Virtual Lab for Social and Health Care – a testbed that has strong connections with authentic environments9.6.2021
The Virtual Lab for Social and Health Care is one of the health technology testbeds in the Tampere Region. Owned by Tampere University of Applied Sciences, the Lab focuses on tomorrow’s technologies, developing them together with companies and service providers. The Lab’s offering includes testing in a standardized lab environment as well as in authentic environments. A Finnish company Medeka Oy enrolled the Lab to gather user feedback on their virtual route software.
The Virtual Lab for Social and Health Care is an environment for research, development, innovation and learning, providing a novel co-creation platform for social and health care. The Lab brings together health technology companies and health service providers; students, teachers and health service end users.
– We focus on user-driven testing and development of digital, virtual and remote technologies. This was our concept even before the COVID-19 pandemic, but obviously the past year has made our testbed really interesting, says Tarja Heinonen, Development Manager at Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK).
The Lab – and livings labs
The Lab is situated at TAMK main campus. Technologies from over 20 suppliers are there to be tried and operated, for example robots, remote service solutions and analysis equipment. A central element in the Lab is an immersive 360 cylinder which enables a shared 360 experience.
Another integral part of their concept is the Lab’s close connection with authentic social and health care environments, such as the Tampere-based senior centres of Sointu Senioripalvelut.
– We can open living lab doors for companies. User trials provide them with feedback from real-life end users: for example in the senior centres from both the elderly and the staff, says Heinonen.
Living lab is an appropriate model of operation for a university of applied sciences – it is close to companies, service providers and end users at the same time. TAMK is also a member of European Network of Living Labs.
Testing is win-win for all parties
The Virtual Lab for Social and Health Care was officially opened in autumn 2020. Their processes for testing, R&D and co-creation are described in detail to ensure they’ll run smoothly.
– A company states its needs, then we’ll make a test and development plan together, and execute it systematically. We have polished these processes really well, says Heinonen.
The Virtual Lab for Social and Health Care provides a company with feedback, but also a reference for the product or service that has been tested. As a test service provider a university of applied sciences is both trusted and neutral. The 10 000 TAMK students are a strong and multidisciplinary resource for testing and user trials.
On the other hand, testing increases the university’s own expertise and understanding of the latest technologies. Students will get more familiar with tomorrow’s technologies while they are still studying.
– Our role is to coordinate, boost and bring all parties of co-creation together to aim at the same goals, describes Heinonen.
Testing Medeka’s virtual routes
Medeka’s virtual route software was tested at Kuuselakeskus, a senior centre in Tampere (part of Sointu Senioripalvelut services). The Lab organised user trials in an authentic environment that wouldn’t have been easily accessed by the company alone.
– Real environment, context and users – the feedback was as direct and sincere as one may ask, says Medeka CEO Kalle Punto.
The Medeka virtual routes are designed to make indoor training more fun. There are various urban and nature trails available. Users can choose any route they like and follow it while using an exercise device. The software was launched in 2019 and new routes are added constantly from all over the world.
There was a five-week testing process in a local senior centre. Medeka wanted to know, whether the software would be suitable for the elderly and encourage their exercise and rehabilitation activities.
– Medeka provided the necessary software training and TAMK was free to implement the testing process with the staff of the senior centre. It worked really well, says Punto.
The feedback was positive, too. According to the users, the virtual routes motivate them to exercise. They brought back nice memories of earlier visits to attractions and introduced new sights. Medeka even got some development ideas from the end users, and those are in line with what the company itself has had in mind.
– I think it is probable that Medeka will continue R&D collaboration with the Lab, says Punto.
Top-class research services in the Tampere Region
The Virtual Lab for Social and Health Care will continue to develop as a platform for research, development, innovation and learning. So far the testing services have been organised through projects, but the time has come to think about commercializing the services.
– We will find a form of collaboration that is suitable for each individual company, Heinonen promises.
The Lab’s plans for the future also include a virtual environment for testing and co-creation. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that it would be most useful beside the authentic and standardised environments.
There are several health technology testbeds in the Tampere Region, and they make the region a perfect location for R&D and innovation. For companies, Tampere Region's health testbed ecosystem provides a fast track to the state-of-the-art research facilities.
The testbed services are targeted to companies from all stages. It is possible to get a separate offer to use one of the testbeds or several of them combined and tailored to the company's needs.
Learn more about the Tampere Health Technology and Life Sciences Ecosystem and its partners at tamperehealth.com.
Author: Päivi Stenroos