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Background

The background for the development of the Florence system is the slow but constant demographic change. There is an increasing number of elderly people, while the number of younger people remains constant or even declines. Due to the advances in health treatment, a lot of previously fatal diseases have been turned into chronic diseases. This leads to an increasing demand for care, especially for elderly. In addition to that, new family structures and more job-mobility make it more and more difficult to rely on volunteer care for elderly at home by family members. Hence, costs for both the society and the care provider are growing, which, at the end, may lead to potential undersupply of health care. Beyond the financial aspect, another problem is the increasing lack of social inclusion due to less stable social networks, which leads into increasing loneliness of the elderly with negative impact on their health and safety

Vision

The aim of the Florence project is to improve the well-being of elderly (and that of their beloved ones) as well as improve the efficiency in care through Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) services, supported by a general-purpose mobile robot platform. The Florence project will investigate the use of such robots in delivering new kinds of AAL services to elderly persons and their care providers. Florence will put the robot as the connecting element between several stand alone AAL services in a living environment as well as between the AAL services and the elderly person. Through these care, coaching and connectedness services, supported by Florence, the elderly will remain much longer independent.

A key aspect for Florence is user acceptance. Florence aims to improve the acceptance of AAL (robotic) services by providing both assistance and fun oriented lifestyle services via the same means. The ambition of Florence is that the elderly should be proud of having a Florence robot. Florence positions robots as autonomous lifestyle devices. By re-using the same interaction mechanisms of lifestyle services, Florence will make the adoption of AAL services by elderly easier. In addition, by positioning robots as a new kind of consumer products, i.e. as a new lifestyle product, Florence will attract the attention of services providers and consumer electronic vendors to the senior market. This is illustrated below. This increase of user-acceptance will greatly alleviate the need for personal care for elderly, and therefore provide for significant cost-savings.

Expected Results

The Florence system will support lifestyle and AAL services in the following categories:


  • Keeping in Touch: The KEETOU application service implements a robotic telepresence service to provide an increased perceived level of presence for both directions: family and friends have an increased feeling of being present by the fact that they are able to control the robot and similarly the elderly has an increased feeling that the other person is “really” visiting him.
  • Lifestyle Improvement service: The LIFIMP service assists the user in adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In particular, the service focuses on monitoring weight and physical activity. By building a long term personal relationship with the user, the robot  persuades the user to change his behaviour.
  • Fall Handling service: The FALHAN service implements a service application which reacts on fall events. This reaction includes the localisation of the user and a communication between the robot/application and the user to find out what happened and if the user needs help. When the elderly needs help or the user doesn’t reacts an emergency call (video conference) will be provided automatically.
  • Logging service: The LOGSYS service based on three subservices. The first is the Data Logger service which recorded sensor data e.g. the laser scanner to a database. The second service is the Data Request service, which loaded appropriate data from the database. The third service is the Gait Analysis service, which analysed the laser scanner data and compute the step size and some other important parameters for the gait analysis to estimate the mobility from the elderly. If this data are out of the expected range the service will provide a message to the caregiver and the user.
  • Agenda Reminder service: AGEREM is a service application that allows dependent people to remain in their homes by sharing information between the elderly and his or her careers familiars or tele-assistance team. In that way AGEREM reinforces the autonomy and safety of individuals in his or her own home because it strengthens the communication channel between them and their caregivers.
  • Home Interface Service: The HOMEINT service implements two use cases: DoorGuard Use Case and “Energy Saving” Use Case. The task of the HOMINT service in context of DoorGuard Use Case is to properly inform the user about the situation when the entrance doorbell is being activated and offer to the user a range of options to proceed. The “Energy Saving” Use Case aims at detecting a possible energy waste. The service monitors the temperature of the room and the state of the windows. In case when a window is opened and the room has low temperature, the service concludes that energy is being wasted and informs the user about the situation, along with set of options how to proceed.
  • Collaborative Gaming: The objective of this task is to provide a collaborative activities support platform in order to encourage people to maintain relation with their relatives.  The service provided will consist of two complementary modules. The first one will be based on traditional computer-based communication mean (like chats or videoconference). The second one will extend the first module functionalities by providing intuitive tools for sharing information about the activity taking place and for extending its interaction capabilities.

Approach

The project aims to create a low-cost solution which is technically feasible with the current state of technology. The Florence robot is a wheel-based, 1,5 meter heigh, screen-based robot with no arms. Sensor input is based on a 2D laser scanner, 3D structured light (kinect) and an (optical) camera. The robot software is based on the Robotic Operating System (ROS) – the emerging de facto standard in robotic software. In addition, the project focuses on a scalable platform-based approach that enables the addition/extension of 3rd party applications.


The project follows a user-centred, iterative development process. During the requirements phase, focus group tests and Wizard-of-Oz tests have been conducted and the results have been incorporated in the requirements and service descriptions. These tests have confirmed the interest of elderly in a “social entity device” which can assist them in their daily life. The first implementation of the Florence system is planned to be ready around mid-2011 and will be tested in controlled lab environments in Germany (OFFIS IDEAAL lab) and the Netherlands (Philips Experience labs). A second iteration is planned to be ready mid-2012 and will be tested in real-home environments with elderly in Spain (Living Labs Salud Andalusia).