Designing ambient user interfaces to support independent living for the Elderly, Disabled and Cognitively Impaired

This paper reports the development and evaluation of ambient user interfaces situated in modified familiar home devices, specifically television sets, mobile devices and interactive digital photographic frames, as part of the EU FP6 IST EASYLINE+ project (Low Cost Advanced White Goods for a Longer Independent Life of Elderly People). This project was a collaboration between universities and companies in Germany, Spain and the UK, to produce affordable technologies that simplify an elderly or disabled person’s interaction with a range of kitchen appliances in order to allow them to live a longer independent life in their own home.

A simple example of an EASYLINE+ interaction is the scenario of a cooker hob being left on either with no pan on it or after a pan has been removed. The message “Hob left on with no pan” has to be conveyed to the user (wherever they may be in the home). The precise nature of the interaction and the range of options available to the user are adaptive, flexible and dependent on their level of ability, which can be assessed on a number of scales. However, the essence of the dialogue in this case would be that the user could turn off the hob remotely or respond, “Yes, I know; leave it on” (if they are permitted to according to their profile). Other scenarios include “Food has expired in the fridge”, “The washing cycle has finished”, “This food cannot be microwaved”, and so forth. Additionally, a standalone RFID reader advises the user what to do with an item of food or clothing, an innovation particularly useful for visually impaired people. To support the international dimension, a range of European languages is also supported.

Extensive testing of general principles and ranges of devices and interface designs took place in a purposely developed usability laboratory, which simulated an elderly/disabled person’s living space. The outcome of this evaluation exercise has been largely positive.