A team of researchers at Swansea University have been awarded £740,000 to develop self-powered and sustainable digital “Internet of Things” technologies to tackle accessibility for older people.
Experts within the Faculty of Science and Engineering are working with multiple organisations to tackle the ‘digital divide’ amongst older households and encourage the uptake of IoT devices.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of connected objects (“things”) or interrelated wireless computing devices that collect and share data about how they are used. For example, smart phones and watches; fitness trackers; smart security systems, fire alarms and heating systems.
These interconnected devices offer many benefits for an ageing population yet are also predicted to require large amounts of data and consume large amounts of energy.
The project, entitled ‘Generation: Self powered IOT for people and planet’, aims to design a toolkit of self-powered IoT devices with “more-data-less-energy” without the exclusion of older people.
Professor Matt Carnie of Swansea University, project lead, comments:
“The rapid growth in IoT risks excluding older people who face barriers accessing digital technologies for a variety of reasons – these could be age-related physical difficulties, lack of technological confidence, or fear of breaking seemingly complicated and fragile digital devices.
A key obstacle, however, is the persistent ‘digital divide’ in the UK due to the lower levels of connectivity amongst older households with approximately 5 million people over the age of 55 not online. Even amongst those who are connected many are still at risk due to ‘data poverty’.
A report by the Welsh Government’s Digital Inclusion Unit found that, increasingly, households are having to choose between paying for Wi-Fi/mobile data or other household essentials such as food and fuel.
Alongside this are the devices themselves. Several studies and reviews of the factors associated with the use of smart technologies and IoT with older adults have identified low battery life as a critical issue. Yet the production and disposal of millions of primary batteries could cause problems related to the environmental sustainability and resource scarcity of IoT technologies.
Our aim, therefore, is to design a toolkit of self-powered IoT devices so that the quest for “more-data-less-energy” can be achieved without the exclusion of older people and other marginalised communities. For example, we will look at developing IoT devices which could be powered by indoor light.
We want to encourage uptake as smart and autonomous devices have many potential benefits for an ageing population in, for example, health monitoring, wearable technologies and sensors to enable older adults to live independently in their own homes.
There is growing evidence that older adults prefer to live independently at home as they age rather than enter aged care facilities – this is linked to improved well-being and healthy ageing and reduces the likelihood of being admitted to a nursing home.”
Project partner, Victoria Lloyd, Chief Executive at Age Cymru, comments:
“We’re delighted to support this project. New technology has enormous potential for helping to support older people to live the lives that they choose. Involving older adults in the design of those new technologies is fundamental to ensuring they are inclusive and work for those who will benefit most.
Given the current pressures of the cost-of-living crisis, the fact that the research will consider low-cost solutions that will also be more environmentally sustainable is particularly exciting.”
The 36-month project is a collaboration with Age Cymru, Trameto, Zimmer & Peacock and Brains4Design and is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).