Text by: Sara Comai and Alessandro Barenghi, Politecnico di Milano

“Future of SmartWork” is the title of a workshop held during the “European Week of Healthy and Active Ageing 2021”, an event organized by the AAL Programme last October, bringing together H2020 and AAL projects that are developing innovative solutions that improve the wellbeing of workers aged 50+.

Participants in the workshop tried to answer questions like: Which technologies could be used in new scenarios in the future? Which are the needs in the organization models of the companies that may be useful in future smart working? What is the impact on older workers?

We started from a definition of smart work, seen as the intersection of innovative technologies (e.g., IoT, technologies for remote communication, automatization and robots) and new organization models (e.g., remotization of activities or flexible allocation of workers) that can improve aspects like increased flexibility of processes. In WorkingAge the focus is not on processes, but it is on the person, on the worker, to guarantee a better quality of life.

Considering future technologies, workshop participants envision solutions that are completely unobtrusive, that are hidden in the environment and that do not need to be worn. Some of them see interesting potentials also in virtual/augmented reality in several applications, from industry to healthcare.

The organization of the work, besides guaranteeing flexibility in the allocation of workers or in the management of activities from everywhere, should guarantee also more flexibility in time. And above all, the work should be pleasant, make fun and not stressful.

The WorkingAge project tries to give an answer to these last aspects: it measures the stress of the worker, his/her emotions and provides some suggestions to improve one’s wellbeing. Current technologies require some intrusive devices: using less intrusive devices for the same goal could be a challenge for future research. 

However, data privacy was considered to be the most critical aspect by many users, given the extensive amount of it which is collected by systems that monitor one’s wellbeing.

It is a common feeling that workers would not accept letting other people access their personal data collected during workdays. Moreover, environmental data such as the CO2 concentration or relative humidity were considered “personal” by some workshop participants.

In WorkingAge, privacy issues have been extensively considered and the proposed system architecture guarantees that only the single worker can have access to his/her personal data.

All the data at work are anonymized and collected on machines located at work. Raw data from different sources (e.g., camera, microphone, etc.) are processed on such machines obtaining synthetic values (e.g., an inferred body posture from data coming from the camera, the inferred emotion from voice recordings). Different algorithms run on different kinds of data and each algorithm can compute only a single aspect of the status of the user, which is immediately encrypted and sent to the smartphone of the user. On the smartphone, a Decision Support System combines all the received data and computes the overall status of the user to give him/her useful recommendations. All the data collected from smart bands or smart body scales at home are directly transferred to the smartphone of the user only. The whole set of data and the history of the user is therefore known only to the user himself/herself and stored on the smartphone.

Minimal data retention, encrypted and anonymized data, together with an architecture where all the data are collected only on the smartphone of the user are the ingredients to guarantee data privacy in WorkingAge.

In conclusion, WorkingAge is a project that gives some innovative answers to future smart work, considering important aspects such as privacy issues.