Workpackage 3: Technology for Supporting Functional Autonomy and Independence

Core ResearchCatalyst ProgramStrategic Investment Program


Mobile Robotics for Activities of Daily Living Assistance – Workpackage 3.1 VIGIL

This team is creating assistive robots that can be used at home, as well as in hospitals, seniors' residences and long-term care. The robots will be able to help older adults with daily tasks, monitor their well-being and signal for help in an emergency. The project is also developing a telepresence device to enable “virtual visits” for remote consultations with medical professionals.

Award Term: April 1, 2015 - March 31, 2020

AGE-WELL NCE Investment: $ 809,187

Total Non-NCE Contribution: $ 83,200

Project Leads
  • Francois Michaud, Université de Sherbrooke
  • Goldie Nejat, University of Toronto
Collaborative Power Mobility for an Aging Population – Workpackage 3.2 CoPILOT

The team is developing intelligent control technologies for scooters and powered wheelchairs that will enable older adults with physical, perceptual, and cognitive limitations to drive their mobility aides independently.

Award Term: April 1, 2015 - March 31, 2020

AGE-WELL NCE Investment: $ 920,737

Total Non-NCE Contribution: $ 5,222,076

Project Leads
  • Bill Miller, University of British Columbia
  • Ian Mitchell, University of British Columbia
Emotional MOtivation for TEchnology that Cares – Workpackage 3.3a EMOTEC

This project is developing computational models of emotional alignment between older adults with dementia, care partners, and technological assistants. The goal is to promote adoption and engagement with technologies, such as virtual or robotic assistants, by older adults.

Award Term: September 1, 2017 - March 31, 2020

AGE-WELL NCE Investment: $ 168,000

Total Non-NCE Contribution: $ 4,150

Project Leads
  • Jesse Hoey, University of Waterloo
  • Julie Robillard, University of British Columbia
iNnovative Easy Assistance Reassuring System – Workpackage 3.3b NEARS

NEARS is an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based user friendly smart-home. Users can easily install and personalize the smart features to their own needs, transforming their home into a smart home. Older adults will age in place in their home, connected with their friends and family members, thanks to NEARS short-period and long-period monitoring capacities and real-time cognitive assistance.

Award Term: September 1, 2017 - March 31, 2020

AGE-WELL NCE Investment: $ 161,763

Total Non-NCE Contribution: $ 65,000

Project Leads
  • Helene Pigot, Université de Sherbrooke
Success Stories
Selected Publications


Impact of Environmental Awareness on Powered Wheelchair Driving Performance and Safety – Workpackage 3.8-CAT

Individuals who do not have the strength to propel themselves in manual wheelchairs can benefit greatly from the use of powered wheelchairs, which have been linked to a higher overall quality of life. According to a report, however, 20% of power mobility devices users had experienced at least one major collision within the last year, and 11% of these users had been hospitalized. Powered wheelchair users of all ages have reported that they often face difficulties while navigating tight spaces and backing up. Although new cars have sensors that assist in backing up and collision avoidance (and are mandated in the U.S.), commercial wheelchairs do not have this technology. Our proposed research aims to understand the impact of environmental awareness on driving performance. Existing intelligent wheelchair research has attempted to autonomously or semi-autonomously perform tasks such as collision avoidance and backing up; however little attention has been paid to exploring environmental awareness with current commercial wheelchairs, and to understanding how this awareness impacts performance while executing challenging driving maneuvers. Further investigation in these areas can lead to the development of new tools that not only assist novice drivers as they learn how to drive powered wheelchairs, but also help drivers who are excluded from powered wheelchair use due to safety concerns, especially if they have deteriorating physical and/or cognitive conditions. It is anticipated that this project will 1) create tools to evaluate environmental awareness with existing chairs and drivers, 2) help understand the role of environmental awareness while driving, 3) provide recommendations on tools that might enhance environmental awareness, and 4) potentially help increase access to powered wheelchairs and safety for a large population that is currently excluded. This pilot will be the start of an iterative process to evaluate various technologies developed within AGE-WELL WP3 (Technology for Supporting Functional Autonomy and Independence) with stakeholders.

Project Leads
  • Bill Miller, University of British Columbia
A Smart Clothing and Assistive Robotic System for Older Adults – Workpackage 3.16-CAT

Our goal is to develop an autonomous assistive system for the important daily activity of dressing that combines both socially assistive robotics and smart clothing to aid older adults with cognitive impairments. The progressive loss of cognitive function hinders an individual’s ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs). With respect to the different ADLs, dressing is the most impacted by dementia, and the inability of dressing independently negatively impacts the quality of life for older adults and their families. Furthermore, clothing has a significant influence on self-esteem and social identity of persons living with dementia, and can remain important even in the context of relatively advanced dementia.

We propose a novel autonomous assistive system that provides dressing instructions and monitors the overall dressing activity to provide feedback. The system uniquely combines smart clothing and assistive robotics technologies. A socially assistive robot will help older adults to select clothes based on weather, activity and preferences, and then prompt the user to find and then put on the clothes. The robot will continuously monitor the activity through its multimodal perception system to ensure that the clothes are put on properly, since the robot is able to search for dressing failures including clothes that are put on only partially, backwards or inside-out. The perception system uses an innovative combination of vision and embedded sensors in the clothes.

We expect this system will improve the quality of life of older adults by promoting their independence, and reduce the burden on caregivers. This proof-of-concept project will pave the way for needed research in the emerging areas of smart clothing and assistive robotics for healthcare. This project fits well within the AGE-WELL WP3 TECH-FAI Workpackage, which focuses on developing technologies for supporting functional autonomy and independence.

Project Leads
  • Goldie Nejat, University of Toronto
End-user Led EValuation of Assistive TEchnology (ELEVATE) – Workpackage 3.17-CAT ELEVATE

New technologies are promising in their potential to help older adults with cognitive and physical limitations and their caregivers. For example, technology can be used to reduce caregiver burden, promote independence, manage safety risks and reduce stress. Despite these benefits, bringing these technologies to market remains a challenge. In fact, few older adults and caregivers benefit from assistive technologies in their day to day lives. To address this issue, there has been a move towards consulting with older adults and caregivers during the technology development process, but this approach is not always implemented or successful. As such, there is a need for a common guide to evaluate technologies throughout the development process to ensure they are aligned with the needs and values of older adults and caregivers. The specific aims are to: 1) complete a scoping review of existing tools to develop the evaluation content and criteria; 2) conduct focus groups with end-users to a) establish the importance of distinct evaluation criteria and b) identify new ones; 3) develop the evaluation framework and tool and vet it with AGE-WELL investigators; and 4) promote the use and implementation of the End-user Led EValuation of Assistive TEchnology (ELEVATE) tool across Canadian and international research groups and industries. ELEVATE will: 1) assist engineers and researchers to create useful technology solutions that lead to positive change in the lives of older adults and their caregivers; 2) accelerate the commercialization pathway by providing technology developers with a simple and vetted method to align their products with the needs and values of target end-users; and 3) provide AGE-WELL with a minimum dataset tool to evaluate developed technologies.

Project Leads
  • Bill Miller, University of British Columbia
  • Julie Robillard, University of British Columbia


Barriers and facilitators of integrating an immersive wheelchair simulator (miWe) as a clinical tool for training powered wheelchair driving skills – Workpackage 3.7-S5

Training is an essential aspect of power wheelchair (PWC) service delivery. However, training is not provided to a sufficient degree because of lack of time, knowledge and resources, which can lead to sub-optimal wheelchair driving skills and decreased confidence in one’s abilities. Training using a validated and portable virtual reality platform may address the need to increase the amount, frequency and efficacy of PWC skills training. The McGill Immersive Wheelchair simulator (MiWe), which has been already developed and validated for PWC training, is an innovative platform for this purpose. However, integrating MiWe into clinical practice is a challenging process. The ultimate goal of this project is to investigate the potential to implement MiWe as a PWC skills training program in a rehab setting. Stakeholder opinions will be collected through four focus groups and an online survey targeting therapists and clinical program directors.

Project Leads
  • Francois Routhier, Université Laval
Usability testing of a mHealth application and internet portal for managing chronic arthritis and joint health – Workpackage 3.10-SIP A1

The incidence of arthritis conditions is projected to increase markedly as the number of older adults in Canada increases. Currently, the diagnosis and care of arthritis and its symptoms occurs at clinics and hospitals. Unfortunately, this is expensive to healthcare systems, inconvenient for patients, involves extensive waiting lists for services and ultimately leads to insufficient monitoring of patients’ symptoms. These issues are multiplied for Canada’s vulnerable senior population. The LiveWith Arthritis Plus (LWAP) platform addresses these problems by making heavy medical imaging equipment and diagnosis accessible by a smartphone and a web portal, in the convenience of the home. Having developed a successful prototype, the next obvious step is to ensure that LWAP meets the needs of end users, including older patients with arthritis, care providers and clinicians. This research will involve user studies in collaboration and consultation with key stakeholders including The Arthritis Society of Canada, Pain BC and Arthritis Consumer Experts. This research project will be led by Dr. Diane Gromala, Canada Research Chair and Professor in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University. Dr. Gromala brings extensive experience in the field of human-computer interaction and has a decade of experience collaborating on CIHR-funded arthritis research. The successful completion of this project will enhance our understanding of the specific needs of older users regarding technology and chronic disease self-management, align research with the commercialization requirements for medical devices, enable eTreatMD to proceed with future clinical trials of LWAP and ultimately position the company to launch LWAP nationwide in 2018. This collaborative research will also generate end-user interest and trust, in order to ensure that this initial market push is done with a product that has been validated and meets relevant users’ needs. eTreatMD projects that total downloads for LWAP could reach 200,000 new users globally by 2019.

Project Leads
  • Diane Gromala, Simon Fraser University
Scalable Heuristics for Assistive Design and Elaboration – Workpackage 3.13-SIP A2

An increasing number of designers wish to conceive innovative products or services for older adults with special needs and family caregivers. Both groups have distinct but overlapping needs that require good understanding and close working between designers and these intended end users. However, little practical knowledge is available in efficient and attractive ways to integrate them into the design process.

The DATcares workshop highlighted this problem and introduced an innovative bottom-up approach that showed how relevant design principles could be identified by a transdisciplinary effort gathering caregivers, researchers, occupational therapists, designers, technology developers, industries and policy makers. Following these findings, it was decided to replicate this approach at a bigger scale in order to share successful design principles throughout the design community.

Scalable Heuristics for Assistive Design and Elaboration (SHADE) is a documented resource to support the design of assistive technology that cares’; namely, to support designers in creating products and services that better support the fundamental needs of both caregivers and care-recipients. SHADE encompasses the key-components of the well-being and the integration of caregiving within various occupational roles (employment, leisure, social interactions...) that enhance the quality of both their caregiving and their relationship with the care-recipient. Additionally, SHADE provides recommendations to integrate technologies and services in the social environment of those who are receiving care.

With this in mind, SHADE defines, disseminates, and supports a set of design heuristics and user-centered methods to globally improve the quality of assistive technologies by encompassing caregivers' and care-recipients' holistic needs. These heuristics will be conveyed to industry and practitioners through a deck of cards and a reference booklet, providing definitions of design principles, best practices and concrete examples. These products will be downloadable for free and premium printed versions will be available at production cost.

Project Leads
  • Helene Pigot, Université de Sherbrooke
Adrenalease Posture Apparel Expansion – Workpackage 3.14-SIP A3

Older adults and care givers suffering from neck and back pain often find that traditional posture braces are large and hinder their daily lifestyles. As a result, they are often not able to do the activities they love or often compromise their health by removing their posture brace.

Adrenalease’s posture performance products are the only patented adjustable solutions for helping people improve their posture and alleviate back and neck pain, while simultaneously allowing them to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. Adrenalease Inc. aims to make a meaningful impact on the lives of seniors to engage in physical active and utilize proper movement patterns by having better posture with Adrenalease posture apparel. The risk of injuries also decreases when neutral posture is maintained. Our second goal is to decrease the likelihood of back injuries when caregivers are lifting and caring for family and loved ones. We are working on advancing our technology to include Shape Memory Polymers with sensors embedded in the fabric.

We developed relationships with many health care professionals to endorse and promote our product line such as Pharmasave on a nationwide level and Wellwise by Shoppers Drug Mart. We are in the process of changing our packaging to comply with industry standard by having it in English and French. With the help of SIP Accelerator we can speed up the process of packaging production as well as other marketing materials. Adrenalease would like to attend the Pharmasave National Buyers Conference in Vancouver being held in April 2018 as we generate more leads and sell our products. We would like to work with AGE-WELL network to enter new market opportunities and help grow our business with medical distributors. Our posture apparel is currently patent-pending in 40 countries and we would benefit from the legal advice of tapping into these different markets.

Backup Sensor Technology for Wheelchairs (BSTW) – Workpackage 3.19-SIP A4
Powered mobility can improve quality of life for older adults who are unable to walk or use manual chairs; however, 20% of powered mobility users report at least one major collision within a year. Safety is a major concern when determining eligibility for powered mobility device use and can often to lead to exclusion. Older adults with a diagnosis of dementia are especially likely to be excluded because of visuo-perceptual difficulties experienced, which can make powered mobility device operation challenging or even impossible. Loss of mobility can in turn lead to depression and an increased reliance on caregivers. The objective of this project is to commercialize at larger scale, a low cost, after-market solution that can transform any mobility device (wheelchair/scooter) into a “smart” device that can automatically detect obstacles and provide the driver with multi-modal and customizable feedback. We are thus moving beyond our initial project scope that was limited to just wheelchairs. In addition, the goal is now to commercialize this system as part of a larger platform that can provide objective data in order to inform and augment training, assessment and provision processes to prevent undue exclusion of individuals from the use of powered mobility devices. This project can improve quality of life and restore dignity of older adults by increasing driver awareness, and safety of the driver as well as those in the surrounding environment. Moreover, mobility is a fundamental human right – our proposed technology can enable access to powered mobility by a large population that is currently being denied this right.
The Steadiwear Glove – Workpackage 3.20-SIP A5
Project Leads
  • Richard McAloney, University of Northern British Columbia
Robotic Stair-Climbing Assistant (ROSA) – Workpackage 3.21-SIP A5

Stairs pose a significant obstacle for seniors wishing to “age in place” within their own homes. Stair-related falls are a serious safety issue that puts seniors at risk and strains our health-care infrastructure. This problem is exacerbated when seniors attempt to carry everyday items like laundry baskets, groceries, etc., while using even short flights of stairs. Existing solutions do not address the problem directly or are prohibitively expensive. Also, the benefits of fall-proofing measures, such as extra stair railings, are nullified if seniors’ hands are occupied while holding objects. This lack of viable alternatives contributes to seniors leaving their homes prematurely.

George Brown College (GBC) has teamed with Quantum Robotic Systems Inc. (QRS) to develop
a Robotic Stair-climbing Assistant (“ROSA”) for residential use. ROSA will be a small, easy-to-use robotic cart with semi-autonomous features that will carry household items (e.g., laundry, boxes) up and down stairs automatically. The project will produce a functional ROSA prototype that will carry up to 100lb while being virtually hands-free.

ROSA will be a readily accessible solution that will reduce the risk of falls and allow seniors to
remain in their homes longer. It will also create a product that will allow QRS to expand into the residential market

The project will build upon technology already developed through prior QRS/GBC collaborations. QRS has developed and patented a novel stair-climbing technology. Using this core technology, QRS and GBC have collaborated to develop proof-of-concept prototypes for three types of assistive devices: a stair-climbing mover’s cart (“Doll-E”); a service robot for the home; and, a stair-climbing wheelchair. QRS’s first-to-market product is Doll-E, intended for commercial applications. This project will combine and enhance existing features from QRS’s stair-climbing cart and service robot to create the company’s first residential application

Project Leads
  • James McIntyre, George Brown College
Usability testing of a digital health app to support older adults with Chronic Kidney Disease make a successful transition onto dialysis – Workpackage 3.22
Project Leads
  • Sylvain Moreno, Simon Fraser University