The German national ministry of research has announced a major funding program for ambient assisted living (AAL).

Over the next year, €125m will be invested in 17 AAL projects. The goal is to develop IT-solutions that help elderly and chronically ill people to stay in their own flat or house as long as possible.

“There are 16m people in Germany now who are older than 65. In the year 2050 it will be 23m”, said Thomas Rachel, Secretary of State in the National Ministry of research at the opening of the German AAL Conference in Berlin.

This demographic trend was the reason why his ministry had decided to support regional development projects for AAL, Rachel said.

The first 17 projects that are being funded have been announced. The projects involve companies from the IT industry as well as social service providers, home care providers, public and private house builders, health insurance companies and care insurance companies.

Altogether, the 17 projects will receive € 45m, out of the total amount of € 125m, of state funding. The rest will be spent in other areas, such as basic technological research and on improving the social care infrastructure.

“The hope is that the project partners will also engage financially, so that in the end there will be more than € 200m available”, said a ministry spokeswoman.

The biggest project to be funded is SmartSenior, led by Deutsche Telekom and Charité University Hospital Berlin.

“What we are trying to develop is an automatic emergency wristband that is equipped with GPS positioning”, said Wolfgang Wahlster of the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence in Saarbrücken. This wristband could be connected to sensor technology that helps to detect when a patient collapses or has other medical problems.

A second component of SmartSenior is to develop an easy to use interface for home telemonitoring: “We are planning to use the television set for the communication with medical service providers, because everybody knows how to use it”, Wahlster said.

The German car manufacturer BMW is also involved in the project. It will develop a solution that makes a car pull over to the side of the road and stop automatically in case of a medical emergency.

Apart from SmartSenior, there are other eye catching projects. In the project SensFloor, technicians aim to develop an “intelligent”, sensor-equipped floor so that employees of retirement homes can detect medical problems earlier. And, in the PAALiativ project, a web based communication platform is set up to improve palliative care of patients with carcinoma or lung disease.

Hans Heinz Zimmer, head of the German Association of the Electronic Industry (VDE), said that AAL was not only a way to keep people in their own homes as long as possible. “It will also lead to substantial savings”, he said.

He cited a recent VDE study which claims that 30% of the € 60bn that are currently being spent on cardiovascular diseases in Germany per year, could be saved by using telemonitoring technology to reduce hospital admissions and long term complications.

The Secretary of State also pointed to the economy when talking about the reasons for the ministry’s €125m investment: “If AAL helps 10% of the elderly people with dementia to stay at home for one year longer than they would have stayed at home without AAL, this alone will mean cost savings for the social security system of €3bn per year.”