Information Aged

Many applications of radio frequency identity (RFID) technology have been mooted – from automatically restocking groceries to more accurately timing athletes – although few have so far made the light of day.

But a new application proposed by researchers at Spain’s University of Granada addresses an age old – and an old age – problem: memory loss. A team at the University’s Higher Technical School of Computer Engineering built a prototype system designed to provide the aged and people with special needs with helpful reminders, so that they do not forget to take their medicine or leave the house without their mobile telephone.

It works by attaching an RFID chip to everyday objects, and recording how and when they are moved. The system builds up a pattern of the individual’s usual behaviour, and then alerts them when the deviate from it.

Research scientist María Ros Izquierdo said that the system would give individuals who recieve care greater independence, without requiring them to modify their behaviour.

Caring for the elderly is now a significant driver for technological innovation, thanks to the developed world’s aging population. It is, for example, often cited as a use case for robotics.

"As [the] aging of the population is a common problem for developed countries, Japan wants to become an advanced country in the area of addressing the aging society with the use of robots," an offical from the Japanese ministry of trade and industry said earlier this year.

Whether or not the developed world wants to spend its twilight years being chivvied by androids is another matter. So far, the robotics industry has had rather more success with systems designed to foreshorten life than with those intended to prolong it.

But some rather simpler offerings from land of the Rising Sun suggest that geriatric technology may have a future. The I-Pot, for example, is a kettle that alerts relatives if the user has not made tea in the morning and it is, according to some reports, a hit.

“My mother-in-law was very impressed by this,” wrote one Japanese blogger earlier this year. “It really made her feel comfortable that although her children were all living far away they could check up on her.”

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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