Recent stories from The Engineer included the development of a system that uses Wi-Fi and ultrasound technology to keep track of the thousands of pieces of equipment found in the average hospital.
It’s an interesting use of technology for asset management, but Airetrack – the company behind the system – has wider ambitions. It believes its location network could play a role in care homes, tracking not just the equipment but the elderly residents.
This is very much a taste of things to come. Like many technology-led businesses, Airetrack has seen the demographic writing on the wall and that writing says 'OAP'. By the middle of the century millions more of us will be pushing on into our 80s and well beyond. I hope that I make it that far and I hope that you do too, but the effect will be a massive increase in the demands on the care system.
Demographics suggest there will be fewer young people to provide care in person, so the onus will be on technology to keep an eye on the frail and the vulnerable.
Assistive technology will be one of the boom industries of the next 30 years in almost every developed economy you can name. Innovations at various stages of development range from new types of hearing aid to trousers packed with accelerometers and wireless technology that can detect if you take a tumble and call for help. Now that’s what I call a smart suit.
Of course, much of this will be a huge boon to the people it is there to help, providing massive benefits to their quality of life and taking the pressure off the healthcare system.
However, let’s take the potential of all this innovation to its logical conclusion and assume that healthcare provision for the over 70s will largely be based on remote monitoring, whether it’s regular analysis via telemedicine systems or location tracking to make sure people are safely where they should be.
It’s a scenario that is at once reassuring and vaguely disturbing. The engineers working on this technology are acutely aware that assistive technology needs to balance functionality with dignity and the need to respect people’s privacy. Just because you’re over 70 shouldn’t mean you automatically don a tag, like an ageing ASBO recipient on day release.
Andrew Lee, Editor
Any ideas on how technology could help ensure a happy old age? Share them with us.