Heriot-Watt launching pioneering lab to create tech helping vulnerable

Scientists from Heriot-Watt University are launching what it believes to be the world’s first open and remote access living lab to help the vulnerable – and it is looking for more collaborators from the care sector and related industries.

The platform uses the facilities from Heriot-Watt’s existing living lab. Picture: contributed.
The platform uses the facilities from Heriot-Watt’s existing living lab. Picture: contributed.

The multi-disciplinary Ambient Assisted Living (OpenAAL) lab will target the fast co-creation of scalable and affordable offerings.

The project – funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council – has already gained support from Consequential Robotics, Alcuris, Cyberselves and The Data Lab – Scotland’s innovation centre for data and artificial intelligence (AI) – as well as NHS Lothian, The Digital Health and Care Institute (DHI) and Blackwood Home and Care Group.

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 more than 80 major care and support providers in Scotland’s third sector.

The OpenAAL lab, part of the National Robotarium, based at Heriot-Watt, will use digital twin, Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud technologies, enabling researchers, industry and care providers, alongside end users of assisted living services, to co-create technology.

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The platform, which uses the facilities from Heriot-Watt’s existing living lab – is a complete flat with adjoining workshop – and 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 social isolation measures resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. These include those with multi-morbidity conditions, disabilities, and those in acute stages of mental ill health.

Heriot-Watt highlights the capabilities of its lab facilities and world-leading expertise including machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT), AI, human-computer-interaction and robotics.

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

It said these technologies can 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 social connectedness, and provide social, cognitive and physical assistance when needed.

Mauro Dragone, assistant professor at Heriot-Watt, 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.

“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.”

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