In the following interview, Marcus Beier, Managing Director of AWO Lausitz, Yves Tschentscher, Project Manager of "ZukunfTAlter" at AWO Lausitz, and Amir Humanfar, co-founder of HUM Systems, provide details on the model test, which will set standards for the whole of Germany.

Berlin/Hoyerswerda - 29 June 2021 - Who wouldn't want to live as independently as possible in their home environment in old age? The more people who succeed, the better. This would also ease the burden on the care sector, which is under great pressure due to demographic change and a shortage of skilled workers. AWO Lausitz Pflege- und Betreu- gGmbH in Hoyerswerda is therefore working with partners such as the Berlin start-up HUM Systems on innovative solutions as part of the "ZukunfTAlter" project, which aims to improve the quality of life of senior citizens and at the same time give carers more room for manoeuvre.

In the following interview, Marcus Beier, Managing Director of AWO Lausitz, Yves Tschentscher, Project Manager of "ZukunfTAlter" at AWO Lausitz, and Amir Humanfar, co-founder of HUM Systems, provide details on the model test, which will set standards for the whole of Germany.


What specific problems are you tackling with your "ZukunfTAlter" project?

Beier: Demographic change and the ageing of society pose major challenges for our region in the Free State of Saxony, but also in many other regions of Germany. The majority of our older citizens live in rural areas, where the infrastructure is often inadequate. Younger people are moving away from there. The lack of affordable offers for barrier-free and needs-based housing makes it difficult for many people to live in their own homes and in their place of residence in a self-determined manner until old age. In addition, there are deficits in care structures, which put a strain on family caregivers and also on the employees who work in care. Another problem that goes hand in hand with this is the shortage of skilled workers.

Tschentscher: In the "ZukunfTAlter" project, we are looking into the question of how successful ageing can be shaped in an exchange between caregivers, between young and old, and the relevant institutions. In the project, we are focusing primarily on technological and social innovations that promise to facilitate and optimise living, care and the living environment, but also living and social space. These fields are underpinned by corresponding awareness-raising and empowerment concepts. Because we sometimes lack expertise in this area, we have acquired committed alliance partners from the fields of business, science, social welfare, culture, education and local politics who support us and work with us to develop solutions and design concepts. One example is the Berlin start-up HUM Systems, a specialist in networked IoT applications.

Humanfar: With our technological solutions, we want to make a contribution to the networking and process optimisation of all actors involved in elderly care. That's why it's important for us to find out first-hand and from practice what the exact needs are, where we can start. We started a few years ago with a ceiling sensor for burglary and fire protection that is linked to the smartphone, and we have continuously developed on this basis. Because we take an agile approach. This means that we don't lock ourselves away in a closet for years and then at some point step outside with a finished product and throw it on the market in the hope that it will find buyers. Our approach is different: in the pilot phase, we remain in constant exchange with the people for whom we are developing the solutions and, in a sense, optimise our hardware and software further during use with the help of user feedback, be it through updates or new developments. We are very happy to be part of the "ZukunfTAlter" project, because this is precisely about breaking new ground and flexibly adapting and refining it according to the value of experience. We also see a great need for digital assistance systems that connect caregivers to make their lives easier. From our point of view, the challenges that Mr Beier mentioned are still far too little discussed in society. 

You have applied for funding from the BMBF Federal Ministry of Education and Research with the project "ZukunfTalter". If you are awarded the grant in August, what exactly will you implement?

Beier: We want to create a neighbourhood where everything essential can be done in the immediate vicinity, i.e. within a radius of only one kilometre. At the centre is the construction project for a concept nursing home that creates a spatial link between the home environment and inpatient care: in the residential complex there will be flats upstairs and a nursing facility downstairs.

Tschentscher: This means that if I am still relatively independent, I can rent a barrier-free, care-friendly flat on the upper floor and stay there in my home environment as long as possible, which is what most people want. But I also have the option of calling on inpatient services from the nursing home on the lower floors if necessary, for example at night or for certain situations. Because there is always someone in the house. This hybridisation in nursing care increases the quality of life of tenants, at the same time it relieves the burden on family caregivers and it reduces costs. However, the health insurance companies must also participate in this and develop new billing models. Furthermore, the care concept provides for a significant improvement of the working environment - and not only in the digital sense. The facility is designed to be process-optimised so that, for example, centralised functional areas prevent unnecessary journeys.

What role do technological aspects play here?

Beier: This project serves us as a living laboratory. For example, we will completely equip a flat with the latest technological solutions, such as those from HUM Systems, and rent it out for a trial period. We will then evaluate what is actually accepted by the digital assistance systems, what is useful and what is not. At the same time, we will conduct further surveys - as we did in the concept phase - to determine the demand for the new services. Because what people want in terms of support in their everyday lives and how open they are to technology varies greatly in some cases. Many are sceptical and feel that they are being watched and controlled by the technical devices.

Tschentscher: I would like to emphasise in this context: Social contact, the human-to-human relationship is always the focus and should not be replaced by technology. That is not our goal. On the contrary. We want to work more efficiently with the help of digitalisation and technology and thus have more time for personal contact with people. Nursing is not an easy job. I know what I am talking about. I am a geriatric nurse by profession and have worked in care for twelve years myself. It is a hard job that is not yet recognised by society as it should be. There is still a lot of need for action here - on the part of politicians, health insurers and even relatives. The demographic development further aggravates the situation. It is also reflected in the nursing staff. Therefore, we have to consider how we can enable our ageing staff to work for us until they reach retirement age without any damage to their health. Relieving technology and modern future-oriented concepts such as the Model Quarter can help to increase the overall quality of care and make the profession more attractive.

Humanfar: I fully agree. We do not want to replace people with our technological systems. It is much more about helping to master the challenges of the present and the future. We are also aware that digital technology can overwhelm and frighten. It is not enough to simply hand the grandmother in the assisted living facility a smartphone to let her know when something is wrong. Nor can it be the solution to install beeping and flashing alarms everywhere, monitoring every step. Our technology should be experienced as an asset for self-determined ageing. It should increase and maintain the autonomy of senior citizens. At the same time, it creates a connection to caregivers, relatives and other caregivers, thus integrating a community and overcoming the spatial distances that have arisen historically because, for example, family members now live in very different places.

Because of Covid-19, visits were not possible for a long time...

Humanfar: I believe that the pandemic has shown where the weaknesses in our society lie in elderly care. The social isolation, the loneliness, especially among the elderly, was intensified. And the caregivers worked to the limits of their endurance or even beyond. These are consequences of our social structures and developments. Therefore, in our opinion, it is important to pause, to take a step back, to take a critical look at it from the necessary distance and to think about it: How can we fix something that has obviously gone wrong? How can we bring people together again - even if only in a small, intimate circle - so that they can support each other and be there for each other when necessary? How can technology provide support here? Then you quickly think of many things. Sometimes just sending the right message to the right person at the right time is enough to connect people. I think the big problems start with the isolation, the loneliness of people. If we could counteract this to some extent with our digitally-networked community systems, it would already help a lot.

How do you rate the issue of data protection in this context?

Humanfar: I think the key word is transparency. It must be clear what data is collected and when, where it goes, what happens to it, how long it is stored where, etc. And everyone who gives his or her data should be able to stop the transfer at any time if he or she wants to. If the data is transferred outside Europe or used for business models that have nothing to do with the actual purpose, it must be obvious and possible to prevent this. This requires precise rules and effective laws. Much is already in place or has already been initiated, but some things can still be improved.

Beier: We should be clear about what we really want, what our goals are, what the advantages and disadvantages are. We work with IT experts who check the systems and advise us. Here, too, it is clear that experts, specialists, representatives of social groups, politics and business have to get involved and ultimately pull together to push things forward that will make life easier for all of us in the long term and ensure a high quality of life. If we want to meet the challenge of care and elderly care, everyone is called upon. This is also the reason why "ZukunfTAlter" is now an association of companies in the social and health economy, organisations and start-ups from the fields of business, finance, administration, institutions, associations, interest groups, research and educational institutions, local politicians and, of course, representatives of civil society and interested citizens. We see ourselves as a platform for efficient networking. We bring together actors, develop sustainable solutions in the demographic context that are practical and demand-oriented. Only together can we really make a difference and secure a humane, life-affirming and affordable future for all generations.


About AWO Lausitz

The Arbeiterwohlfahrt (Workers' Welfare Association) is an umbrella organisation of voluntary welfare work in Germany. It was founded in 1919 by Marie Juchacz, but was crushed by the Nazis in 1933. In the western part of Germany it was rebuilt in 1946. In the GDR, however, it was no longer permitted and could only resume its activities in the new federal states after reunification. The Hoyerswerda branch began its work in September 1990 and was able to take care of those in need with a social centre and clothing store from July 1991. The starting signal for the formation of the Laubusch, Klein-Partwitz, Bernsdorf, Lohsa and Lauta local associations came in November 1991 with the founding of the AWO Hoyerswerda district association, which merged with the Kamenz district association as a result of the district reform. After the merger with the district association of the Lower Silesian Upper Lusatian district, today's Lusatian district association has 518 members, making it one of the largest district associations in Saxony.

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About HUM Systems GmbH

HUM Systems is a Berlin-based IoT (Internet of Things) company founded in 2017 on the smart home market. The abbreviation HUM is a construct of the English words HUMAN and MACHINE and expresses the claim of the multi-award-winning start-up to bring people (HUMAN) and technology (MACHINE) together in intelligent systems (SYSTEMS).

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About the Livy brand family With Livy Protect, HUM Systems has created a user-friendly all-in-one smart home product that solves three main needs of people living indoors: Livy Protect allows users to protect their home from fire and burglary, monitor temperature, humidity and air quality and, through the use of the Livy App, engage a community of family and friends who will be notified via push notification in the event of an alarm. Livy Plus offers customers additional services, such as the "Home Cover" insurance package, which takes effect in the event of nasty surprises at home - whether loss of keys, water damage or in the event of a burglary. As part of the cooperation with the energy supplier Vattenfall, HUM Systems has already developed and marketed two generations of Livy Protect devices. The third is to be introduced in the course of 2021, but then under the name Livy Alive.

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