Issue 46, January 2014
bulletInnovation: Care-O-bot� 3 - Product Vision of a Robotic Home Assistant
bulletNavigating Old Age
bulletA Smart Walker That Looks Ahead
bulletInterview: Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Andreas Kruse - Germany's Aging Expert
bulletUpcoming Event: Is Aging Reversible? Can We Reset the Clock?

While the world's population is rapidly growing, Europe's is shrinking and getting older at an unprecedented rate. Over the next 50 years, Germany's population is expected to decrease by 12 to 17 million people, and by 2060, every third resident will be over 65 years of age.


An aging population poses new public challenges, including strained pension systems and predicted labor shortages. German GDP spending on long-term care for seniors is expected to increase from 1.4 to 3.3 percent by 2060, according to a European Commission report. In addition to instituting pension system reforms, the German government is also gradually raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 in an effort to increase the size of the country's working-age population.


Companies such as BMW are undertaking creative measures to accommodate the needs of a graying workforce. One plant manager in Southern Germany recently held an overnight "experiment" to redesign an assembly line for his older workers. By incorporating employee feedback, he witnessed a seven percent increase in productivity. 


Germany's demographic transition is rewriting the country's social landscape. "Since 2005, the number of people requiring long-term care has been rising, but the percentage of those living in nursing homes is decreasing," according to Prof. Heinz Rothgang from the University of Bremen. This trend towards social inclusion is visible in the increase in alternative housing options, such as multi-generational homes, where people of all ages live with and care for each other. The successful model features 450 centers nationally and was even cited by Chancellor Angela Merkel as a practical housing solution. "It's about preserving social cohesion," she said.


As the implications of a rapidly aging and declining population enter the forefront of political discourse, Chancellor Merkel stresses the importance of changing societal perceptions toward demographic aging -

viewing it as a resource and an opportunity for change rather than as a burden.     



article2Innovation: Care-O-bot�  3 - Product Vision of a Robotic Home Assistant 
Source: Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA


The idea of having a service robot to carry out unpleasant and tedious tasks around the home is an enticing prospect for most people. Especially elderly or handicapped individuals stand to benefit from such an advanced domestic helper, as this robot can enable them to lead independent lives for a longer period of time within their own four walls.

Care-O-bot� was designed and implemented by the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart, Germany, to actively assist humans in their day-to-day lives. Now in its third generation, this successful development series features a product-oriented system design and is the first to offer the potential for the real-world application of manipulating mobile service robots in everyday environments. As a vision of a future household assistant, Care-O-bot� 3 is able to independently execute fetch and carry tasks, support communication, and provide assistance in emergencies.

Care-O-bot� 3 is equipped with the latest state of the art industrial hardware components. It offers modern multi-media and interaction equipment as well as the most advanced sensors and controls. It is able to navigate among humans, detect and grasp objects, and pass them safely to human users using its tray.

For more information, please click here.  


Image: � Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA




Source: Aging & Cognition Research Group, German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)


Elderly people often report substantial declines in navigational abilities, such as finding one's way in a complex environment or returning to one's car after a trip to the supermarket. Given that these types of challenges can severely restrict both the physical and social mobility of elderly people, looking at navigational changes in old age is a frontier research area that is of major relevance for improving quality of life for elderly individuals.

The core aim of the Aging and Cognition Research Group is to develop a detailed understanding of age-related changes in spatial navigation and the underlying neural network. Key components of this network are particularly sensitive to the aging process. To probe age-related changes in this navigational network, the group employs a multi-pronged methodological approach that combines cutting-edge interactive virtual reality technology, electrophysiology, neuroimaging, and advanced data analysis.

The Aging and Cognition Research Group is situated within the Magdeburg site of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE). The mission of the DZNE is to understand the causes of and risk factors for neurodegenerative diseases and to develop therapeutic, diagnostic, and preventative health care strategies. In order to promote high quality research in this field, the DZNE closely collaborates with its partner universities at sites in Berlin, Bonn, Dresden, G�ttingen, Magdeburg, Munich, Rostock/Greifswald, T�bingen, and Witten.  


Image: � Aging & Cognition Research Group, German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)




Source: Dr. Norbert Aschenbrenner & Klaudia Kunze, Siemens AG


As part of the EU-funded Devices for Assisted Living DALi project, Siemens' global Corporate Technology research unit is developing a high-tech walker that can safely guide people with cognitive impairments through public buildings. Elderly people often find airports and shopping centers difficult to navigate and accident-prone as they have trouble seeing structural obstacles and signs in these crowded buildings. However, this new smart walker is designed not only to make senior citizens' everyday lives easier, but also to be used in industrial settings.

At the heart of the c-Walker is a cognitive navigation prosthesis. This walking aid is equipped with various imaging sensors, including the Kinect sensor, which Microsoft developed for the Xbox video game console. The sensor enables the mobile system to monitor its spatial surroundings in real time. Thanks to the c-Walker's numerous "eyes," the device not only knows where it is at any given moment, but also where obstacles are located, in which direction people are moving, and even what warning and information signs say. These features enable the technology to orient users in unstructured environments and guide them to their destinations along optimal routes.


Siemens also plans to use this technology in industrial settings. Because automated production lines are often confusing, people and machines can quickly collide. However, the integration of the new technology into portable panel PCs could enable people to interact with machines more safely and comfortably. Such devices, for example, could warn production workers against entering danger zones and show service technicians the best route through a factory.  

Image: Siemens press picture  



Prof. Dr. Andreas Kruse, Chair and Director of the Institute of Gerontology at Heidelberg University, is one of Germany's leading aging experts. A highly esteemed social and behavioral scientist, Prof. Dr. Kruse has served as member of the German government's Expert Commission for the German National Report on the Situation of Older People since 1989.

In his interview with GCRI, Prof. Dr. Kruse discusses transcultural comparisons of concepts of aging and the risk of depression across the lifespan. He also describes how today's retired population differs from that of past generations and how Germany compares to other countries with respect to dementia care. To read the full interview, click here.

Prof. Dr. Kruse received his Doctorate and Habilitation in Psychology from the University of Bonn and Heidelberg University, respectively. From 1993 to 1997, he served as Professor and Chair in Developmental Psychology as well as Founding Director of the Institute of Psychology at the University of Greifswald. Since 2006, he has been a board member of Heidelberg University's interdisciplinary Network Aging Research. More recently, from 2007 to 2011, he acted as the university's Dean of the Faculty for Behavioral and Cultural Studies.

A prolific author and frequent award recipient, Prof. Dr. Kruse has received numerous accolades, including the First International Presidential Award of the International Association of Gerontology as well as the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. 


Image: Institute of Gerontology, Heidelberg University website


article6Upcoming Event: Is Aging Reversible? Can We Reset the Clock?

On February 10, 2014, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., renowned experts from Germany and the U.S. will convene at the German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI) in New York City to discuss the plasticity of human development.

As part of GCRI's series on aging, this event will feature Dr. Ursula M. Staudinger, a lifespan psychologist and an internationally recognized aging researcher. Dr. Staudinger is the Founding Director of the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center, Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, and Vice President of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. Her research focuses on the opportunities and challenges of increases in average life expectancy during this time of unprecedented demographic change.  

She will be joined by biochemist and neonatologist Dr. Rodney L. Levine, Chief of the Laboratory of Biochemistry at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Research in his laboratory aims to understand how oxidative stress affects physiology and disease. The molecular changes that he is studying have been proposed by many researchers as important causes of major diseases associated with aging. Dr. Levine has served on editorial boards of peer-reviewed basic and clinical journals, including BMC Geriatrics, Experimental Gerontology, The Journal of Gerontology, and Mechanisms of Ageing and Development.

James Collins, Chairperson of the United Nations NGO Committee on Ageing in New York, will moderate the event. An active advocate for the interests of the elderly, Mr. Collins serves as a representative to the United Nations for the International Council on Social Welfare and as a member of the NGO Committee for Social Development.  


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