Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Australia Needs an “Assistive Technology” Network

By Greg Tegart

We must address the disconnect between assistive technology research and its translation into commercialisation and practice.

Australia needs to establish a network of people working in health care on “assistive technologies” – or emerging assistive and medical technologies (EAMTs) – to address the disconnect between assistive technology research and its translation into commercialisation and practice.

An EAMT network could help remove barriers to the effective adoption of EAMTs to enable healthy independent living, provide access to information and expertise, analyse and advise on regulations and standards and promote collaboration between researchers, industry, government and users.

The Academy is helping drive change towards these targets. It believes EAMTs can reduce healthcare costs and maintain healthcare standards in Australia by, for example, allowing the elderly to stay at home longer rather than using more expensive forms of care, such as hospitalisation and enabling people who are physically and mentally challenged to lead more fulfilling lives.

ATSE’s Health and Technology Forum is driving a campaign to establish an EAMT network in Australia to use enabling technologies such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, information and communication technology (ICT) and cognitive science to develop new approaches to assistive technologies and address the disconnect between assistive technology research and its translation into commercialisation and practice.

This will need to engage a wide range of stakeholders – including researchers, investors, the medical sector, community organisations, governments, carers and consumers. Currently there are only very limited structures for bringing together these stakeholders to work together on the development and deployment of smart technologies that are needed by the nation.

The multidisciplinary nature of aged care services across ICT, health and medical care, housing and other services means that many stakeholders and agencies need to work together to fully implement the vision for aged care in the future. Social networking tools could provide an important mechanism for identifying and engaging a wider audience for the potential of the application of EAMTs.

The Academy recently took its campaign into the spotlight with its Enabling Assistive Technologies Network workshop in Sydney, supported by the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science, Research and Tertiary Education and the NSW government’s Trade and Investment Division.

It drew strong interest from a wide range of health and aged care industry sectors and unanimous agreement on the need for the establishment of a multidisciplinary network facilitating research and innovation on assistive technologies and its translation into practice and commercialisation in Australia. Such a network would have to be self-sustaining and able to operate as an independent and authoritative body.

ATSE undertook to develop a value proposition and draft Business Plan for such a network before the end of the year with the aim of launching an EAMT Network early in 2013. Objectives could include:

  • • supporting and facilitating the exchange of information for a multidisciplinary cross-sector network that builds on and seeks to create ongoing opportunities for dialogue and collaborative partnerships for enabling assistive technologies;
  • • bringing together researchers and users to develop and evaluate new approaches to aged and disabled care;
  • • bringing together researchers and manufacturers to take evaluated products for aged and disabled care to the market;
  • • enabling a stronger input to governments on the need for support of assistive technologies for aged and disabled care;
  • • stimulating the establishment of centres of excellence on assistive technologies in universities and research centres; and
  • • providing access to skilled researchers by industry and professionals.

Key attributes would probably include:

  • • an individual “champion” (or group) to drive the network, link the people, develop new ideas, enable discussion and assist knowledge sharing;
  • • the alignment of the self-interest of the participants with the capacity of the network;
  • • real benefits and collaboration for those involved rather than just an exchange of information; and
  • • a “union of purpose” between otherwise independent organisations.

Professor Greg Tegart AM FTSE is Chair of the ATSE Health and Technology Forum. He has had a long and varied career in academia, industry and government in Australia and overseas in the areas of teaching, research, management and high level policy advice to government on science, technology and the environment.