More than half the world is urbanized today, with all the attendant benefits and challenges. The density of people in cities is only set to increase, and the question of how to maintain a certain quality of life in urban areas has become much more important. For many years, the Digital Citizen and Connected Social Systems Research and Innovation Program, which I lead, has been closely tracking the phenomenon of Smart Cities to see how the interplay of human, digital, and physical planes can be explored to address this question.
The stakeholders in a Smart City could be citizens, communities, city bodies, as well as the businesses operating in the city. While citizens and businesses are both concerned (as recipient and provider, respectively) with the quality of the services experience, communities focus on collaboration and self-help, and mayors look at transparency and the development of a Digital Spine.
Our view has always been that a Smart City needs to be citizen-centric, doing away with “unresponsive, unaccountable, inefficient, and ineffective bureaucracies”, a concept that we first presented in our Smart City white papers through the TCS-SMU iCity Lab. Citizen-centric service is not all about technology, but also encompasses an understanding of the human condition in various contexts in life.
To put it simply, the starting point to delivering personalized service would involve sensing information about the citizen (with their explicit consent, of course), including not only the surroundings, infrastructure, and location, but also wellness, health, mood, and normal activities. Once the citizen’s status and requirements have been understood, the right service – as personalized and humane as possible – can be designed.
Health and wellness oriented services for the elderly are a great example of why pure technology focus in citizen services will not suffice. Due to changing demographics, the population of the elderly (over 60-65 years of age) is increasing in many countries. They are past working age, their healthcare costs are increasing, they often live alone, and they might not be tech savvy. In fact, younger citizens might also need assistance due to various reasons.
Solutions targeted towards elderly and dependent citizens should ideally allow them to continue living in their own homes – with a reasonable amount of independence and privacy – and not a hospital. This allows them to stay in touch with the community (and not just doctors or nurses), and is a way for them to get the human-in-the-last-mile touch.
The assisted living concept thus proves to be an effective option. It involves monitoring the elderly in a non-intrusive way whether they are indoors or outdoors. Data captured through sensors is used to track any deviations from normal activity patterns, like non-movement for an extended period of time, or being away from home, or not opening their medication box. These deviations, based on a learned, personalized threshold, are used to alert a set of community caregivers, who have a defined protocol to respond to such events.
Sensors also play a vital role in helping collect data, which can be analyzed using deep-learning algorithms over a period of time to detect the potential onset of chronic problems such as cognitive impairment. The exploration of how such non-medical data can be used to indicate potential medical issues is one of the recent areas of research at the TCS-SMU iCity Lab. This collaboration has been extended to focus on new initiatives in research and innovation.
There are a variety of sensors that can be applied in these scenarios – namely, radio frequency (RF) sensors, passive infrared (PIR) sensors, semi-fixed motion sensors, wearables, and cameras – each having varying strengths and intrusiveness levels. They impact the lives of seniors in a positive way and improve the quality of care-giving.
However, the provision of assisted living services using sensors also touches upon issues of privacy, accuracy, manageability, scalability, and cost-effectiveness, all of which are interesting topics in themselves. Which aspect of assisted living do you see as being the most thought-provoking?