The HELICOPTER project is an EU project funded by the AAL'2012 program led by prof. Paolo Ciampolini, University of Parma, Italy. 


The HELICOPTER project aim at exploiting ambient-assisted living techniques to provide older adults (end users) and their informal caregivers with support, motivation and guidance in pursuing a healthy and safe lifestyle. The proposal is targeted at 65+ adults, not suffering from major chronic diseases or severe disabilities, yet possibly being affected by (or being at risk of) metabolic or circulatory malfunctioning which are endemic for this class age (e.g. hypertension, mild diabetes) or by mild cognitive deficits. This picture actually includes a large fraction of aging population. It is also well known that bad life habits play a major role in developing and progression of such diseases: nutrition, medical therapies and physical exercise are among the keys for prevention and control.

For instance, in older adults often the (quite normal) situation of impaired glucose tolerance turns into real Diabetes: proper lifestyle is estimated to reduce chances of such evolution of 60%. Similarly, overweight conditions may turn into obesity and involve other pathology like hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and diabetes; effectiveness of lifestyle-based prevention is largely demonstrated. However, regular checking of health parameters or regularly reporting to the physician or caregivers is often overlooked, due to boredom, perception of complexity or lack of motivation.


The HELICOPTER idea is thus to support end-user and their care givers with feedback, advice, and motivation by analysing the healthiness of the end users via monitoring of daily life behaviours as well as medical status in an unobtrusive way and simple way by employing ambient intelligence. Aiming at providing end-users and their caregivers with feedbacks, advice and motivation, the system will acquire data coming from a heterogeneous set of devices: besides devices customarily adopted to check for basic health parameters, environmental and wearable sensors will be exploited to provide a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the activities carried out. Behavioural analysis techniques will be implemented to this purpose and an interpretative model will be worked out, both exploiting “a priori” medical knowledge and accounting for “self-training” of the system. The evaluation of the health-quality of the inferred activity pattern will enable several services, aimed directly at the user (warning, encouragement, motivation) or to the caregiver (alarms, reports). Eventually, this would make the health monitoring routine much less boring and demanding; indirect wellness monitoring through ambient intelligence may possibly lead to reduce the need of frequent checking of clinical parameters. It is worth stressing that the HELICOPTER system will mostly exploit technology primarily conceived for different function: environmental sensors, for instance, are used for environmental control and safety checks. Hence, the HELICOPTER services will complement other services supporting independent life, highlighting mostly an innovative way of exploiting a wealth of information already available for different aims. For the same reason, (the HELICOPTER system being largely based on existing technology) it is expected that no major obstacles could threaten the potential market exploitation of the HELICOPTER services, within a relatively short timeframe from the project’s end (tentatively 1-2 years, needed for product engineering and marketing)

An example scenario

The HELICOPTER system is aimed at older adults with a relatively high degree of self-sufficiency, both living alone or with relatives (who often act as informal caregivers). Among daily activities routines, a number of tasks are often related to health management, in order to cope with control or prevention of age-related diseases. This includes explicit activities such as regular checking of physiological parameters by means of medical instruments, assuming prescribed drugs, reporting to the caregiver or physician, and so on. A much larger number of daily-living activities, however, have great relevance on wellness and health status: nutrition, sleep and physical movement, at first. Pursuing a healthy lifestyle hence involves an integrated approach, encompassing many heterogeneous aspects: such a holistic view can actually be very effective in preserving quality of life of aging peoples. In many cases, however, elderly tend to be careless about this, due to a number of different reasons: daily routines (e.g., check blood pressure and glucose, annotate, report to the caregiver, take pills at given times, etc.) may become extremely annoying and unrewarding; due to memory and cognitive faults, even simple procedures may be perceived as too complex and demanding. Moreover, knowing how to manage DLA in an healthy way is not actually a trivial task in itself, depending on individual and time-dependent conditions. This in many case leads to negligence, possibly clearing the way for complications.

From the informal caregiver point of view, instead, maintaining control over such a multi-faceted situation can be demanding as well, and may result in unwanted invasiveness and interference with cared one’s independency. Hence, basic needs for enabling effective self-management of healthy lifestyle include: ease of health-related DLA management, guidance, motivation and rewarding strategies aimed at the end-user, comprehensive and expressive monitoring tools available to the (informal) caregiver.

The proposed solution consists of three basic elements: (i) a distributed, heterogeneous sensor network; (ii) data analysis tools aimed at distilling behavioural and health-relevant information coming from sensors and (iii) interaction strategies, aimed at providing the end-user and caregivers with information, simplification, motivation, awareness and guidance.

The HELICOPTER system, encompasses such aspects and aims at constructively exploiting interaction among clinical, environmental and personal activity data. This correlation will result in a much more effective and rational exploitation of available data, with no need, from the user’s perspective, of any relevant change of habits or increase of perceived invasiveness.

The service models

Service models in telemedicine and telecare fields are usually conceived for strictly interacting with existing “health care systems”, aiming at reducing costs without compromising the service quality. HELICOPTER proposal envisages a more holistic view, in which the older adult is not prompted for invasive health checking procedures or boring procedures: he gets, instead, advice and guidance from the system while attending customary daily living activities. HELICOPTER exploits data-fusion methodologies to integrate environmental and health control in the same framework.

The service hence is characterized by a much less marked medical orientation, and deals mostly with wellness, motivation and information. Hence, HELICOPTER services should not be seen as alternative to existing service schemes, but instead as candidates to smoothly integrate within existing telecare service frameworks, widening their potential offer and looking at “prevention”, more than at the “cure”. In such an integrated view, existing and novel players in the care service market could possibly find new spaces, delivering high-added value and highly customizable services.

The business models

Europe shows different habits and cultures about Self-Care @ Home, stimulating and supporting daily activities at home and eating/drinking habits.

The HELICOPTER proposal encompasses many of the above aspects in a holistic, comprehensive view, mostly dealing with self-management of health conditions and lifestyle of elderly people. Elderly often suffer from diseases the management of which requires close control of daily life habits. This not only refers to the need of periodically assuming prescribed drugs or of monitoring physiological data; the healthy life concept involves a much wider picture, dealing with nutrition, physical activity, etc. Balance among different components if often complex to manage, especially if dealing with mild cognitive impairments which are relatively common among elderly people.

The HELICOPTER project hence aims at building an integrated AAL framework supporting independent and healthy lifestyles; HELICOPTER components include:

  • A set of clinical sensors (e.g., blood-pressure, blood-glucose, body weight, etc.), suitable for periodic (self-)checks of basic health parameters.
  • A set of environmental sensors, providing information to be possibly correlated (in an indirect way) to lifestyle and health conditions.
  • A set of personal, wearable sensors, such as motion and fall detectors, tags identifying individuals, etc.
  • A global monitoring framework, in which all data converge toward a common database, and a data analysis engine, capable of correlating such data and inferring from them current activity and behavioral information.
Based on such a knowledge, HELICOPTER will manage different levels of support - Toward users, informal carers, and care services.
The heart of HELICOPTER system is hence the inference model, which involve medical knowledge as well as suitable data mining and pattern recognition techniques. The model should have learning capability, so to adapt more easily to the wide variance of behavioral data; in the training phase, clinical parameters, which have clearer meaning and provide accurate, quantitative information will be used for classifying healthier behavior and to recognize more sensible issue in behavioral analysis.

As a consequence of this, a very important driver of HELICOPTER’s business model - which is mainly based on providing innovative services able to promote the independence and to enhance the capabilities of older people (actually for all)- is just the natural diffusion of smart appliances which are able to interact.

As the main objective of the HELICOPTER project is identifying the real needs of older people - in relation to both specific and to more general services for the self-serve society - and propose hardware and software solutions that can meet these needs, the consequent commercial offer consists of the integrated system of products and services developed and tuned during the project.
This integrated system of products and services will need appropriate distribution channels and the support of dedicated facilities that manage its installation, service, maintenance and effective delivery of the associated services.

Possible channels for the distribution of HELICOPTER can be:

  • Channel of the makers of meditechnical equipment, clothes and home technology (e.g. TV, kitchen equipment, and more), thinking to add to the supply of fitted homes equipped with smart appliances is also the offer of HELICOPTER.
  • Large distribution points specialized in providing systems and integrated solutions for the home
  • Specific channels related to AAL’s field.
Possible structures for supporting HELICOPTER can be:
  • Service providers specialized in AAL field
  • Independent installers of system for the home, supported by service providers for the self-serve society
  • Service companies for the home
  • A new Company promoted and supported by business partners and by any other interested partners of HELICOPTER project.

Uppdaterad: 2013-09-02
Sidansvarig: Jonas Mellin



Jonas Mellin
Lektor i datavetenskap
Högskolan i Skövde
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