Review shows strong SME interest and government backing for ICT to assist the elderly

Date: Tue, 01/04/2011 - 04:30

The European Commission presented a report on the progress of the Ambient Assisted Living joint programme (AAL JP) which highlights very high levels of involvement by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in projects, strong levels of financial support by participating countries and recommendations to ensure ongoing positive results

Review shows strong SME interest and government backing for ICT to assist the elderly Neelie Kroes, Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda

This €600 million research and development funding programme involves 23 countries and the EU to improve the quality of life of senior citizens through smart ICT-based solutions. The report is addressed to the European Parliament and Council of Ministers and is an important step to reinforce the AAL JP, one of the key actions of the Digital Agenda for Europe. The AAL JP can make an important contribution to the forthcoming pilot European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing.
Neelie Kroes, Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda said "I am pleased that participating countries see the Ambient Assisted Living joint programme as an important lever to tackle the challenge of demographic ageing, as shown by their substantial financial commitments. Information and communications technologies are crucial to improving the lives of the growing number of Europe's senior citizens. The AAL programme demonstrates how, by pooling our resources, the EU can achieve far more in this important area than individual Member States ever could".
The Commission's first evaluation of the AAL joint programme is based on the conclusions (also issued today) of a high level panel chaired by former European Commissioner Meglena Kuneva, which reviewed the AAL JP against the wider context of innovation responding to demographic challenges.
The report indicates that the joint programme has been very successful in uniting the 23 participating countries around a pressing societal challenge and filling a gap between advanced research and large scale market roll-out solutions for active and independent living. The AAL JP success is also enhanced by the substantial level of financial investment by participating countries. In 2009 this was 50% more than the minimum level originally foreseen. Another decisive indicator of success is the very strong participation of SMEs in project consortia (more than 40%).

New solutions
The programme develops new solutions that are ready for use on the market within two to three years. More than 50 research and innovation projects in the areas of chronic disease management and social interaction of seniors have been launched since 2008. Examples include robots performing household chores while helping the person to remain connected to their social surroundings and 'smart home' environments that respond to their inhabitants' movements and behaviour to make their lives easier.
To maximise the programme’s positive output, the Commission recommends closer and more meaningful involvement of end-users when solutions are being designed. More consistent eligibility and financing rules should also minimise operational hiccups and delays that sometimes affect the smooth progress of projects. The Commission will also work to set up financing arrangements to bridge the gap between the ‘pilot phase’ and large market uptake. This includes further supporting the AAL Investment Forum, and taking into account the possible contribution of the AAL JP to the pilot European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing. The pilot Partnership, announced by the Innovation Union flagship initiative, will address barriers to large scale uptake of innovation that responds to the challenges of demographic ageing.
The Commission will also further strengthen ties between the AAL JP, the other EU-funded research and innovation programmes and the 2012 Year of Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity.
On the basis of this report, the Commission will now discuss with the European Parliament and the EU's Council of Ministers the next steps in implementing these proposed actions and the continuation of the programme beyond its initial expiry date of 2013.

The AAL JP brings together 20 EU Member States (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK), three associated countries (Israel, Norway and Switzerland) and the European Commission.
It supports ICT-enabled solutions for ageing well that can be launched on the market in two to three years and become commercially viable. This brings new business opportunities and huge savings in the cost of social and health care. For example, telecare solutions can cut the costs of care services by up to 30%.
More than €1 billion is being invested by the public and private sector in Europe in research and innovation for ageing well: some €600 million in the AAL joint programme (AAL JP), approximately €400 million in the EU's research framework programme and more than €50 million so far in the EU's ICT Policy Support Programme.
The Commission's participation in the Ambient Assisted Living programme results from a 2007 action plan on "Ageing Well in the Information Society". Its goal is to strengthen research cooperation between Member States through matching EU funds.

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