IEC Systems committee for active assisted living expands scope

The IEC Systems Committee (SyC) concept covers different domains and technologies rather than single ones. Its work begins at the systems level rather than at that of individual products and supports the investigation of more complex issues related to devices, services, systems, infrastructure and interoperability. 

Image of a mobile phone in a home that is able to control the indoor temperature, security and entertainment systems
Smart homes use mobile devices to control security and entertainment systems

SyC AAL, the Systems Committee on active assisted living (AAL) brings together a wide range of experts from different areas, such as medical devices, consumer electronics, Internet of Things, computer systems and networks.

Quality of life for AAL users is the priority

The AAL user is any person, of any age, who uses and/or benefits from AAL devices, systems or services. Users are defined in IEC 60050-871, International Electrotechnical Vocabulary (IEV) – Part 871: Active assisted living. IEC SyC AAL was established to address concepts, products, services and systems combining technologies and social environment with the aim of improving AAL.

The objective is that AAL users should, to the greatest extent possible, live a meaningful, active and independent life, be fit and in good health and be socially connected.

"As our lives continue to evolve with news ways of living and working during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing a growth in products and services which can be used in homes. The work of IEC SyC AAL has never been more relevant, and promotes the safety, security, privacy and cross-vendor interoperability in the use of such products and services, through the development of international standards", said Ulrike Haltrich, Chair of IEC SyC AAL.

The proportion of elderly people in all societies is growing fast. By 2050, this number is expected to nearly triple, to about 1.7 billion, according to the US National Institute on Aging.

In addition to the elderly, more and more individuals from other demographic groups, who may include people with certain disabilities, are seeking improved access to AAL products and services.

The multiplicity of existing AAL technologies and of those being developed, the large number of standards on the market today and the fragmented standardization landscape are challenges for the IEC which develops international and interoperable standards.

Levels of assistance and use case categories

The SyC AAL work is represented through four levels of assistance:

  • Level 0: Able to live independently with minimal assistance
  • Level 1: Able to live independently, but some assistance is needed occasionally
  • Level 2: Permanent assistance is needed with Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL), which include, for example, the use of transportation, answering the telephone, shopping, cooking, housekeeping, cleaning, medication management, monetary management, etc.
  • Level 3: Permanent assistance is needed with Activities of Daily Living (ADL), which include the most basic human activities such as walking and moving around, going up a few steps of stairs, bathing, eating, clothing, continence, grooming, etc.

Five use case categories:

AAL use cases include a number of categories to deal with the required levels of assistance, for which there is a certain degree of overlap, i.e. categories may be relevant to several different levels of assistance and not limited to one. The categories identified cover:

  • prevention and management of chronic long-term conditions
  • social interaction: enabling people of all ages to be active and socially connected in society
  • mobility: enabling mobility in terms of moving in the home and domestic environments
  • health and wellness: effective management of health and wellness; prevention of functional decline and frailty
  • (self-) management of daily life activities at home: enabling assisted living and helping persons to continue managing daily activities in their homes; living independently for longer, with as little (professional) help as possible 

All-embracing structure

The SyC AAL currently consists of a Chair’s Advisory Group (CAG) for strategy and coordination, six Working Groups (WGs), and a Maintenance Team (MT):

  • WG 1: User focus covers all user-related issues of AAL products, systems and services; defines use cases that take into account the need of users (end users and organizations relevant to the SyC AAL); develops user requirements based on use cases; creates risk management and contingency planning for these use cases; recommends product, systems, services and technologies needed for standardization.
  • WG 2: Architecture and interoperability, aims to define an AAL reference architecture based on user needs, which allows interoperability at different levels by considering security and privacy issues.
  • WG 3: Quality and conformity assessment, focuses on quality criteria, developing testing cases, tools and standards, working with IEC Conformity Assessment Board (CAB) to develop relevant schemes, and organize interoperability testing events.
  • WG 4: Regulatory affairs, looks at AAL initiatives on national and regional levels with details on R&D projects and trials, at regulatory requirements on those levels with details for AAL policies and at the relevant AAL organizations also on those levels such as those for the elderly and with disabilities.
  • WG 5: AAL in the connected home environment, including all appliances (e.g. household technology, home network, furnishings). Identifies standardization needs and new areas of standardization specific to the use of AAL systems, devices, services and technologies in the connected home environment; identifies requirements for the integration of AAL assistant systems in connected homes (new and existing).
  • WG 7: Cooperative multiple systems in connected home environments – Functional safety of electrical/electronic safety-related systems – AAL aspects. This WG works on AAL-specific functional safety requirements of electrical/electronic (E/E) safety-related systems for cooperative multiple systems that are operated together in a connected home environment.
  • MT 6: Maintenance Team 6 coordinates the contribution of all WGs to the development of terms and definitions and their harmonization within the SyC AAL groups and with other IEC committees and relevant organizations. 

Wide network of liaisons

IEC SyC AAL works closely with two IEC Advisory Committees, on Applications of Robotic Technology (ACART), including electrotechnology, and on information security and data privacy (ACSEC). It maintains liaisons with eight IEC technical committees, the IEC SyC Smart Cities, three subcommittees of the IEC and ISO joint technical committee which develops standards for information technology (ISO/IEC JTC 1), and six ISO TCs and SCs and other organizations such the International Telecommunication Union through its joint coordination activity on accessibility and human factors (ITU-T/JCA-AHF), or the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, ETSI TC Smart body area network (SMARTBAN).

This wide network may extend in the future as further needs become apparent.

Expanding its role to meet fast-growing AAL needs

The systems approach is being used to address AAL issues because they cut across many fields of technology. To do this, IEC SyC AAL has set itself the task of monitoring closely the emerging technology trends.

Increasingly, people of all ages are seeking wider and better access to technologies that allow them to live a more active and fulfilling life.

Health challenges are constantly evolving with new threats, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, likely to emerge in coming years. This latest crisis is already having an impact on AAL services and activities.

The multitude of AAL technologies, products and services that can be used in the home and other environments, and the need to develop international and interoperable standards to address current and future issues point to a very active agenda for the IEC SyC AAL in the future.

IEC SyC AAL has published a Technical Specification (TS) and two Systems Reference Deliverable (SRDs)

IEC TS 63134:2020, Active assisted living (AAL) use cases

IEC SRD 63234-1:2020, Economic evaluation of active assisted living services – Part 1: Framework

IEC SRD 63234-2:2020, Economic evaluation of active assisted living services – Part 2: Example of use Monitoring patients with chronic diseases

It is developing a further 13 publications (International standards, TSs and SRDs) covering a wide range of AAL-related systems and issues.