NBN-connected ‘smarter, safer homes’ about to become reality

Published 13 December 2011

opticfibreA plan to use the National Broadband Network (NBN) to help frail, elderly people live independently in their own homes is about to become a reality.

Specialists in communications innovation from the University of New England and CSIRO are working in collaboration with Armidale’s Autumn Lodge aged care facility in a project aimed at demonstrating the use of simply-installed, NBN-linked devices to help elderly people maintain contact with their families and community services while living safe and comfortable independent lives.

A meeting at UNE last week saw the development of the project, “Smarter Safer Homes for Aged People”, from planning to implementation stage.

UNE’s Associate Professor Stephen Winn, who is leading the project, said the first phase of its implementation would see the installation of environmental sensing and communication devices in residences at Autumn Lodge in 2012. “This will provide evidence of the effectiveness of such technology in improving people’s quality of life by helping them to live independently, monitoring their health and wellbeing, and keeping them in touch with their families. In this way it should also remove some of the burden of care from people whose elderly parents are living alone.”

“Based on the evidence from this trial, the next phase of the project will involve extending the adoption of this technology – at minimal cost to householders – into the wider community,” Dr Winn said.

“CSIRO is looking for opportunities for service delivery using broadband communication technologies,” said Colin Griffith, the Director of CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation, who travelled from Sydney to UNE for last week’s meeting. “This project in ageing and health is very exciting. And with Armidale’s connection to the NBN, it’s an opportunity for this city to be a real showcase for what’s possible.”

“The technology is simple, invisible, and cheaply fitted,” Mr Griffith said. “Its functions include controlling temperature, and detecting events in the home such as a fall and alerting relatives and friends.”

Greg Clarke, the Business Manager at Autumn Lodge, said that, with its access to the NBN, the aged care facility had been keen to pursue the opportunities offered by the new technologies. “Autumn Lodge is a community-based organisation, and the welfare of residents is our main priority,” Mr Clarke said. “Our village units for independent living provide an ideal trial site, and this project can enhance the quality of life of the units’ residents by keeping them in touch with their families and friends and living in their familiar surroundings.”