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One size does not fit all
Assessing individual needs for living life to the full

(March 2009) The use of touch screen interfaces and IT hardware is at the centre of every future Netcarity user’s service requirements.

Massimo Zancanaro and his team of programmers, engineers, sociologists and designers at the Bruno Kessler Foundation (FBK) have worked with older people to create a prototype mobiTable. It is a carefully-designed piece of electronic furniture that will link older people and their carers, families and communities.

Uses for the mobiTable include:

Development challenges

One of FBK’s main challenges was to design a simple interface. The focus groups found Microsoft Windows applications were too complex for older people, says Zancanaro, head of research at i3, part of FBK, in Trento, Italy.

The 18-month design stage for the mobiTable prototype included design workshops and focus groups to assess the individual needs of older people. FBK’s researchers asked them to keep diaries on their day-to-day activities. This helped Zancanaro and his team to fully understand the emotional and physical needs of users.

Future research will enable the mobiTable to connect to the Netcarity server, as well as sensors and actuators in homes. This will link vital information about users’ daily needs to control centres and care workers.

Another challenge is the design of future prototype tables that are more energy efficient.

Trialling the mobiTable

FBK and Netcarity partners aim to trial the mobiTable with users for three months in Autumn 2009. The prototype mobiTables will be evaluated on how they help support and enhance lives.

Zancanaro says FBK’s unique research and development, particularly the integration of hardware and touch screen technology, has placed trial users at the cutting edge of new technology and social care.

He predicts a bright future for the mobiTable and hopes to have it in production inside five years. Local companies all over Europe will be encouraged to support its manufacture, thus boosting local economies.

Creating a business case for the mobiTable
Massimo Zancanaro believes the mobiTable is a product that can be successfully mass-produced. “The cost of the unit is relatively expensive if it were on the market today. However, in the future, the cost of the technology and production will come down. We welcome future business opportunities for the mobiTable.”