As Europe's elderly population continues to burgeon, associated challenges require new research and new technologies. A European project answered this call, focusing on assistive solutions that enhance quality of life without overstepping the bounds of privacy.
Ambient assisted living' (AAL) is one such solution for individuals with physical and cognitive challenges, which the aged population frequently has to deal with. It relies on information and communication technologies to help a person remain active and socially connected and live independently. Worn by the person, or embedded in objects or in the environment, sensing technology thus promotes health and enhances well-being with captured data used to detect activity or infer knowledge about a physical or cognitive situation.
With video cameras increasingly being used in AAL, the CARING4U (A study on people activity in private spaces: towards a multisensor network that meets privacy requirements) project was established to address issues of privacy, and to design and develop intelligent vision systems that take ethical criteria into account. Adopting a privacy-by-context approach, the project proposed a level-based visualisation scheme. With different levels of alarm triggering different visualisations, a personal sense of privacy is assured. Project research focused on human action recognition and visual privacy preservation techniques. For the first area, conventional (RGB) cameras were used, with work progressing to the incorporation of sensors providing a depth image (D). The resulting RGB-D data can be used to learn and classify human poses, actions or even daily activities. For the area of privacy preservation, CARING4U implemented different visualisations for association with a specific context. The RGB-D device can perform in real-time on a standard PC, and various filters, including blur, pixelating, solid silhouette and 3D virtual avatar, are used.
An end-of-project survey showed that people will be more likely to install home cameras if there is an increased level of protection. As such, a system that uses a virtual avatar may prove an acceptable solution for privacy preservation and user acceptance.
The CARING4U project efforts contribute to the use of ethical vision systems for AAL and promise a breakthrough in services and technologies enabling self-adaptive environments. The advantages of supporting independent living in this way have important societal and economic implications for Europe and its increasing elderly population.