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Fulfilling the needs of elderly people is an imperative problem in most Western societies. The progressive ageing of the population and the need to provide better services to a larger number of users presents an important challenge because, in spite of the increase of resources, the autorities are unable to cope with the exponential increase of the demand. There is general consensus about the fact that the best way to improve this situation is the progressive introduction of technical aids to allow users achieve a more independent life. However those services still suffer from poor levels of efficiency and quality due to the intensive use of manpower and the low penetration of information technologies.

On the other hand, senior citizens frequently have difficulties to make use of the advances in our modern information society technology, mostly because, among other reasons, it requires that they need to learn from scratch how to use some sort of specific terminal. Also, senior citizens do not perceive the benefits of the big effort required to learn how to use these new mechanisms. Elderly users demand specially designed interfaces that are: simple, affordable, always ready, integrate easily in their living environment and offer a single access point for all services.

In order to cope with these difficulties, the VITAL project proposes a combination of advanced information and communication technologies that uses a familiar device like the TV as the main vehicle for the delivery of services to elderly users in home environments. Conversely the project use standard mobile phones for applications on the run. The new services offer will depart from traditional assistance schemes in the sense that it is not oriented to satisfying day to day subsistence needs but it considers other important demands that has deserved little attention up to the moment, such as: the need for information, the need for inter-personal communication, the need for personal advice, the need for edutainment, the need to be able to move safely in the physical environment and the need to integrate into the mainstream society. One of the strong points of the project is the possibility to empower elderly users to take care of themselves, with the necessary assistance, and to get access to information and infrastructures that are currently banned for them. The project is also meant to encourage and serve users that are willing to achieve an active life inside or outside their home environment.

Expected outcomes

The objectives of Vital project are:

  • Development of services for elderly users based on UCH technology
  • Development of services for elderly users using mobile services
  • Demonstration of the developed infrastructure on a set of applications
    • Audio Books - VITAL will empower elderly users to get access to audio books from the TV interface. A simple user interface will allow the elderly user to select his desired book and the system will read it for him. Reading sessions can be interrupted at any time and restarted at a later point in time from the point it was suspended. The audio contents will be downloaded dynamically from a server on demand. Books will be organised in chapters respecting the usual content division in the original book. The audio books application is expected to have a significant impact on the cultural level of elderly users by making books more accessible, enjoyable and easy to read. The application will also help elderly users overcome the usual physical barrier associated to short-sighting. Reading a book on the TV will also require less effort on the part of the user.
    • Education on the TV - VITAL will develop a tele-education platform that will allow the presentation of multimedia courses specifically designed for the elderly: cooking, household activities, etc. As opposed to existing practice in the iTV world, the platform will be generic and will allow the presentation of multiple titles within the same application. The client application will consist of a sort of multimedia blackboard that can be commanded using voice or the remote controller. The client interface will support resizable fonts according to the user preferences, text with audio feedback, etc. The server side will include tools for easy creation and management of the courses. The system may automatically suggest and subscribe users to the courses according to his profile. A course searcher will be also included. The platform can be used to deliver all sorts of multimedia material; such as: documentaries, movies, etc. The objective of this application will be to provide education for self-caring, self-learning/self- satisfaction and entertainment.
    • Peer-to-peer Gaming - VITAL will offer a number of gaming titles for the use of the elderly in the TV environment. The basic idea is the user must find somebody to play with and must share with him the experience of the game. The system may include classic games such as chess or checkers as well as less traditional ones such as role games. The user may request the aid of the “friends searcher” for this purpose. A game can be also suggested by the system automatically. The objectives will be to entertain and encourage social contact with other users. Intelligent Information. VITAL will explore the possibility to build a personal information provider able to: search, retrieve, format and present the information of different nature stored in a number of medias, basically text and audiovisual material. The application proposed will automatically search for the requested information based on the acquired user profile, will suggest the user the possibility to present it on the screen and based on his response will update the user profile. The system will support two modes: “active” (on the initiative of the system) and “interactive” (trigger by the user). In the first case, the intelligent agents module will periodically confront the information in the user profile with information that can be found on-line (web, broadcasts) in search for topics of interest for the user. If an interesting topic is found, the system will notify it to the user by means of the VITAL suggestion mechanism together with a summary of the information and a ranking describing the a priory interest of the topic. If the user desires to receive the complete information, the system will display it on screen and will reinforce the weight of the topic in the user profile. The “active” information system is meant as a generic information engine. However, this basic functionality can be used to implement several different target specific applications (see below): personal newspaper, intelligent information browser, etc. The “interactive” mode, on the other hand, will consist on an aided information browser where the user will be lead by the agent’s community to the piece of information his is looking for. Using the information in the user profile the Agents will prune the navigation tree so that only the promising paths are offered to the user; thus speeding searches and reducing the complexity of the search process. At every moment, the system will display the ranking of the different paths available and the possibility to ask for a suggestion (i.e. suggest me something appropriate at this level) or request the complete (unfiltered) list of topics. While these technologies were initiated in the SAID project, VITAL will extend them to new search topics, will make them available on the mobile and will implement a new interfacing method based on the combination of natural speech processing and the “intelligent” search engine for a most natural user interaction.
    • The Personal Newspaper - Keeping up to date with news and other related information is becoming more difficult every day. The increasing amount of information and the shorter life cycle of the news make it difficult to follow the pace in all subjects that could be potentially interesting. This problem is even more important for elderly users that can have difficulties to get access to certain type of information (i.e. on-line information) and are in general less expectant due to their different life style. In this situation it is easy to get disconnected from the news and loose track of the general evolution of the society. In this context automatic information searching and summarising technologies can be a great aid to obtain the information desired effortlessly and efficiently. The VITAL Personal Newspaper application will create a daily virtual newspaper containing only information the system consider could be interesting for a specific user in a graphical layout similar to that found in a real newspaper. Based on the information about the users preferences stored in the user profile, VITAL will use intelligent agents technologies to search for the desired information in the Web and databases. In addition VITAL will use speech recognition technologies to search information by its content in TV and radio broadcasts and provide a text or audio transcription. The results will be summarised, formatted and presented inside the Personal newspaper. The newspaper will be accessible in multimedia format either from the TV or the mobile.
    • Video Services - The elderly will find immense difficulties to communicate in the TV and mobile environments through standard text based computer tools such as email. Reading and writing long texts in the TV or mobile is inconvenient even for ordinary users: it is difficult to type; it is difficult to read, etc. Speech to text and text to speech could be an option, but those technologies are still inaccurate and they are not really need in this context. Video is a perfect media to communicate with the family, other users or assistance services. VITAL will include several video based services such as Videoconferencing and video-email (short posted video messages) for the purpose of communication. However, video can be also used for other communication purposes such as a video diary. Many elderly users find difficulties to remember things or simply would like to have a diary but are not fond of too much writing. Recording the happenings of the day in video and storing it in the format of a “conventional” diary that can be easily browsed and shared with other persons could be an attractive tool for many people.

Project Patners




Czech Technical University




Telefonica I+D

Derwentside District Council


The project Vital is founded by the European Community through the ICT programe under FP6

;;# Person responsible for the page content: Ing. Jiří Bittner, Ph.D. ;;#

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