Device keeps elderly in touch

A touched-based SMS system for aged persons is one of many innovations the new $120 million Smart Services CRC hopes to foster.

A touch screen device that aims to address the issue of social isolation in Australia's elderly population, is nearing commercial rollout.

The device, called Keep in Touch is the brainchild of Bob Kummerfeld, associate professor at Sydney University's School of information Technologies.

Kummerfeld described his family, which is dispersed geographically as a technologically literate one, except for his mother.

To communicate with her, for example, via email or Skype, requires both a PC and technological savvy on her end - something which aged and socially isolated person don't have. That conundrum got him thinking and ultimately led to Keep in Touch, which aims to bypass that problem. It is Web-enabled touch screen with a microphone, or as Kummerfeld says: "SMS with video".

The screen - at this stage it is yet to be finalsed how big it will be, but the university has a commercial partner, Consult Point, exploring this avenue ahead of the soon-to-be rolled out trial - has images of family members and the user touches that member to activate the microphone and record a message. Once recorded they press send and the message is carried over the Internet to the recipient who can view it on their PC or Keep in Touch device.

Kummerfeld said Keep in Touch is meant to be minimal. He expects that it will cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to no more than $500 when it begins commercial roll out later this year.

Keep in Touch was one of eight research initiatives that was showcased at Thursday's opening of the Smart Services CRC (Cooperative Research Centres), a commercially focused research initiative aimed at providing solutions in the local services sector.

A total of $120 million has been invested in the Smart Services CRC. Senator Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research said the federal government will provide $30.8 million of CRC program funding until 30 June 2014. The remainder comes from universities nationwide and industry including SAP Research and Infosys.

With Australia's economy dominated by the services sector: it contributes some 80% of GDP - it is hoped the CRC will foster a number of researchers to devise and then market solutions and technologies that capitalise on this services market segment.

Other technologies showcased on Thursday included the PhoTable, which promote surface (table) computing and THOMM, a Hospital based clinical hand over tool which is currently undergoing a trial at the John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle.

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Howard Dahdah

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