Tag Archives: Reykjavik

Golden years (of unobtrusive technology)

The Nordic society, as many other ones, is getting old. Elderly people to keep living independently and safe in their homes will rely – as well as their families – on monitoring technology. Icelandic company e21 believes that using a home monitoring system does not have to mean spying, and is going to offer a smart alternative to online cameras and wearable devices.

At present, 25 percent of the entire Nordic adult population is represented by elderly people. In 2030, this number will rise to more than 40 percent, and 45 percent in 2050. However, employment in healthcare, including nursing, is not growing. It all means that Nordic countries must start preparing themselves for a dramatic increase of elderly people in need of new solutions that will increase their quality of life.

Authors of ideas dedicated for elderly and disabled people took part in Nordic Independent Living Challenge, a competition that was organised by five Nordic capital cities and Nordic Innovation institution.

E21, an Icelandic company that develops a home monitoring system combining discreet sensors and software with alarm response and service design, was among 25 semi-finalists of the competition. The company wasn’t selected for the final of the competition, but has already started cooperation with such giants as Falck, Philips and Vodafone, and has a great chance to succeed on the market in the near future.

Home safe home (without spying)

Without a need of installing cameras or motion detectors that some people may consider as spying devices, the invisible system called Butler discreetly detects whether a resident of an apartment makes everyday activities, such as using a kettle or a coffee machine, turning on TV set or a radio, using a toilet or a washbasin, on the basis of daily cycles of electricity and water consumption.

If any abnormalities occur, such as extraordinary long water flow or a lack of consumption of electricity or water for few hours, the system sends a notification to relatives or a caretaker, suggesting them to call or visit the elder person to check whether he or she is safe and sound.

E21 Butler can help older people live in their homes and make them feel more safe. It also makes their relatives feel relaxed knowing that they will be notified if help is needed.

In mid-March, I visited e21’s office in Reykjavik and interviewed Halldor Axelsson, the Chief Technology Officer of e21 Ltd. Below you can find the transcription of our talk. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.


TrendNomad.comAt many consumer electronics fairs I find more and more home monitoring systems that include internet cameras, motion sensors and wearables. Your approach is different.
Halldor Axelsson: Some people do not feel comfortable when they see cameras and different kind of sensors around them. Wearables seems to be more acceptable, but they work only when a user put a device on his or her body. I heard about a man who took off his smart bracelet before taking a shower. Few minutes later he had a heart attack. The deactivated device couldn’t notice this occurrence and didn’t call for help. People need a system that works in the background.

Are you against using wearables by elderly people?
H.A.: No, I’m not, but in my opinion wearables, panic buttons, internet cameras, medicine dispensers, GPS gadgets etc., should be extra options expanding the possibilities of a basic system that you can always rely on.

A so-called panic buttons that are offered by private companies, in theory, make it very easy to call for help. But in reality, many elderly people do not dare to push such buttons, as they don’t know who will come with help, or how much the service will cost.

What is essential in your idea?
H.A.: When someone spends a lot of time at home, he or she quite regularly uses electrical devices and turn on and off the water. It is not difficult to build a mathematical model of daily activity of that person. It is enough to monitor water flow in pipes and electricity consumption to check whether the elder person that lives alone is safe and sound. When something bad happens – for example, a stroke or a faint – home appliances and water taps are not used or stay turned on for a much longer time than usual. In that case, the system sends an alert to relatives and caretakers suggesting to contact or visit the person they care about.

What if there is another explanation of a longer than usual usage of an oven? Let’s say, cooking for Christmas?
H.A.: Analysis conducted by our cloud server takes into account whether Christmas or someone’s birthday is coming. The system will not send an alert if it finds another explanation of an unusual pattern.

How long does the system learn someone’s habits?
H.A.: It starts recognising deviations in daily patterns after less than one week of learning someone’s daily routine. Naturally, the longer it works and the more data it process, the more advanced and detailed the pattern is.

e21 Butler credits TrendNomad
The Butler’s hub is connected wirelessly to the cloud server by Vodafone’s cellular network. Clients will receive alerts even when a power blackout occurs. Photography by TrendNomad.com

How many sensors do I have to install at home?
H.A.: One sensor should be put in the main electrical box. The second is designed to be attached to a water pipe. The first one detects energy consumption and studies electrical patterns. Every kind of device you plug into a socket has its own electrical pattern. The system recognises whether a current electricity consumption is made, for example, by a washing machine, a dishwasher, a kettle or a TV set.

The second sensor detects water flow. There is no need to screw or cut the pipe. Installation is as simple as attaching a magnet. It listens to the sound of water flowing inside a pipe. Noise level varies depending on how much water you use at the moment. The sensor works wirelessly on a battery for two years.

On the basis of data generated by both sensors, the system builds a model of a daily activity of a person that lives alone.

We can find more and more home appliances such as kettles, coffee machines and fridges connected to the internet. Maybe they can also deliver information about a home activity to relatives of elderly people?
H.A.: Off course every device connected to the internet could be used for that purpose, but instead of putting sensors into every device, it is far more practical to monitor electrical and water systems of the house. Besides, our solution can also notice some health issues. If a given person goes to the toilet once, twice or three times every night, the system may suggest visiting a doctor.

A good monitoring solution is not about getting data about everything. It should be as simple as possible and operate invisibly on a background.

What is the plan for the near and more distant future of e21 Butler?
H.A.: We’ve started testing the system at private homes. In about three to six months we will know how does it work. In April, our team will expand to five full-time employees. The plan is to commercialise the system within a year. We haven’t decided yet whether it will be offered as a one-time purchase or with a subscription plan. Certainly, we want to make it an inexpensive, affordable solution.

Probably the product will be launched on the market branded as Heartbeat of the Home. At the beginning, we will focus on Scandinavian countries, and then we will go further. China is a very interesting market, as there is a strong tradition that young generation takes care of elderly people. We thought that our target group will be only private homes, but maybe the system will be also supported by a public sector.


If you have any other questions to Halldor Axelsson, you can send him an email at hax@e21butler.com.

The main photo is a shot from „The e-butler” video.


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Graphic design and the forest

Visitors of DesignMarch, a design festival that was held in Reykjavik in mid-March, could enjoy two Polish exhibitions. The first one was a collection of graphic design projects created in specific locations in Poland, and the second one was a review of prototypes of nest boxes intended for small animals living in the cities.

Agata Szydłowska, the curator of the exhibition “Places of Origin: Polish Graphic Design in Context” collected graphic design projects, as well as stories from their authors, documents and pictures, to tell Icelandic audience about complex relations of selected designs with places of their origin or inspiration, which could be a Polish city, a particular street, a housing block, door or a signboard.

Visitors had the opportunity to learn, for example, how concrete architecture can influence typeface design, as well as how traditional textile-making can be linked to avant-garde painting and contemporary football rivalries. Watch the video interview embedded below to see examples of Polish graphic design. Unfortunately, the video is available only in the Polish language. I hope I will manage to add English subtitles in the future.


The second exhibition “The City and the Forest” curated by Ewa Solarz included nine prototypes of nesting boxes designed by Polish authors for birds (swifts, sparrows, titmice and great titmice), mammals (hedgehogs and bats) and insects living in the cities. Most of the exhibited objects were created especially for the Icelandic exhibition. Through all of them speaks a desire to reconcile the life in the city with being close to nature.

Authors of projects of nesting boxes based their ideas on their experience (attempts to fight with the thermo-modernization of buildings that deprives birds of their shelters are among them) as well as on consultations with experts from Ussuri company and a wildlife society Towarzystwo Przyrodnicze Bocian, who are professionally engaged in protecting wild animals and providing them with adequate shelter. Press play and watch the video interview to see most of the projects that were shown at the exhibition. I regret to say that the video is available only in the Polish language.


The exhibition “Places of Origin: Polish Graphic Design in Context” was organized by Culture.pl as a part of its program to promote Polish design worldwide. The exhibition “The City and the Forest” was organized by WILK Open Cluster of Design and was co-financed by The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland and supported by the Polish Institute in Stockholm.

If you have any questions regarding “Places of Origin: Polish Graphic Design in Context” exhibition, please contact Agata Szydłowska and the team of Culture.pl. All requests about the “The City and the Forest” exhibition may be sent to Ewa Solarz.

Main photo by Kosmos Project


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A step forward

At the DesignTalks, a one-day conference that opened DesignMarch festival in Reykjavik, Icelandic company Össur stole the show presenting a first mind-controlled bionic prosthetic lower limb for amputees, and redefining of what design notion does mean today and what it will mean tomorrow.

Movement in able-bodied individuals generally begins subconsciously, which triggers electrical impulses inside the body that catalyse the appropriate muscles into action. The new technology from Össur – a Reykjavik-based global leader in prosthetics and orthopaedics – replicates that process in an amputee.

The first official presentation of Össur’s invention, preceded by one year of testing, took place in May 2015 in Copenhagen. On 10th of March 2016, this technology was shown to the design-focused audience gathered in Harpa building in Reykjavik where DesignMarch festival officially started. Guðmundur Ólafsson, a below-the-knee amputee and a special guest at the stage of DesignTalks conference, joyfully and proudly proved that he can control his bionic prosthetic leg with his thoughts.

Gudmundur Olafsson DesignTalks credits TrendNomad
Guðmundur Ólafsson at DesignTalks conference in Reykjavik. Photography by TrendNomad.com

Guðmundur Ólafsson was hit by an oil truck when he was nine years old. For 28 years he had his right foot, but because of pain in 2004 he decided to get it amputated. For years after the operation, he wore Proprio Foot, a motorised, battery-powered ankle from Össur. Until 2014, his wearable robot controlled by algorithms and sensors that adjust the angle of the foot during different points of a stride moved on autopilot. Since Össur upgraded his hardware, Ólafsson can move his right ankle just by thinking about it.

Gudmundur Olafsson and Thorvaldur Ingvarsson DesignTalks credits TrendNomad
Guðmundur Ólafsson and Dr Thorvaldur Ingvarsson, EVP of Research & Development at Össur, making the presentation at DesignTalks conference. Photography by TrendNomad.com

As Dr Thorvaldur Ingvarsson has explained at DesignTalks, Guðmundur Ólafsson can control his bionic prosthetic leg with his thoughts thanks to tiny implanted myoelectric sensors (IMES) that have been surgically placed in his residual muscle tissue. Sensors don’t have to be attached to specific nerves. The operation took about twenty minutes, and it took around ten days to heal.

As soon as I put my foot on, it took me about ten minutes to get control of it. I could stand up and just walk away. Come back, sit down, use my muscles to move my foot in the position I wanted to use it. I was moving it with my muscles. The foot was not doing it, I was doing it. I started to cry – Guðmundur reminisced.

The result is the instantaneous physical movement of the prosthesis however the amputee intended. Guðmundur no longer needs to think about a movement because his unconscious reflexes are automatically converted into myoelectric impulses that control his bionic prosthesis. The IMES subconsciously, continuously and in real-time triggers the desired movement, via a receiver located inside the prosthesis.

The day after the DesignMarch festival has finished, I visited Össur’s headquarters located on the outskirts of Reykjavik to interview Mr Kristleifur Kristjánsson, Medical Officer R&D Global. Below you can find the transcription of our talk. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Kristleifur Kristjansson credits TrendNomad
Kristleifur Kristjánsson, Medical Officer R&D Global at Össur. Photography by TrendNomad.com

TrendNomad.com: How long have you been working on the first mind-controlled bionic prosthetic lower limb for amputees?
Kristleifur Kristjánsson: We have been woking on this for 2,5 years, but it is not only our project. We collaborated with Alfred Mann Foundation where necessary implants for picking up the muscular activity signals and transferring them to the outside were developed and tested. Össur’s prosthesis accommodates to those signals.

Is it difficult for a new user to start using the brain interface?
K.K.: In a place where an amputated leg was cut off, an amputee still has a part of his or her muscles. They are still connected to nerves and a patient can voluntarily contact them. Implants are put into those muscles to pick-up electric signals that are being sent from user’s brain. We are using the same muscles that patient would use to move an ankle or a knee. It means that a patient does not have to learn anything new.

It is not given that patients who have been amputated for many years or decades can effectively use these muscle as they used to do and thereby to use them to control a bionic prosthesis.

Gudmundur Olafsson and Thorvaldur Ingvarsson DesignTalks2 credits TrendNomad
An illustration explaining how the prosthesis does work. Photography by TrendNomad.com

How implants are charged?
K.K.: There are copper wires in the socket that create a magnetic field inside the shell. Implants are charged through induction of that electromagnetic field. Once sensors are implanted, there is no need to perform another surgery.

And how the mind-controlled prosthesis is charged? Is it charging itself during a walk?
K.K.: Not yet. We have not come to a final solution. Our goal is an overnight charging process that is sufficient for the entire day of walking. Now it can work for three or four hours. Then a user has to recharge the prosthesis or use a spare battery.

Is Guðmundur Ólafsson the only person who uses a mind-controlled bionic prosthetic lower limb?
K.K.: There are two of them, but Guðmundur is the one who we call transtibial or a below-knee amputee. The second tester has a mind-controlled bionic prosthesis that includes also artificial knee.

Both prostheses are custom made?
K.K.: No stump is alike, so every socket must be custom made. Copper wires around a socket need to be placed in a proper relation to sensors implanted into the muscles.

Does Össur plan to make mind-controlled bionic prosthetic lower limb commercially available on the market?
K.K.: The decision has not been made. Both mentioned mind-controlled prosthetics limbs are prototypes. At this point, they are not ready to be released on the market. We have to develop them further.

How many years will it take?
K.K.: It’s difficult to say. Probably the very earliest would be five years. As many advanced new technologies, its price may be high at the beginning. It might take another few years to get cheaper.

Why do technologically advanced prostheses still look like machines? Will they ever look and feel like a real human body?
K.K.: Not at this point in time, but maybe someday it will change. Users have different ideas of what their prostheses should look like. Once you have lost your leg and start using a prosthesis, it becomes a part of you and of your character. There are amputees who want their prosthesis look harmonized with the Harley Davidson they ride on weekends. Those who are proud of having prosthesis with a titanium plate or brushed steel, probably would not be very willing to wear a perfectly human-looking hairy prosthesis. But aesthetics change, just as fashion does. It is a very personal issue and we have to be open to all possibilities.

Is it possible to apply the brain-interface also for a prosthetic arm?
K.K.: Of course it is possible. It was done earlier with the same implants. But we do not specialize in upper limbs. Össur’s product range only spans lower limb prosthetics.

Ossur map credits TrendNomad
Össur’s headquarters are located in Reykjavik. Operations in Iceland encompass manufacturing, research and development, corporate finance and sales and marketing for the domestic market. Össur has offices and extensive operations in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Photography by TrendNomad.com

In February I visited CCCB art centre in Barcelona, where until 10th of April an exhibition „HUMAN+ The Future of Our Species” is being shown. The plus in its title implies a positive direction of the future of our species. Do you also believe that the future of humankind is positive?
K.K.: This question could be considered in many contexts, but, generally speaking, I can agree with that assumption. If we focus on future relations between human and machines that will be integrated with our bodies, we need to define few fields.

Firstly, there is medical robotics. Next month there will be a conference in Washington devoted to this subject. I have been asked to direct the ethics discussions. I’m very curious how the discussions will go.

Besides medical robotics, people can, for example, use robots to increase their productivity. We are in discussions with some companies that are thinking of making robots to help the ageing workforce and decrease physical wearing and illnesses resulting from too big loads on their body. The goal is to develop specific devices or braces for taking on repetitive or heavy movements.

The military is another field, but we are not involved on this. Where I do participate in discussions is a neural enhancement. There is a strong distinction between a neural enhancement for people with neurologic deficits providing robotic or bionic solutions that are enhancing patients abilities, and a neural enhancement that is about creating a superhuman. These are different issues.

Do you see any differences between a superhuman and a cyborg?
K.K.: A cyborg is kind of a bridge between a machine and a man. Superhuman is not the best word when speaking about exclusively electronic or bionic solutions. When thinking of superhuman, we are also talking about genetically or biologically modified humans.

Do you think that someday even young people who have no amputation will be eager to enhance or augment their bodily functions?
K.K.: I am sure that some people, especially those interested in sport, will be eager for neural enhancement. Besides games, neural enhancement could also create new jobs opportunities. It is already happening in the military. We can see some solutions, but I bet there is more that we do not know about.

What will it feel like to be a human a ten, fifty and hundred years from now?
K.K.: It will not feel much different from what it feels today. Being a human is not about your physical capabilities. It is about your mentality, mind, consciousness and what you can think. Technology will not change that.

Will high-end technology create a new race of humans?
K.K.: Our genome can adapt to the environment, so, theoretically, the answer is „Yes”. But it would take a very long time, even few thousands of years to happen.

If you would like to ask Mr Kristleifur Kristjánsson any other questions regarding Össur’s activities, please send them via email at kkristjansson@ossur.com.


Do you like the article? Then buy me a coffee! You can donate a small sum of money using your PayPal account or credit card. All donations will finance my journeys to fairs, festivals and conferences devoted to design and new technology – this is where I find news for my blog. Just click the button below to perform a secure transaction. Thank you for your support, it will help me to take a step forward and write new posts.

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