive of Joel Rodrigues has been a key factor in the creation of the PT Covilhã Data Centre, one of the largest data processing centres in the world, which involves the participation of both the Universidade da Beira Interior and Portugal Telecom. This centre provides cloud computing services and is currently training specialists that will subsequently remain working in Covilhã.