In a laboratory in St. James’s Hospital in Dublin, an elderly patient gets out of a chair, walks approximately 10 feet, turns around, goes back to the chair and sits down. Sensors track the patient’s movement as part of a test called Timed Up and Go (TUG). It’s just one piece of the research being done by TRIL, which stands for Technology Research for Independent Living, funded in large part by Intel. TRIL describes its mission as “Making Longer Lives Better.” As a result of this study, scientists can now predict with 80 percent accuracy whether a senior is likely to fall.
According to Niamh Scannell, European research director of Intel Health Research and Innovations, there are three principal reasons why older people wind up in long-term care: falls, cognitive decline and social isolation. The Intel team decided to concentrate its initial effort on falls, believing that technology could help address the underlying causes of a fall long before someone is brought into an emergency room.
So why is the world’s biggest maker of computer brains sponsoring basic research in 27 countries? It’s part of a quiet revolution triggered by a new mission statement from CEO Paul Otellini: “This decade we will create and extend computing technology to connect and enrich the lives of every person on earth.” According to Justin Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer, the company is already changing the way it operates. “For a company whose 40-year history was to deliver technology, this is quite a change in getting to understand what people need at different stages of their lives, and to deliver appropriate products,” he says.
Intel had already spent almost a decade researching the aging process. In part, Intel thought that new age-appropriate devices might generate more demand for its technology. The products that resulted from its research are now being made and marketed by the Intel-GE joint venture, Care Innovations. Among them is the Intel Reader, a mobile device that helps those with visual impairments or learning disabilities to read books. The venture is also making software and hardware for telemedicine and social connectivity.