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Homeless health check prototype launched

22 November 2012

Homeless people who have been working with Lancaster University academics and citizen scientists to dream up new technology have developed a prototype which could improve their lives.

The device – called ‘Pat’ or Personal Appointment Ticketing  service - enables homeless people living chaotic lives to easily keep track of appointments from doctors and dentists to meetings with social workers with the single swipe of a specially-made wrist band or plastic card.  It then prints out a personalised reminder list of dates, times and places.

Based on simple, cheap technology including a Raspberry PI computer  - a credit-card sized computer which costs just a few pounds -  the system is now being tested by case workers and service users from Signposts,  a charity supporting homeless groups in Lancashire and Cumbria, who played a key role in developing the prototype.

The prototype - launched on November 28 at The Midland Hotel, Morecambe - was developed as part of an eight-month research project called Patchworks led by Lancaster University working in collaboration with Signposts and MadLab - a group of DIYBio innovators who share and experiment with cheap, open source technology.

The project is part of an ambitious £1.9m Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council project called Catalyst which is led by Professor Jon Whittle of Lancaster’s School of Computing and Communications. Catalyst will be made up of series of short research ‘sprints’ designed to test the boundaries of existing communications technology and empower groups to change the world for the better. Patchworks is Catalyst’s first project.

Medical biologist Dr Rod Dillon, who is leading Patchworks, said: “Unlike other projects of this kind, Patchworks depends on the imaginations, experiences, design and manufacturing skills of homeless communities themselves. We are not telling people what we can do for them, we are asking what they need and working with them to create it.

“We hope this tool will help people make more appointments because they have access to a different type of reminder system, and lead to improvement in quality of life.

“Indirectly, through taking part in the Patchworks prototype development process, Signposts staff and clients have increased awareness of technologies and how they work. They have also made new connections which we hope will continue, enabling them to make improvements in their lives and the services they provide and receive.”

Sharon Calverley, Project Director at Signposts, said: “Patchworks is a really exciting initiative – there is amazing potential for the technical side of this project to make a real difference to homeless people.

“What makes it really brilliant is the idea of two groups from very different backgrounds working together for the benefit of a marginalised section of the local community.

“For me the most rewarding thing was when we brought one of our service users back from MadLab in Manchester and he said ‘there’s such a big world out there and I’m wasting my life and I need to do something'. To me that sums up what we are about.”

More information can be found on the project website or on YouTube. To register for the event go to http://catalystevent2012.eventbrite.co.uk/