Modern technologies must be adapted to meet the needs of people, both young and old. This is why the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding the “Bringing technology to the people” research programme on human-machine interaction.
The "Bringing technology to the people" research programme is the next generation of the "Human-Technology Interaction" funding priority and addresses the topics "Intelligent Mobility", "Digital Society", and "Healthy Living". Information and communication technologies, electronics, robotics and bionics all play a key role in the interaction of man and machine. They are areas in which innovative solutions are being developed to support humans in more and more areas of everyday life.
We often make use of different modes of transport in our everyday lives. We drive by car to the Park & Ride, from where we board the underground train and transfer to a bus for the last leg of a trip. Technical systems linking infrastructures, vehicles and people ensure that all this works smoothly. We arrive at our destination safely, economically and conveniently, and we stay mobile longer into old age.
The same is true for the "smart" car: Driver assistance and safety systems which control speed or provide lane-keeping and parking assistance are greatly reducing the risk of accidents. The vision of fully automated driving has moved within reach, and it is has long ceased to be a matter of pure technical feasibility. Scientists are now also researching "feel-good" factors, for example: Which driving style do people experience as comfortable in automated vehicles? Innovative technologies will only be accepted over the long term if we can trust them and feel safe.
The interaction of man and machine is also relevant as society moves into the digital age. "Smart homes" are creating safe and comfortable living environments: doors and windows are locked automatically when nobody is home, or the washing machine starts automatically when electricity prices are lowest. Intelligent robots help around the household or assist people doing heavy manual labour.
Another priority area is the connectivity of objects. Miniaturized high storage and processing capacities and modern radio technologies are the foundation for fast, decentralized, networked communication. For example, a vehicle could communicate with a smartphone, smart home or web-based assistance system and thus know as soon as its driver gets in what his or her ergonomic seat and mirror settings or likely destinations and music preferences are. Feedback provided by the vehicle or the connected working environment could inform the smart house that guests are expected who prefer certain temperatures or who have limited mobility.
Human-technology interaction also harbours great potential for patient treatment and care. In this case, the challenge lies in developing technologies which are easy to use and serve the real needs of the individual person. They range from active implants and intelligent prosthetic devices to small wristband devices which, for example, monitor blood sugar levels. In home care, technical systems ensure that those in need of care, their family caregivers, nursing staff and doctors can communicate with each other easily and be up to date at any given time.
Technology provides round-the-clock support
Intelligent technologies make everyday life easier in many ways, but they will not be accepted unless they are safe and easy to use. This is why it is important to also take ethical, social and legal aspects into consideration. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research grants priority to research projects which develop technologies within an interdisciplinary team that adopts the approaches of integrated research, because in today's world of interactive technologies, machines no longer respond to human signals but are instead becoming increasingly autonomous. What was once inflexible and mechanical function is being replaced with natural interaction between man and machine that involves the five senses.
The Federal Government's research agenda
This is also the objective of the Federal Government's "Research Agenda for Demographic Change: The New Future of Old Age". The interdepartmental research initiative is providing funding until 2016 for the development of technologies which aim to promote the social inclusion of older people and improve their quality of life. Research efforts are focused on mobility and communication, longer employability, housing, health and care, and on social and cultural inclusion.
As described above the programme is subivided into three fields of research, each of which is addressed by specific calls:
- Enabling intelligent mobility
- Benefiting tomorrow's digital society
- Contributing to a healthy living
These research fields are further subdivided into topics. For the field of "intelligent mobility" these are:
- Autonomous and user friendly: the smart car
- Intelligent and connected: customised mobility solutions
- Safe and convenient: assistance systems for pedestrians and cyclists
- Individual and collective: new concepts for private transport