Just getting through the day can be overwhelming if you're a senior citizen or a person with a physical challenge.
The Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center, established by Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, is the new home to innovators finding solutions for these challenges.
Funded by a five-year $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the center is home to researchers who will look for ways to apply technology, particularly information technology, to benefit seniors and people with disabilities.
"We envision a future of compassionate, intelligent home systems — individual devices that you can carry, or technologies embedded in the environment that monitor and communicate with people," explained Carnegie Mellon's Takeo Kanade, who will co-direct the center.
These devices and systems will be able to monitor the health and activity levels of people living alone, prompt failing memories, control household appliances — and even improve existing assistive technologies such as wheelchairs.
For example, Kanade envisions that a forgetful senior might carry a small recording device around her neck to prompt her to take her medicine. Or Uncle Bill's wheelchair might be equipped with software that helps it negotiate tight doorways. Cars could have collision-avoidance devices, helping drivers compensate for mild impairments.
Kanade also points out that this research will benefit society at large. "If the technology we develop can ensure that people remain in their homes instead of in assisted living or nursing home facilities for just one month longer, we can save our nation $1.2 billion annually."
With the center only newly established, many of these devices are still conceptual, but the technologies themselves have already revolutionized some industries and need only be given new applications. Quality-of-life issues will consume more of the nation's resources as the proportion of older adults and people with disabilities continues to grow. Today, some 12 percent of the U.S. population is over 65.
As Baby Boomers continue to age, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by 2030 more than 20 percent of a U.S. population of 300 million people will be 65 or older. In addition, while approximately 60 million people in the U.S. report having some type of disability today, that number is expected to rise to 75 million by 2030.