The Georgia Institute of Technology has a research facility to evaluate people's experiences using technology to enhance quality of life and maintain independence as they age. The Aware Home Research Initiative (AHRI), based at Georgia Tech's campus in Atlanta, is an interdisciplinary group that uses psychology and computer science to develop prototype systems to enable aging in place. “[Using the research facility,] we have the flexibility to develop these prototypes and test them in a controlled environment,” says Dr. Wendy Rogers, professor of psychology at Georgia Tech and an AHRI researcher. “We bring in older adults [to use the prototypes] and get feedback from them,” she says.

Built in 1997 specifically for the Aware Home Research Initiative at Georgia Tech, this house functions as a research facility for aging-in-place.
Credit: Aware Home Research Initiative Built in 1997 specifically for the Aware Home Research Initiative at Georgia Tech, this house functions as a research facility for aging-in-place.

The next steps are to conduct field trials of the prototypes in actual homes, then collaborate with manufacturers to develop them for a mass market.

HIGH-TECH SOLUTIONS Part of the research includes using sensors, often with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags similar to those used to track stores' inventory or to pay tolls. The RFIDs are capable of carrying more information than simple bar codes do. In one prototype the facility is testing, carpets with RFID tags track occupant movement. “We could use that to monitor an older adult who lives alone and then share that information with an adult child who lives far away,” Rogers says.

Other prototypes include the Cook's Collage, which uses cameras in the kitchen to track cooking activities. If the cook is interrupted during food preparation, the electronic display mounted on a kitchen cabinet can help them find where they left off. And a scanner-and-laptop prototype provides a way for grandchildren and grandparents to communicate. The grandchild can scan images and attach a voice recording that the grandparent receives via a laptop.

AHRI works with industrial designers to make prototypes aesthetically pleasing. And, Rogers says, wireless technology enables these products to be incorporated into the home without affecting the structure of the house.

Older adults can be quite accepting and willing to try new things, Rogers says. “The key is to explain to them the potential benefit, take more of a consultative approach, and have an open mind.”