Since its launch in the Autumn of 2015, the Tunstall Innovations Centre has seen hundreds of people pass through its doors. Graeme Wilson, Software Architect and one of the curators of the Centre, reveals what we’ve learned since the Innovations Centre was established and why visitors have found their time there so valuable.

Keep it simple

The Innovation Centre was created to provide a showcase for emerging and future technologies, not just those developed by Tunstall, but the best in class from around the world. It offers a dedicated space for us to analyse and develop the next generation of digital care and, importantly, for us to explore how different propositions can be used together to create new services that genuinely meet the needs of consumers.

In my view sometimes the answers to simple questions can be the most revealing, and one of the questions we ask most frequently of visitors to the Centre is ‘What was the best thing you’ve seen during your visit?’.

Many of the visitors to the centre are from assisted living providers, and the reaction to Communicall Vi IP has been enormously positive. Feedback shows that they are impressed to see a product which is a world away from traditional warden call systems with pullcords, not just because of the aesthetics but also because of its potential to allow providers to offer a range of additional app-based services. At a basic level, this means users could make free video calls to friends and family using, for example, Skype, but it also makes possible an almost infinite range of other apps to support residents and improve their quality of life.

Is there an echo in here?

The Amazon Echo device also gets a good response. It’s a voice operated device which enables you to stream music, find out about local news, traffic and weather and can also connect to a calendar and, for example, read out forthcoming events. You can also search the internet using audible commands, create shopping and to do lists, and link up to other devices to control lights, switches and thermostats. It’s not yet available in the UK, but at a cost of just $179 expect to see it in a home near you before too long.

Also popular is Carelock, a Bluetooth door lock which enables users with relevant permissions to unlock the door using their mobile phone. This saves care staff the inconvenience of carrying multiple keys, and the time and effort of managing the security associated with storing and releasing keys. It also means care providers can accurately log staff visits, and manage access to homes remotely, quickly and easily.

Cold comfort

The living area of the Centre has been staged to mimic a domestic environment, with a small kitchen area, and a sofa with TV and lighting. One of the demonstrations we often give involves opening the fridge door and leaving it open as we return to sit on the sofa and turn on the TV. After a short while a message appears on the TV screen to tell us that the fridge door is open. This is often quoted by visitors as something they will remember, not necessarily because it’s a handy reminder of an event we’re all familiar with, but because it prompts them to think about how we interact with technology. Using a laptop, tablet or smart phone isn’t the only way we can communicate. It’s also just a small example of the ways we’re now able to link a sequence of disparate events together, infer meaning and create a response.

The fridge demonstration is a small but powerful example of the ways that technology is becoming more connected. You may have heard the term big data, which basically means capturing and analysing large amounts of information. From a health and care point of view, this means using technology to help us to understand how people live their lives in their home environment over a period of time, and identifying behaviour patterns which lead to common outcomes, we can identify and react to these. So using a combination of technologies in the homes of thousands of older people may, for example, show us some common patterns of behaviour which tend to precede a fall. This means in the future we could target interventions to prevent such outcomes.

A new product coming soon to the Innovations Centre will help us develop this kind of connected approach.  The device will enable traditional telecare sensors to be used alongside consumer devices powered e.g. by Android or iOS.  Information from the sensors could be viewed via an online portal and accessed via a tablet or smart phone. Health and social care professionals as well as family members can access and discover for example how often someone is accessing the fridge, moving around their home, how well they’re sleeping etc. Patterns can be identified over time, for example detecting patterns that may indicate risk of falls increasing or conversely that someone recently discharged from hospital is recovering. This can also link to health apps such as mTrax, using wearables and telehealth peripherals such as weighing scales to give a more complete picture of a person’s wellbeing.

So that’s just a few of the exciting possibilities that can be explored in the Innovations Centre. The flip side of all this potential is that we need to find better ways of making sure the solutions we develop are safe and compliant with relevant standards, but also getting them to market more quickly. The Centre plays an important role in helping us to get valuable customer feedback, and concentrate our efforts on developments that can make the biggest difference to people.