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Fraunhofer Portugal launches Competence Centers

All humans can experience an unwanted fall during their life. Although this tends to be a rather ‘natural’ occurrence, there are several groups in our society that suffer from long term effects of fall instances. Falling can represent serious consequences, including injury, psychological damage, limitations on mobility and reduced quality of life.

There are some specific groups presenting higher risks of fall and damage, for example, those performing high-risk activities or those presenting age or illness related changes. The problem is that frequently these high-risk groups act/live alone and as such, after a fall, they are not able to ask for help, so assistance is not provided efficiently. Particularly, older people, who tend to be frailer, are an increasing segment of population that present higher risks of injury and other fall related consequences.

Until today, solutions that help detect or reduce the risk of falls have only been investigated for individual groups of society and the concern has never been addressed in a holistic manner. Seeing that until now there has been very little knowledge and limited products that are affordable and reliable, Fraunhofer Portugal positioned itself to set up a Fall Competence Center (FCC) to research in depth all fall related aspects, including activity monitoring, in order to develop knowledge and, consequently, viable solutions based on the use of smartphones for the everyday life of specific groups aspects. Fraunhofer Portugal expectation is that later on, this innovative knowledge and solutions will be able to be transferred to industry partners and applied in valuable commercial products. The recently started FCC will bring together experts from different relevant fields (medicine, physics, electronics, ICT, HCI) that will be able to address and cover all these matters in an resourceful manner, as well as extend and apply the already existent knowledge in the area of Falls and Activity Monitoring to other activity areas and target groups as, for instance, falls and injuries that occur from the practice of sports, namely extreme sports, and to increase the security of high risk groups of users as guards, firefighters, security personnel and police officers during their professional activity.

The FCC project will help to create 15 new research positions for students and researchers at Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS and, due to its international background, will also attract experts from outside of Portugal. The goals of the project have been endorsed by a number of leading international research organizations in the field, such as Fraunhofer IDMT, University of Limerick and Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. The proposal is also in line with the devised strategy defined by the Health Cluster Portugal. Fraunhofer Portugal will make all the efforts to ensure that knowledge and results obtained will be disseminated into the related industry, reinforcing one of the main cluster objectives.

Besides the Fall Competence Center, Fraunhofer Portugal is also starting the activities of the Information and Communication Technologies for Development Competence Center (ICT4D CC), a competence center focused on the development of ICT targeting the needs and challenges of developing countries.

The ICT4D-CC is an evolution of the highly successful ‘Android for Developing’ (A4D) project that Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS carried out in 2009/2010 with partners from industry (SAP Research, South Africa, PT Inovação, Portugal) and science (CI-UEM, Mozambique). Originally designed to gain experience in the collaboration with African partners in the development of mobile applications, the expectations were exceeded by far.

In terms of market potential, ICT are rapidly growing in developing countries, with growth rates significantly above industrial countries. Even if today this is partly related to the increasing market saturation in industrial countries and the still small absolute market volume in developing countries, the potential of the addressed market size in developing countries (5 billion people) is by far the largest business opportunity for the ICT sector in the near to mid-term future.

Due to the fact that the demands of the users and the environment as a whole differ in many aspects from industrial countries, only parts of the available ICT solutions will fit. This will require a significant number of resources in research and development activities in order to adopt existing solutions and to create new products/services that serve the demands of those emerging markets. Improving access to information and communication technologies in developing countries is also very important driver for their overall economic and social development.

The goal of the ICT4D-CC is to set up a team of international experts at Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS that are dedicated to improve the access to ICT in developing countries and that will, within the related project, work with international partners from Mozambique (CI-UEM), South Africa (NMMU), Germany (Fraunhofer FOKUS), and Portugal (CEFUP) in order to develop dedicated pre-commercial ICT solutions in the areas of: mobile Agriculture; Health, Government-light Solutions for Citizens and Very Small Enterprises (VSE). The competence center is expected to run until mid-2015, however the idea is to establish a sustainable operation also after the initial phase with the above identified partners. It is expected that the promotion of joint activities that meet the partners’ field of operation, will lead to applied scientific results and products that fulfill local demands in Sub-Sahara Africa. 

The goals of the proposal have been endorsed by a number of leading national and international organizations and industry, such as Worldbank, UNCTAD (United Nations, Conference on Trade and Development), PT Inovação and APDC (Portuguese Association for the Development of Communication).