Two new wireless-based devices which aim to give elderly and disabled people greater independence both inside and outside their home have been developed.

Manufacturers of the Tunstall Intellec system, which consists of one large-screen portable wireless console and an infrared transmitter, claim that over 2500 different functions can be controlled, such as TVs and DVD players, as well as any electronic doors and windows.

Tunstall Intellec

“I can control lighting, heating, open and close curtains, and even the water feature in my garden," says Anthony Whitehead, a tetraplegic who has been using the device for over a year.

The console also comes in a portable format (above), and was made with the collaboration of engineering and IT company SRS Technology. Both Tunstall and SRS manufacture the slave devices necessary to control items such as doors and windows. The system also interfaces with alarm and emergency assistance devices.

Tony Rice, CEO of Tunstall, said of his company’s device: “These new environmental control solutions are extremely important in assisting people with limited mobility or dexterity to perform essential activities of daily living without the need to rely on carers. They effectively empower users with the ability to carry out a wide variety of tasks on their own."

Another system called Locomotion,  currently under development, uses GPS and a mobile phone linked to a web-based client so that carers can check on elderly or disabled people when they are out of their home: effectively extending in-care monitoring systems outdoors.

“Locomotion offers users greater independence and mobility by helping the elderly and people who suffer memory loss overcome their fear of leaving the house and becoming lost," said project coordinator Antonio Linares Torres.

Trials of the Locomotion device are taking place around Europe, with Barnsley District General Hospital conducting tests in the UK. Professor Mark Hawley, director of research and development at the hospital, explained the advantages Locomotion has over the UK Community Alarm system, which consists of a device worn around the neck with a cordless connection to a land line that calls for help if a button is pushed.

"When somebody rings from home the call centre knows where they are. The drawback back of this system is that it’s based in people’s homes. If someone goes out of doors they don’t have access to this help.

“The project has taken mobile phone technology, so if somebody is out of doors, they can press the big red button."

The GPS transmitter is fitted inside the battery, and sends information to the call centre about the whereabouts of the user. The person who takes the call can see this on their screen through a web-based front end. Linares Torres claims that one advantage of using the web is that the infrastructure required to implement and operate the system is easy to manage and install.

The project in Barnsley has been running for a year and so far has been a success. “There are people who have found it beneficial,” says Professor Hawley. He puts this down to the fact that potential users were asked for their opinions and ideas first. ” At Barnsley, we asked local people if they thought they would find this useful, and how they thought it should be designed."

Professor Hawley is also in the early stages of research into finding out ways in which information technology can be used to support and care for older people within their own homes, which is being undertaken with the help of Tunstall. Residents in Barnsley will be encouraged to join the project as well.