About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Belgian brothers win €50,000 Smart Ageing Prize

Activ84Health Explorer, a stationary bike that connects older adults to the outside world through the internet of things, has won the €50,000 Smart Ageing Prize.

An idea born in a care home in Belgium and developed into a smart system that allows the housebound to cycle the world has won the AAL Programme’s inaugural challenge prize. The Smart Ageing Prize awarded €50,000 to the best innovation in internet-connected devices and technologies that empowers older adults to achieve the quality of life they aspire to, socially and independently. Fending off competition from 175 entrants from 26 countries, Jan and Roel Smolders of Activ84Health picked up the major European award at the AAL Forum in St Gallen, Switzerland, a long way from Witte Meren, the nursing home Jan runs in Belgium.

Activ84Health Explorer

The idea for the product emerged when Jan was looking for a way to keep his residents physically active in a safe, motivational and fun environment. Teaming up with his brother Roel, a health technology expert at the Flemish Institute of Technological Research, the two went on to develop Activ84Health Explorer, a product that offers older adults who can no longer get out and about a window to the world.

Using Google Streetview, cloud-based software and touch screen controls, the Activ84Health Explorer allows older people who are less mobile than they once were to explore familiar areas from their past whilst cycling on a stationary bike. As well as physical activity, using the product prompts social interaction between residents of the care home and can stimulate reminiscence.

The prize money will provide vital capital as the business seeks to expand to other care homes throughout Europe. “With the award behind us and the money in the bank, we are confident that this is the right product for us and we are very confident that it has a big future,” says Roel.

It’s not just the prize money that will make a big difference to this start-up company. “The exposure we get from winning the Smart Ageing Prize will certainly rocket launch us to reach many new opportunities and business partners across Europe”, Roel added. "The whole process of the Smart Ageing Prize has ascertained that our technology is appreciated by others, and strengthens our belief that we can have a true and long-lasting impact on active and healthy ageing in Europe."

Top five ideas to support smart ageing

Activ84Health Explorer was joined on stage at the AAL Forum by four other aspirational and innovative products for older adults using the internet of things (IoT), who were together the top five finalists of the Smart Ageing Prize.

AlzhUp is a unique digital social-health service platform for treating dementia and active ageing. AlzhUp is an aggregator of scientifically validated non-pharmacological therapies, customising the treatment available to the patient’s needs. The service also creates a personal bank of memories, cataloguing memories using a scientific mnemonic algorithm that simulates the behaviour of the human brain.

GiveVision SightPlus is a set of wearable, hands-free, vision-enhancement smart glasses to assist visually impaired people. GiveVision SightPlus enables people with sight impairments to see again by combining real time video augmentation with heads-up display technology to leverage their remaining vision. The tool empowers partially sighted people to be able to see faces of their loved ones, read printed and digital text, recognise signs and objects at a distance, watch TV and stay connected over the web.

RelaxedCare is a smart home IoT tool connecting older adults with loved ones, providing well-being status and simple communication through the RelaxedCare Cube. RelaxedCare gives informal caregivers an answer to the question: “Is my mum doing okay right now?” at a glance. The open platform enables easy integration of a wide variety of common sensors, actuators and IoT devices and services.

TAVLA offers a new app platform that improves older adults’ quality of life and enables them to stay longer in their home. Due to the innovative interaction model of TAVLA the usability of apps is much more intuitive and can be personalised for people with different limitations.

Constance Agyeman, Prize Lead at Nesta, said: "We are delighted to have found a worthy winner for the Smart Ageing Prize in Activ84Health Explorer. The winner demonstrates the potential of a challenge prize to unearth new innovations and we are looking forward to seeing Activ84Health Explorer scale throughout Europe and make a real impact to the lives of older adults."

Karina Marcus, AAL CMU Director, added: “Our very committed jury assessed many extremely interesting ideas and selected 15 amazing finalists. These were then shortlisted to five and we are very excited to announce the final winner - an IoT solution with real potential.”

Photo credit: KU Leuven – Rob Stevens


Pippa Smith

Pippa Smith

Pippa Smith

Assistant Programme Manager

Pippa was an Assistant Programme Manager in the Challenge Prize Centre, working on European prizes including the European Social Innovation Competition and the Smart Ageing Prize.

View profile