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Time to deliver

Europe’s research community has made good progress in Ambient Assisted Living projects and pilots, but now is the time to deliver practical ICT solutions to an ageing population, says Dr Paul Timmers.

While I am really pleased with the innovation and understanding shown by our research community, it is now time to experiment in the real world, and to deliver in the real world. It is time to focus on things which work, systems around which business models can be built, and technologies which people can buy.

The time bomb has exploded
For a long time now we have been talking about the demographic time-bomb. That time-bomb has already partially exploded. While the population of older people
will continue to grow, there are a lot of older people who have already created a demand and a market for innovative ICT technologies and we need to start behaving accordingly. Let’s turn our hard work doing the research into something which starts delivering benefits.

Don’t be paralysed by perfection
We should certainly be doing our best to make sure all of our ICT solutions for AAL are as good as they can be, and especially that they are safe to be used by older people. Nevertheless, let’s not be paralysed by a drive for perfection. Let’s be practical and recognise that for many of our challenges we already have the solutions. What we need to do now is to implement them.

Keep focused on the user
The last time I featured in Netcarity News, I said that I wanted to see researchers demonstrate a real understanding of the need to involve users in the development and testing of AAL technologies. I am pleased to see that this is happening, and we have some very exciting projects with users' interest at the heart of them.

The work which Netcarity has done in its trial communities in Trento and Eindhoven is a good example of this – and the experience of working with older people
has contributed greatly to our understanding of their relationship with technology. This is something I would like to see continue.

Build a business model now
At the recent AAL Forum in Vienna there was a lot of talk about business models. This is a logical progression as ICT technologies mature and we tackle the tricky question of getting them into the market.

Business models should be seen as paving the way to rapid implementation in the market, and research teams might need to think creatively about what model, or
combination of models, works best for them.

I want to see good business brains engaged in thinking about how AAL solutions are going to be paid for, how the market should be segmented, who the players will be and how they should be involved. In some cases, researchers should recognise that business and commercialisation is not their strength, and they should engage with professionals who can help them build models which commercialise their hard work.

A question of value
The question of value is an important one. AAL systems will only enter the mainstream if they offer value to all parties, from the user to the developer to the public or private body which is paying for them.

Of course, it is important that the solution is scalable, because significant value lies on the ability to address the whole market.

The power of possibility
Let me summarise where I think we are as a community. We have done good research, and we have good solutions. But we need to work harder at our business
models, and we need to start to deliver large-scale practical solutions to the real world.

Nobody ever said it was going to be easy – but let’s not make it harder than it needs to be. Let’s be ambitious, bold and practical. It is time to deliver, and that is what we are all going to do.

Dr Paul Timmers is head of the ICT for Inclusion unit at the EC’s DG Information Society and Media