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The UPC will present one of four projects selected for the European Ministerial e-Inclusion Conference

The European Share-it project, led by the UPC researcher Ulises Cortés of the Department of Software, is one of four projects selected by the European Commission for presentation at the European e-Inclusion Ministerial Conference, on the subject of using ICTs to combat social exclusion. This conference, which will be held from 30 November to 2 December in the Viena Reed Messe Congress Centre (Messeplatz, 1), Austria, is the most important European event in this field.

The European Commission, the Austrian government and the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union are organizing the Conference. It will include exhibitions and demonstrations of the most striking and advanced initiatives being developed in Europe to promote e-inclusion and to close the digital divide, with the aim of fighting against social and economic exclusion.

Moreover, policies in this field will be debated and the agenda for future actions will be set. There will be more than a thousand participants, including European ministers and representatives of the industrial sector, universities and research centers, NGOs and other organizations.

The framework for this conference is the i2010 European initiative for digital inclusion. This initiative aims to bridge the gap between those people who use ICTs as part of their daily routine and those who do not have access to or knowledge of ICTs—one of the Millennium Development Objectives. As part of this initiative the EU is funding e-accessibility and welfare technology projects.

The winners of the 2008 e-Inclusion Awards granted by the EC will also be announced at the Conference. These awards are designed to recognize the organizations that have applied ICTs in the best and most innovative ways to fight against social and digital exclusion, improving the quality of life of socially disadvantaged people.

Intelligent walker and mobile platform
As part of the exhibition that will take place during the Conference the UPC’s team, headed by Ulises Cortés and Antonio B. Martínez, will present and give a demonstration of an intelligent walker and an innovative semi-automatic mobile platform. These two welfare devices were designed at the UPC as part of the European Supported Human Autonomy for Recovery and Enhancement of Cognitive and Motor Abilities Using Information Technologies (Share-it) project. This project, led by the UPC, is developing technology to enhance quality of life for people with limited mobility.

The intelligent walker (i-Walker) is a step ahead of conventional walkers as it has the ability to communicate with the user, think for itself and react to its surroundings. The device has a set of voice commands and can be activated with simple verbal instructions from the user (for example: “take me to the kitchen”). To achieve this, it incorporates elements for independent movement and a personalized intelligent software agent.

The device is based on intelligent multiagent systems technology (personal agents or software systems that observe and interact with their surroundings in an autonomous, proactive and rational way and have the ability to learn and communicate). It adapts itself to the specific assistance needs of the user and enhances their autonomy, helping them to make decisions that are usually beyond their scope due to physical, mobility or cognitive obstacles imposed by aging or illness.

The i-Walker is also a medical rehabilitation tool that can assist in recovery and strengthening of motor skills since the amount of help given to the user can be adjusted under medical supervision. Parameters such as the force that the user exerts when walking, the distance traveled and the calories burned during movement are measured and recorded by the walker itself. The system uses an accelerometer to detect possible falls, correct the itinerary or the turn angle, and control braking.

The semi-automatic platform (Spherik) is based on a new type of spherical wheel and enhances the flexibility and mobility of people using a wheel chair, especially in tight spaces. The device is fitted with a mechanism to avoid obstacles and is designed to connect with the environment.

These two mobile systems incorporate innovative applications of ICTs to address problems caused by aging, disability and health conditions and in short, to improve quality of life. Both the walker and the mobile platform are capable of detecting the location of the user in their home and in other known environments such as hospitals and primary-care centers as they include a special monitoring system. The level of autonomy can also be adjusted to the user’s needs through a cognitive model that interprets the information detected by biosensors and the disability profiles of the user supplied by the medical team. This enables continuous reporting on the user’s state of health to caregivers.

Intelligent devices for the home
The main objective of the Share-it project is to contribute to the development of a new generation of intelligent and semiautonomous welfare technology systems that can be integrated into homes and other spaces such as hospitals or nursing homes. This is new technology that provides mobility support to people in need of continuous assistance or monitoring to help them live more independently and as safely and comfortably as possible, thus enhancing their quality of life.

This technology includes systems for facilitating communication, intelligent behavior, and mobility support that are intuitive and can interpret the voice, eye movement, touch and gestures of users. These systems can assist users in their daily activities and report on their state of health to caregivers via monitoring and mobile systems.

Technology that enhances well-being
Welfare technology, particularly innovative technology for the elderly, is an emerging research area and one where innovation is greatly needed, especially considering that Spain will have the most elderly population on the planet by 2050 (with 43% of the population over the age of 60). Indeed, 32% of people over the age of 65 in Spain today suffer from some kind of disability. Disability is increasingly linked to age because life expectancy is increasing. People are living longer due to advances in medicine but there are also more people who have survived serious illnesses and suffer from chronic disabilities.

Robotics, artificial intelligence and ICTs, such as are used in the i-Walker and the Spherik developed by the UPC, can compensate for the loss of sensory, motor and cognitive functions caused by the passing of time and by illness in the elderly. Moreover, they can also help to reinforce and stimulate human abilities and improve well-being in everyday life.

Rossy Laciana | alfa
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