Model home in Portugal shows how
technology can help elderly live alone
Wed Jun 1, 1:03 PM ET
A talking washing machine, mirrors that double as television screens and a virtual garden are among the gadgets on display at a model house in Portugal which acts as a showcase for the latest technology aimed at helping elderly or disabled people live independently.
Dubbed the "House of the Future" the home occupies some 150 square metres (1,600 square feet) of Lisbon's Museum of Communications and features items made by multinationals as well as prototypes still in development by local universities.
"If we hear about a new development we bring it here," said Goncalo Areia, who has overseen the project since it opened its doors in May 2003.
"We want to prove to people that with new technologies it is easier to keep
older people living at home even if they are a bit dependent," he told AFP.
Many of the gadgets in the house are aimed at making it easier to cope with a loss of sight or hearing and of decreased mobility.
The solutions range from the simple, such as a telephone with easy-to-read extra large buttons, to the high-tech, such as a talking kitchen scale.
Among other technology on display is a computer which transforms text into a digital voice, a vacuum cleaner that works by itself, fingerprint scans that open doors and several voice-activated appliances.
Designed by leading Portuguese architect Tomas Taveira, the model house features ramps instead of stairs and has no doors separating rooms to make it easier for people with special needs to get around.
Its colorful interior has won the house comparisons to the high-tech world of the 1960s animated television show "The Jetsons" and it has been used itself as a set by several Portuguese televisions series.
"The house is very cheerful, the fact that there is a wheelchair inside doesn't have to be a big drama," said Areia.
New technologies are used in the model home as much to make life easier as to create a pleasant living environment.
The surface of the dining room table can change color at the press of a button to create a different mood while electronic artwork hanging on the walls can be changed just as easily to match new furniture.
A robotic dog, which dances, takes pictures and can play with a ball is popular with visitors as is a virtual garden where electronic flowers bloom and butterflies and rabbits appear when visitors step on its plasma screen floor.
In a city where one-quarter of the population is 65 years old, the model house has sparked interest.
It received 20,000 visitors in 2004, the first full year it is was open, and Areia expects that number to rise this year as growing numbers of school groups stop by.
He said visitors, especially people with disabilities or those who care for them, will often offer feedback on how the items on display could be improved or why they feel a certain gadget would not be useful.
"We want this to be a living laboratory," said Areia.
Copyright ¬© 2005 Agence France Presse.