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Digital home visions extend beyond entertainment

May 24, 20043 mins
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Behind the scenes of a digital eldercare makeover

By far the high point of the recent Connections 2004 conference in Dallas was Louis Burns’ keynote presentation. The vice president of Intel corporate laid out two visions, one you know a lot about – how emerging “digital home” technologies are transforming how we have fun – and one you don’t – how the same technologies can help ease the things we worry about, namely taking care of our parents and grandparents.

“There’s radical change in the industry, turbulence, intense turmoil, all of which creates a huge opportunity for those who think creatively and take risks,” Burns said.

After Burns introduced an Oregon family to whom Intel gave a digital makeover, he shifted gears and brought out Eric Dishman, a social scientist and director of Intel Proactive Health.

Dishman set the stage: There are 550 million seniors in the world; there will be 1.2 billion by 2025. As the population ages, there will be fewer younger people to care for the elderly, and fewer professionals and family members to ensure older people take their medications and exercise regularly. “Consumers spend two to three times more today on health and wellness than they do on entertainment,” Dishman said. “We can’t scale quality healthcare to such high numbers.”

To illustrate the work Intel is doing in its Seattle research lab, Dishman and Burns showed a video that showcased a day in the life of a family Intel had given a digital eldercare makeover.

The grandmother, who wanted to maintain her independence by living alone for as long as possible, sometimes forgets to eat or take her medications. So Intel gave her a bracelet with radio frequency ID location-sensing technology, and equipped her home with discrete cameras and sensors on doors and cabinets. The sensors track her movements (or lack thereof) and alert a family member or caregiver when something’s amiss. Each time she takes her medication, the event is entered into a Web log her daughter can monitor from her office in a faraway city. (Oh, I see that Mom forgot to take her morning meds today, let me give her a quick call to remind her.)

When grandma wants to take her daily walk, she heads to the door and picks up her cane. No ordinary cane, the device has Get-Smart-inspired sensors and phone, so it automatically calls a neighbor and says, “Hey, I’d like to take a walk with you,” when grandma picks it up.

Burns challenged the audience members, made up mostly of start-ups. “How do we keep up the growing momentum? This time we do what consumers need, we work together, and we deliver it collectively. No one company can deliver this vision. Everybody’s gotta play here.”

Burns stressed the need for standards-based technologies such as those being worked on by 120-member companies of the Digital Home Working Group, which it strongly supports. To spur development, Intel also has created a $200 million Digital Home Fund, thus far investing in Digital 5, Staccato Communications, Trymedia Systems and Wisair. Intel also is working with the Center for Aging Care Technologies and the Alzheimer’s Association.

“We don’t care who gets the credit,” Burns said. “This is an industry thing, not a company thing.”