COLABORATE participates in focus group

Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS led PortoPilot, a project which included conducting focus groups with seniors to identify their daily needs that can be tackled with digital solutions. Also, part of this study was the execution of a pilot with identified technologies to empower senior citizens and promote their well-being.

In this scope, Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS held a focus group to understand the interests of seniors and their attitudes towards technology. Our team of researchers distributed smartphones and taught them how to use some technologies, such as Whatsapp, games, YouTube and whatever they asked to learn. 10 seniors from the COLABORAR network took part of the pilot.

Our team conducted these focus groups to assess user needs, select solutions, set up the required technologies and provide support during the pilot study.

The goal was to collect and analyze data regarding seniors’ experience in using these technologies. PortoPilot ended in December of 2023.

12 years of COLABORAR!

At the end of October, the COLABORAR volunteer network celebrated its 12th anniversary. The occasion, which was marked with a Halloween Ball in the UPTEC auditorium, included some of the network’s volunteers.

COLABORAR was created in 2011. It is open to the outside world, meaning that companies or organisations can use this network as a way of gathering suggestions and expectations from the target audience for new products and services. Over the years, volunteers in this group have taken part in all kinds of research activities, such as in-depth interviews, usability tests, everyday observation sessions, group discussion sessions, surveys and user experience evaluation. Since its beginning, COLABORAR has conducted a total of 3,266 research activities as part of 83 R&D projects.

The COLABORAR network also has several partner institutions. Currently, 20 are active, but in COLABORAR’s history, 82 institutional partnerships have been established. The group already has 1616 volunteers, with 552 currently active.

COLABORAR was created to connect technology researchers with users in different application areas such as well-being, health, security, agriculture, retail, energy, quality of life in old age and technology for communities. Creating technology is not exclusive to researchers and programmers. COLABORAR volunteers are also part of the process.

COLABORAR network helps create technology for people with dementia

Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS recently launched another project: AUTONONOUS. This is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system that can be integrated into existing technologies, such as smartwatches, to help people with dementia carry out day-to-day activities and prolong independent living at home.

The project involves co-design activities and usability testing of the technology. Once again, the Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS volunteer network – COLABORAR – will be key in this regard. Throughout the AUTONOMOUS project and the development of the proposed solutions, there will be continuous close working between the researchers and people with dementia and their carers, be they family members, technicians or assistants from the institutions.

This solution, proposed by Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University and LUCA School of Arts, was selected as one of the semi-finalist winners of the Longitude Prize for Dementia.

Each of the 24 semi-finalists receives £80k grants as part of the overall £4m Longitude Prize on Dementia, driving the co-creation of personalised technologies to help people living with dementia enjoy independent and fulfilled lives. The Longitude Prize on Dementia is funded by Alzheimer’s Society and Innovate UK and delivered by Challenge Works.

Sneak peek at our new project

We are delighted that the PortoPilot project, coordinated by our colleague at the Human-Centred Design group, has been approved for funding in the Porto Challenges area framework.

The main objective of the PortoPilot project is to tackle loneliness of older people by training them in using new technologies. The project will comprise focus groups (group discussions) to assess participants’ needs in terms of technology interaction (main difficulties, motivation and interest) so that researchers can identify the appropriate technologies and solutions for each person. After this initial research phase, the researchers will provide each person with the technology that has been found to be most appropriate (smartphone, tablet, activity bracelet) as well as the applications that will allow the best use of that technology in between applications developed by Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS, or applications already available for free on the market. Initial training will be given to each participant (or group of participants). During the pilot period, periodic visits will be made according to the availability and needs of the participants. During these visits, any doubts that may arise will be clarified, topics related to technology will be discussed, or training sessions will be promoted on various topics related to technology use. At the end of the pilot, interviews will be conducted with the participants to collect information about their experience during the pilot and their impressions on the use of technology, advantages and difficulties. 

The pilot will take place in Porto, and users from COLABORAR will benefit from this personalised support with technology. We are looking forward to fruitful research.

Why technology research needs a network of users

A network of users is a group of people who have agreed to participate regularly in user studies. This enables researchers to have access to users who are representative of a target group of technology in development. User recruitment turns out much quicker and easier for researchers. Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS has its own network of users. Some practice Tai Chi, others prefer to play cards, some have the latest news, others remain faithful to the traditional cell phone, some take care of their grandchildren and the house and those who never miss an opportunity to travel. It is this diversity that makes our user network so special. We get different perspectives that we incorporate to create truly meaningful technology for people.

Informed consent in research

Those who participate in our activities already know. It is the moment when we inform the participants about the activity, explaining what it consists of (a questionnaire, a usability test, an interview), what is the objective and purpose, and framing it in the project in which it is inserted. Thus, participants have information about the activity and can freely decide whether they want to participate. We explain and respond to doubts or questions and provide a paper document, which they sign, and the person responsible for the project also signs.

Testing sessions for algorithm development

Volunteers from the user network COLABORAR are participating in a European research project. COTIDIANA – Mobile Patient-Centred System to Improve Drug Trials and Care of Older adults with Rheumatic Diseases – is a project co-funded by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, FFG, Confédération Suisse, AAL Programme and the European Union. The project gathers a multidisciplinary research team comprising developers, UX/UI specialists, and clinical researchers.

At this phase, the study consists of using smartphones to collect motion data while participants perform walk tasks and wrist joint movements. The data that is being collected is fundamental for researchers to train sensing algorithms. When the final system is available, patients with rheumatic diseases can be assessed for physical function in ambulatory conditions. This means that the smartphone will track hand dexterity, gait and physical activity, and sociability patterns, and all these data will inform medical doctors about the disease status and evolution. This new method has some advantages over traditional assessments at medical offices. Patients can be assessed more frequently without the need to go to the hospital. Plus, the clinical information collected by the sensors in the smartphone is potentially more objective, as it reflects the status of the patient at a daily basis, which is potentially more accurate than collecting subjective information through questionnaires and punctual assessments by doctors, usually each 3 or 6 months.

Involving end users in online research surveys

COTIDIANA and Anathema projects are conducting online surveys for research related to rheumatic diseases and sexual health, respectively. We distributed the link through the panel of participants in the network COLABORAR, including older adults and partner institutions. At institutions, the directors are facilitating the participation of older adults, by spreading the word and helping the less proficient users with the access to a computer or tablet. Online surveys are fast and cost-effective. Plus, they can be completed comfortably at home.

For the COTIDIANA project, the survey aims to explore preferences and ideas of people with rheumatic diseases for a mobile app of monitoring of symptoms and self-care related to the rheumatic condition. The aim of the survey for the Anathema project is to assess a potential service, that is currently being developed, based on a mobile app that addresses sexual health for the elderly. Directors also received a link to a questionnaire designed, so that they can provide their perspectives on the app. The information collected will influence and improve the design of the prototypes.  

First longitudinal study successfully finished

The last two years were exceptionally challenging. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to turn to remote research. At the time, researchers working in the ELAPSE project, funded by Fundação Gulbenkian,  have just started recruiting participants and conducting an initial assessment. The project went on and researchers distributed tablets and smartphones to the partner institutions in the COLABORAR network, AICOS’ own pool of research participants.

The aim of the ELAPSE project was assessing the impact of technology in combating the social isolation of the elderly. With COVID-19 control measures imposing restrictions in visits to nursing homes, the closure of day care and living centers and the avoidance of family reunions all over the country, the role of technology acquired a stronger role. Because there were many concerns with older adults’ emotional well-being, many institutions felt the urge to actively promote video calls to ensure communication with older adults’ families. Also, to relieve some of the anxiety and having less leisure activities, older adults began to engage with the platform of games developed by AICOS and installed in the tablets. Two years revolved and older adults still use the tablets daily. They play games, search for the news at Google, and use YouTube to listen to music and view some crafts tutorials. Researchers could not be happier for providing older adults technology for free and witnessing they become proficient in their use.

The unexpected turn to a fully remote study made researchers gain important insights on conducting remote research. The study was successfully finished, and its results were presented to Fundação Gulbenkian. The technical directors of institutions that participated in the study were present at the presentation session in which all reflected about the role of technology during the pandemic.

Usability tests: 3 reasons to participate

Usability tests are crucial in the process of development of applications for mobile devices or of a website. For participants, there are benefits, too. We list tour top three benefits for participants.

  • 1 – Be the first to try new technology

Participating in usability tests allows you to discover applications and websites before their availability to the public. This is so much fun!

  • 2 – Express your opinion

We all like to get heard. In a usability test, researchers ask you to tell what aspects in the app please you and the aspects that annoy you. You can be sure researchers are truly interested in knowing what you think. This is because they can fix the issues you encounter while using the app or navigating the website, so that it has more quality when it is released to the public.

  • 3 – Be part of technological innovation

Your feedback helps shape the technology of the future. You will find it very rewarding in improving solutions in the field of well-being, health, security, agriculture, retail, energy, quality of life in old age and technology for communities.

To become a user tester, you can simply register here. When a study is available, we will invite you by phone or email.