In one of the first examples of its open API platform in practice, ABB has been working alongside the iHomeLab of the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts to pioneer a personalised virtual assistant to improve quality of life for elderly residents.

With increasing life expectancy, the number of seniors in the population will continue to grow. Consequently, solutions for Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) as ABB calls it are becoming increasingly important to allow the elderly to live independently at home for longer.

The ‘My Life, My Way’ project is the first project of its kind to use ABB’s new open API platform to provide an alternative means of holistic care and virtual support for key aspects of social and clinical care provision within assisted living environments.

Designed to help large groups of residents live independently for longer, the project was implemented by iHomeLab and bonacasa Smart Living, together with a number of international partners. The project uses a virtual assistant, which supports assisted living in bonacasa apartments in Switzerland, implemented by the ABB-free@home system.   


Called Anne, the virtual assistant interacts with residents through voice control or a tablet. The solution uses ABB-free@home through its open API, MyBuilding portal and ABB Ability cloud-based platform to enable users to control all the functions of their apartment.

ABB  says the ‘My Life My Way’ project is a powerful example of how its new open API platform enables greater third-party integration for the benefit of the end user. Through the API of ABB-free@home, residents can ask the virtual assistant to access the Smart Home menu and easily control up to 15 functions in their apartment, from door automation to lights and video intercom.

The maker argues that the trial comes at a critical time in healthcare provisioning, when global health care spending is projected to increase at an annual rate of 4.1% in 2017-2021, up from just 1.3% in 2012-2016 *. Many clinicians and worldwide healthcare providers are turning to smart technology as a positive route to provide innovative, cost-effective ways to help reduce and relieve the pressure on personnel and financial resources in health trusts.

The key purpose of the trial with bonacasa Smart Living inhabitants in Switzerland was to check the acceptance of a virtual assistant with ‘non-technically advanced’ people.  User behaviour was analysed in detail and conclusions drawn, which were important for further development and commercialisation of the project. The pilot also wanted to prove that the virtual assistant could really help residents to live in comfort and maintain daily routines in a healthy and supportive way.

Oliver Iltisberger, Managing Director of ABB’s Smart Buildings business, says, “We are now living in a world where rising health care costs and our ageing population is causing unprecedented challenges to the health care sector. Smart technology offers new and pioneering ways in which certain aspects of care can be automated, but also help people live better, safer and more comfortably in their own homes to reduce the pressure on support resources.”

“This trial is very exciting and demonstrates how easily smart technology can be adopted if it is integrated holistically into the living environment and can be personalised to the user through our open API platform.”

ABB-free@home allows for easy control of home automation applications from a mobile device or PC. In this trial, residents used a tablet with the on-screen avatar, in addition to panels on the wall, to control and manage certain functions within the home including lights and blinds, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning) and the secure entry system.

ABB argues that smart technology packaged into user friendly controls and used across personal devices such as phones, computers or tablets are removing the stigma associated with supported living devices.  The avatar offered an easy-to-use, natural way to interact with smart technology while helping residents to have more control.

Dr. Andrew Paice, Head ofiHomeLab comments, “The aim of this pilot was to help elderly residents lead independent and fulfilled lives by blending people and technology.  While the technology in the background is quite complex, for the end-users the virtual assistant is a friendly, human-looking avatar which can be seen on the screen of their PC, TV, tablet or smart phone. Residents can speak to the virtual assistant using their native language. In a way, it’s  like a modern version of a butler: someone that you can trust, who knows you very well, serves you as and acts in your interest when you need – either in the background or face to face.”  

With rising loneliness and isolation also affecting a growing number of people, the avatar project is also argued to be having a positive impact on helping families and friends connect more regularly through digital with video calls and instant messaging.

The real idea here is to combine smart home with health care and make it feel like part of the same package.

From managing medication control, helping with diet through to alarm setting and reminders, along with providing independent living, security, communication and social entertainment through digital enablement, ABB says the avatar is becoming widely accepted with two out of three residents asking to keep the tablet after the trial.

Oliver adds, “We believe virtual assistants like this one can play a pivotal role in helping elderly residents and people with mobility issues, whether its programmed to support and maintain daily active lives or while in recovery.”

“With the launch of our new API platform we welcome any new advancements in the medical field and anticipate a huge increase in smart technologies for assisted living programs. At ABB we continue to work with our partners to invest in the advancement of smart home and building technology to support lifecycle services for every stage of life.”

Bonacasa in Switzerland is a unique housing concept featuring 1000 owned and 750 B2B apartments situated in Malters, Oensingen and Utzenstorf. Each apartment offers contemporary architecture within an integrated smart technology environment as well as personalised services.

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