In the near future, senior citizens may be able to operate electronic gadgets such as fans, lights, the television or air-conditioner, using their smartphones.

A research project funded by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (Mosti) is being led by Monash University Malaysia to assist the elderly, disabled and people with motor disabilities in their daily lives.

This multi-discipline research is conducted by researchers from Monash University Malaysia, Multimedia University (Malaysia), City University of Hong Kong and Fudan University (China), and hopes to make use of smartphones and Near Field Communication (NFC) technology.

Project leader Dr Teh Pei Lee, Assoc Prof of School of Business, Monash University Malaysia, says: “There is an increasing societal concern for the health and well-being of older adults. In this project, the research team has developed an application that utilises NFC smartphones to realise ‘tap-to-connect’ interaction, replacing the need for multiple hand-held controllers for different devices.”

“No technology skills or system knowledge is required to operate the system. This system is intuitive, easy and convenient for home users, especially older adults,” Teh says, adding that the system is still undergoing research and development. The initial design and development were done by Multimedia University lecturers Cheong Soon Nyean and Yap Wen Jiun.

Research assistant Jonathan Kee, a final-year student of psychological science and business at Monash University Malaysia, says: “The system works on NFC technology – similar to Touch N Go/Smartag – and operates within a certain range. The uniqueness of this system is that it does not need an Internet connection which can be regarded as expensive to some people in Malaysia.”

One of the aims of this assistive technology is to reach out to low-income earners, who may be retirees without an income or who are relying on their retirement benefits for daily living.

The system that has been designed currently involves two applications – the NFC smartphone system (for smartphone users) and the NFC set-top-box (for non-smartphone users).

With the smartphone system, users can operate electronic appliances such as fans, lights, television or an air-conditioning unit, using an NFC smartphone. The user taps their smartphone on a photo interface (embedded with NFC tags) to operate the electronic appliances.

Those who don’t have smartphones, will be able to use an NFC set-top-box instead. These users can operate electronic appliances such as fans, lights, television or an air-conditioning unit, using a set-top-box and NFC card (embedded with NFC tag). The user taps the specified NFC card (eg TV, lamp, air-con, etc) on the set-top-box to operate the corresponding electronic appliance.

There’s a catch though. The electronic devices in question will have to be BLE-enabled (that is, Bluetooth-low-energy-enabled), or be connected to an external BLE plug, and this technology is not yet available in the market place.

Hopefully by the time this design is ready to be commercialised, technology would have caught up.

Meanwhile, the researchers are looking for people to participate in their experimental study. Focused mainly in the Klang Valley and Ipoh, the study will involve at least 400 respondents aged 50 and above, and hopes to examine factors that will influence the elderly’s intentions, acceptance and use of the system. This ongoing study/survey will end on April 30.

The findings of the survey will be used to assist the developers in their technology design and development.

The 40-minute survey will include an experiment on how to operate the smartphone home system using an NFC smartphone, a questionnaire and interview session. The respondents need not be well versed in using smartphones and their identities will be anonymous.

The university has set up a survey centre at the Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia Resource Library in Petaling Jaya. Upon completion of the survey, a token RM10 voucher from Aeon Co (M) Bhd will be given to each respondent. Anyone who is 50 years and above who wishes to participate can SMS/WhatsApp Jenny at 016-608 2513 or e-mail jenny@adfm.org.my to set up an appointment.