Shared values and ethics
The aim of the Home-Assist solution is to enable elderly people to continue living in their own home in the best possible conditions by providing them with services to help them perform their everyday tasks, an alarm system to guarantee their safety, and applications to maintain their social interactions and leisure activities. The device aims to be light and discreet, in order to preserve personal privacy: no cameras, but around 10 sensors that record movements, the opening of doors or cupboards, and the power consumption of certain household appliances. This information is collected by a smart home box and processed using algorithms developed alongside specialists in ageing.
The beneficiary’s consent is at the heart of the project – from start to finish, they govern the information that is sent to their loved ones or the professionals enabling them to stay in their own home. It is this ethical framework and the values of the project that pushed me to get involved,
explains Pierre-Yves Chauché. In this way, the interface can alert the relevant services if the elderly person misses several meals in a row, or if the time taken to perform certain tasks increases in a way that causes concern.
Home-Assist offers the unprecedented possibility of gathering, upstream, all the indicators and weak signals that indicate the early stages of the loss of independence. This could help prevent a large number of incidents and hospitalisations, as well as extend people's independence by offering them customised services while maintaining their privacy,
explains Julien Durand. In the elderly person's home, a digital tablet offers reminders for appointments or medication, as well as games and applications for communicating with loved ones.
The co-construction method
Since the project was launched by the Phoenix* project team, Home-Assist has involved multidisciplinary teams: computer science researchers, specialists in ergonomics and psychologists who specialise in ageing, in order to create a solution that is innovative, ethical, relevant and easy to accept. Their work has been summarised in this article(in French), published on Interstice.info. A list of needs helped the team understand the key issues associated with helping elderly people stay in their own home, with the involvement of specialists from the regional authorities, home support services and private companies. DomAssist 500 , the large-scale experiment carried out in 140 homes, confirmed that it was a sound concept for professionals working in the silver economy. Julien Durand and Pierre-Yves Chauché are seeking to continue this co-construction approach with their partners. From September, they will therefore be launching a pilot commercial offer for around 60 homes, in order to validate their value proposition. “Between urban and rural areas, for example, there are different needs, and we are going to regularly come up against this type of problem. This is why we think it is vital to have support from professionals.” On the technological side, Julien Durand is responsible for developing an app for carers, co‑constructed with them, to provide them with relevant information through a user-focused tool.“Our aim is to develop Home Assist from a lab project to an innovative solution adapted to the silver economy market by the start of 2019.”
A network of supporting partners
The two entrepreneurs have been supported by the Technology Transfer, Innovation and Partnerships department at Inria’s Bordeaux - Sud-Ouest Centre, with whom they have formalized the technology transfer. Julien Durand was initially supported by InriaHub for the first stage of bringing the project to maturity. He then, with his associate Pierre-Yves Chauché, joined an incubation and coaching programme run by Unitec from Bordeaux, as well as receiving guidance from seed funding experts at IT-Translation . Lastly, as part of Inria’s national Digital Startup programme, the two entrepreneurs were able to refine their project, with training from experts at emlyon business school. They now hope to be able to finalise a first round of financing to launch product marketing, which is due to be offered B2B to expand the services available from companies providing home assistance. “We are going to offer professionals a skills transfer so that they can become Home Assistexperts themselves. ” The potential market for UT4H currently stands at 1.5 million people, but that figure could triple in the next 30 years with the acceleration of population ageing. The creation of this new startup confirms the focus of research projects on issues surrounding health and ageing in the Bordeaux region.
Interview with Marie-Laure de Bruc Mazoyer, Startup Manager in the digital division of Unitec:
“With the UT4H team, we worked on the following elements: the market, team, strategy, business model, intellectual property and financing. Our support is tailored to each project and business creator. UT4H also benefited from the workshops (on intellectual property, crowdfunding, dashboards, insurance, etc.) and training sessions (on marketing development, for example) that we organise.
Regarding financing, we are helping UT4H secure public funding from the French public investment bank BPI and the regional authorities.
In 2017, Unitec assisted 99 companies and obtained more than €9 million in financing for startups (excluding private investors).”
*Phoenix is a joint project team run by Inria, Bordeaux INP, the University of Bordeaux and CNRS, within the joint research unit LaBRI (UMR 5800).