Smart City technologies have the potential to enable the disabled and elderly to remain independent for longer, and live healthy, mobile lives
The proportion of people aged over 60 will almost double from 12 to 22% between 2015 and 2050, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In line with this, the WHO World Report on Disability states that currently more than one billion people live with some form of disability worldwide. The figure is expected to rise in the coming years as populations age.
One goal of Smart Cities is to make sure that people with disabilities are able to work, socialize and live independently for as long as possible. This means providing human and technical support to manage chronic health conditions and ensure that there is physical access to places, as well as guaranteeing the ability to move around easily within the home or city.
Increasingly, information and communication technology (ICT), audio, video and multimedia systems are being incorporated into Smart City infrastructure. ICT provides the tools and support required to improve the lives of people with disabilities, whatever their age.
For example, smart alarm systems and smoke detectors adapted for people with hearing impairments alert users by flashing intermittently, or, if the person is lying down, by vibrating (under a pillow or mattress). The wireless transmitters in some of these systems can also connect to home security systems, videophones or the doorbell and send alerts from these.
IEC TC 79: Alarm and electronic security systems, develops International Standards for social alarms, access control, home security and other alarm systems.
Another useful device is the liquid level indicator that beeps when a cup is nearly full, enabling visually impaired people to do something as simple as make a cup of tea without scalding themselves.
Helping to connect complex systems
The IEC contributes to this effort through the work of a number of its technical committees (TCs) and subcommittees (SCs), which produce International Standards to ensure the safety, reliability and compatibility of the diverse technologies used in Smart Cities. This also includes components of the Internet of Things (IoT) that are used in systems for transport, hospitals, power, water supply, waste management, schools and more.
Complementing this work, the IEC Systems Committee for Active Assisted Living (SyC AAL) was established to:
- Create a vision of AAL that takes account of market evolution
- Enable accessibility of AAL systems and user interfaces
- Facilitate cross-vendor interoperability of AAL systems, products and components
Intelligent homes are safer places
In an increasingly digital age, the IoT offers innovative ways to help aging populations. IoT devices, buildings, cars and other objects are embedded with electronics, software, sensors and network technology, which allow them to collect and exchange data with a view to helping save lives and assisting disabled people with everyday activities.
In the home, if a person with dementia forgets to close a window at night during winter or leaves the stove on, or if an elderly person living alone falls over and is unable to move, the consequences could be fatal. Sensors in smart appliances or placed on doors and windows offer solutions for detecting temperature, motion and location.
Smart home care systems can switch on lights when they detect a person’s movement, remind people to take medicine, turn off appliances after a certain time has passed and monitor daily activities. If there is a change in routine, care givers or family are alerted. Some systems also link directly to various emergency services.
GPS tracking devices are particularly useful for people with different conditions affecting the memory. Family or health carers can track a person and help them find their way back home.
Without sensors, none of this would be possible. IEC TC 47 produces International Standards for the design, manufacture, use and reuse of sensors as well as for measuring and testing methods.
IT supports over-burdened healthcare systems
Age-related health issues, including increased susceptibility to chronic conditions such as diabetes, dementia and cardiovascular disease, will increase the number of patients and put a strain on health systems and service providers. Technology is helping to address this.
The way we detect, monitor and treat an increasing number of diseases is changing thanks to wearable and portable medical devices. Built-in sensors track different aspects of health. For example, patients can check their own heart rate or blood pressure and send the results to online healthcare systems in hospitals and clinics. Telemedicine allows doctors who receive patient medical data to give advice remotely via phone, email or webcam.
Some types of diabetes can be monitored in real time using wearables which check insulin levels. Results are sent to a smart phone, as well as alerts indicating if levels are too high or too low. Some wearables administer insulin doses when necessary, allowing users to get on with their daily activities uninterrupted.
For the less mobile, or those in remote locations, these types of solutions improve quality of life and reduce the number of visits to medical professionals, who would otherwise be the ones to carry out these checks.
Safe and secure connections
As with any device connecting to the IoT, it is important to safeguard data confidentiality. IEC TC 62 and its SCs develop International Standards for the electrical equipment, electrical systems and software used in healthcare. The work focuses on safety and performance, including "data security, data integrity and data privacy". It also includes Technical Reports for medical device software and IT networks incorporating medical devices.
IEC also develops International Standards for information technology. Subcommittee 27 of the Joint Technical Committee (JTC) 1 set up by the IEC and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) works specifically on IT security techniques.
Getting about town
Participating in social activities and running daily errands is a normal part of life. However for people with certain disabilities, leaving the home can be a daunting prospect. There are many apps which use audible and vibrotactile technology to help people with visual or hearing loss get around town safely and confidently. For example, a talking map app tells users where they are going. They follow the map using their fingers and the app vibrates when they reach a crossing. Visually impaired users of the innovative colour ID app can ‘see’ what colour any item is, by holding the smart phone in front of it. They can coordinate their wardrobe, check if a piece of fruit is ripe, or choose the right lipstick. Other systems can translate voice to text or reproduce sign language for those with impaired hearing.
ICT equipment already includes software solutions, such as optical character recognition, character magnification or voice recognition systems and hardware including adapted or on-screen keyboards. TV services have become more accessible to the blind and visually impaired by explaining what is happening on screen, using the gaps in dialogue and audio description. IEC TC 100 produces Standards for the provision of audio description, including text services and subtitling. It has also established Technical Area (TA) 16: Active Assisted Living, accessibility and user interfaces, which has produced IEC/TR (Technical Report) 62678, Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment activities and considerations related to accessibility and usability.
People with hearing loss use a variety of hearing aids. The work of IEC TC 29 covers measurements of electroacoustic and performance characteristics for these. It has also developed Standards which allow wearers of specially-equipped hearing aids to have a wireless signal transmitted directly to their ear in places like museums or theatres. Additionally, IEC 62216:2009, Digital terrestrial television receivers for the DVB-T system, provides details for the provision of audio description and specifies recommendations for the provision of text services and subtitling.
The driverless wheels of change
Future urban transport models for Smart Cities must offer growing populations clean, reliable, safe and affordable ways to move around town. They will incorporate electric driverless vehicles, which are already being tested in a number of countries worldwide.
A leading ride-hailing company envisages making this service so affordable and convenient that people will forgo car ownership and summon a car from their smartphone for door to door transport. Though it may seem farfetched, a report by Morgan Stanley says that ride-hailing currently accounts for less than 4% of all kilometres driven globally, but by 2030, that figure will rise to more than 25%. While the infrastructure required for driverless vehicles is still not in place, arguments for it are strong. In addition to improving road safety, air quality and reducing congestion, it would be particularly convenient for the elderly who are not able to drive and cannot manage the walks to and from bus stops or up and down stairs.
The dawn of the assistive robot
The development of Smart Cities is a slow process in which technology is moving rapidly. The IEC will continue to produce International Standards for existing and emerging AAL technologies such as cloud computing for storing the big data gathered from all the devices and systems within Smart City infrastructure.
As greater numbers of people need care and fewer care givers enter the workplace, robots will have a role to play in smart home systems. Cutting-edge sensory technology already enables robots in manufacturing to recognize and adjust to subtle changes, while robot carts deliver medicine successfully around hospitals. In the AAL context, robots can perform daily tasks and help out in emergencies. Further research is being carried out to see how they could be used in increased numbers of social contexts, such as serving food or providing company.