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Towards the cognitive home: A challenge roadmap - Challenges of Our Era Forum Oct 17

The ageing population is a major socio-economic shift associated with both opportunities and challenges. Opportunities for social innovation to move away from outmoded conceptions of age that will lead to a richer set of possibilities later in life, and challenges most notably relating to an increased demand for health and social care. These challenges shouldn’t be overblown, but equally can’t be ignored. Digital technology is a key enabler, both for increasing opportunity in the second half of our lives and to improve health and social care. The location for much of this technology to support us in our daily lives is the home.

Technology for future homes  has great potential to make our lives easier as we get older, providing:

  • Greater degree of interaction and communication at both long distance and in our community;
  • Personalised support and care services, delivered remotely;
  • New outlets for our skills and creativity in order to stay active and engaged members of society throughout our lives

The Agile Ageing Alliance (AAA) aims to reimagine our ‘Neighbourhoods of the Future’ to meet the needs of an ageing population. This challenge cannot be addressed through the lens of a single sector or discipline, and there is a need for a more holistic, collaborative and open approach to research, development and commercialisation. In a white paper entitled ‘Neighbourhoods of the Future- Better Homes for Older Adults – Improving Health, Care, Design and Technology’, commissioned by McCarthy & Stone (the UK’s largest developer of retirement housing), AAA coined the term ‘Cognitive Home’ to describe a new breed of ‘age-friendly’ housing, aligned to innovations in technology, business and service models. 

The Challenge Prize Centre has been looking at the issue of housing to support an ageing population since the runner up for the Longitude Prize 2014 proposed a prize for home-based solutions to improve the lives of people living with dementia.  Since then we have run the Inclusive Technology Prize and the AAL Smart Ageing Prize around assistive technology and digital tech for an ageing population respectively. The Challenge Prize Centre is continuing to seek to understand how challenge-driven innovation can play a role in helping us to age well, to take advantage of the opportunities and mitigate the challenges.

It was therefore a natural fit for the CPC and AAA to team up for the most recent instalment of the Challenges of Our Era Forum series, and the latest in a series of AAA Neighbourhoods of the Future roundtables. AAA invited a selection of expert stakeholders to the HQ of AAA founding member NatWest and the CPC brought the COOE Forum methodology to break down the challenges in developing and delivering the benefits of a ‘Cognitive Home’ by identifying specific barriers and opportunities where innovation can make a sustainable difference.

Some outcomes from the day are discussed below.

Technology development is not a problem

There was a broad consensus that the state of the art was not a barrier. That’s not to say there is not often a disconnect between designers and end-users and a need to promote user- and human-centred design. It is also not to discount the distance yet to run for technological development, such as the use of A.I to automate and personalise services. However, the challenge is more about finding appropriate application of existing products and overcoming barriers to adoption rather than developing radically new technology.

Data is the foundation

Intelligent homes will be built on data. Data is a route not only to improved and personalised products and services, but to business models that shift payment away from end users and government. But data needs to be accessible, for the individual owner and institutional user as well as the developer. A need was identified for greater data transparency in terms of both where to access data and how data is used. The balance of openness and privacy was thought not to be pitched correctly at present, with an over-protectiveness around data-sharing that stifles innovation. This is not to discount ethical concerns around allowing commercial entities to capitalise on the wellbeing of individuals via their health data. Collaboration on data-sharing is needed between different data collectors, developers, civil society groups and regulators to address these issues.

Everyone speaking the same language

While data will be the bedrock of the Cognitive Home, devices will have to work together, and interoperability is a fundamental challenge that requires collaboration and /or standardisation, and open innovation could make a difference here. Beyond machine language, the human language used around tech can be confusing and inconsistent, with different sets of vocabularies used to describe the same issues. At the same time language can be stigmatising and put off potential consumers as well as innovators in the space.

The space to experiment

The burden of evidence for adoption by health and care systems and a risk-averse environment are barriers to innovation. More innovative start-ups struggle to both experiment and scale because of risk averse providers and regulators. There needs to be more space created to take risks and to build evidence of the case for digital health and care solutions. This requires work between private, public and third sectors to create pilots and share the evidence and data created.

To see a short video overview of the day click here.

For more information on the Challenge Prize Centre’s work on ageing and other topics, email [email protected]

If you would like to get involved with AAA’s Open Innovation Challenge visit www.agileageing.org and complete the form on the contact page.


Richard Duffy

Richard Duffy

Richard Duffy

Foresight Researcher

Richard was responsible for monitoring new developments and trends in science and technology for the Challenge Prize Centre.

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Orpa Haque

Orpa Haque

Orpa Haque

Assistant Programme Manager

At Nesta Challenges, Orpa delivered programmes focused on social impact, including a flagship programme, The Mobility Unlimited Challenge.

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