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With the ageing of the population it becomes more and more difficult to recruit the required care personnel, and the social security systems are struggling with economic obstacles. Therefore, the acceptance and market chances of a compact, effective, reliable and easy-to-install monitoring device that does not raise privacy concerns will increase steadily in the years to come. Society as a whole will also benefit as the elderly will be able to live independently longer in their own homes due to a secure monitoring system.

One of the highest risks for elderly persons living alone or spending much time alone is falling down and being unable to call for help, especially in case of loss of consciousness. The main challenge in installing ICT-based monitoring systems is the balance between surveillance and privacy, i.e. home safety versus ethics. Hence, since privacy is a fundamental human right, any means for augmenting detection of critical situations in the living environments of elderly persons need to respect and ensure privacy. Critical situations can occur principally in all home locations and situations. Wearable tools currently used for monitoring elderly people are often disposed in such situations, rendering them of little use for detecting potentially hazardous situations. As a consequence, "smart ambient" approaches, like vision-based surveillance, appear to be more appropriate for that purpose.

The objective of the CARE project was to develop and provide a vision technology which is non-expensive and does not offend privacy but still takes benefit of the strength of visual sensing. This has been achieved by a (biologically inspired) stereo sensor technology which detects only motion, but at a significantly higher temporal resolution than conventional motion sensors. This technology is used to monitor, analyse, and interpret an elderly's behaviour at home and to automatically send an alarm signal in case of critical situations (e.g., a person falls, or becomes immobilised for a long time, or starts hysteric movements). This sensor technology is integrated in a monitoring system for private homes and nursing homes, including a communication interface and a control station. Selected nursing homes served as pilot sites for testing and evaluating the system while the system concept targeted mainly primary end-users such as single individuals living in their own private homes.

As the problem of the ageing society is global in all industrialized countries effective solutions for bringing care and security to the elderly are demanded worldwide. Therefore, the solutions prototyped in the CARE project have a good chance of being economically successful in many countries. As the system is developed and produced in European countries, it has a strong European added value and can be marketed successfully in almost all industrialized countries.

The project activities can be summarized as follows:

  1. System analysis and evaluation (user and system requirements, hazards and risks, RAMSS [dependability: reliability, availability, maintainability, safety, security] analysis).

  2. Sensor requirements collection and analysis, design, development and adaptation for bathroom and other indoor applications (e.g. immunise against bathroom conditions like moisture, higher temperature).

  3. Data analysis and interpretation by making use of pattern recognition and unsupervised learning.

  4. Embedded processing for real-time data interpretation and software development.

  5. Sensor integration in the Everon monitoring and alarming system.

  6. Deployment, evaluation and testing in two elderly homes: one in Finland and the other in Germany.

  7. Management and dissemination.

One of the main concerns was to keep the vision system as compact and unobtrusive as possible for confident and easy deployment. The project concept and achievements were evaluated at pilot sites in Finland and Germany. It enabled on one hand to test the system effectiveness (sensor, visual interpretation, communication and alerting) in terms of accuracy and practicability, and on the other hand to talk with the test participants (elderly persons, nursing home operators and personnel) in order to determine their impressions and wishes for primary and secondary end-user involvement in further development of the ICT system.