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Independence-assisting device for elderly began as burglar alarm

Simpalarm has developed an eponymous device that monitors people living independently and alerts relatives or care givers when it detects anomalies.

The device was initially conceived and developed by Simpalarm director James Savage as a burglar alarm due to a spate of burglaries in the street he was living in.

‘I had in my head something that was mains powered and nice and loud which, when it detected movement, gave off a very loud alarm that affected the burglar’s ability to think,’ Savage told The Engineer.

Simpalarm has since evolved into a device that plugs into any household mains socket and contains a passive infrared sensor to monitor movement.

It reports the information it gathers to a web-based server, which then uses software to allocate, analyse and disseminate that information.  

If the device is installed within a ground floor hallway or a room in regular use, such as the kitchen, it will detect movement activity a number of times each day.

Savage said the device reports detected activity by securely sending packets of information to a central server wirelessly using its integral GPRS modem. Over a period of time, typically a week or two, patterns of activity in a person’s daily routine will emerge.

‘We subconsciously develop these patterns of daily routine and it is likely that someone gets up between certain times, moves around the home a number of times each day and is normally still after a certain time in the evening, perhaps getting up once or twice during the night,’ said Savage. ‘Variations in these patterns may give rise to concern and result in a nominated family member or carer receiving a notification via SMS or email.’

The system, which is supplied with a panic button function, requires customers to set up an account and the device via Simpalarm’s web portal, which involves asking the user to provide names and mobile telephone numbers of ‘trusted keyholders’.

‘In the event that the panic button is pressed, these nominated keyholders receive an automated phone call to their mobile phone,’ said Savage. ‘They then indicate their availability to attend the older person’s home by pressing numbers on their phone.’

Additional sensors to detect visitor arrival and front door opening let the keyholder know that the person in their care has received a visit from a friend or carer, or taken delivery of their evening meal. The device also acts as an amplified door bell, which may be useful for an older person with impaired hearing.

Savage added that additional components are being developed to monitor electricity and water usage and further ambient and/or worn sensors will become available as the product evolves.

Market

The market for assistive technology is young and predicted to grow substantially, said Savage.

‘A recent YouGov poll of more than 2,000 adults in the UK revealed that 90 per cent of people are not aware of telecare products,’ he said. ‘When shown what the products can offer, the same sample of adults indicated that adoption of the technology could be as high as 80 per cent if it is affordable to the consumer.

Collaboration

Savage’s Simpalarm was recently named among five winner of this year’s Discovering Wireless Start-Ups, an event jointly organised by Cambridge Wireless and Silicon SouthWest and supported by TechCity UK.

Getting to this phase in the product’s development saw input from Bristol-based Cubik Innovation, MAS, Exeter University, Microelectronics iNet, and EIN (Engineering Innovation Network).

Savage anticipates Simpalarm being manufactured in the UK, and early next year functionality and safety testing will take place in order to achieve a CE mark.


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Telecare systems have the potential for widespread adoption due to ageing populations, but are they an acceptable method of caring for the elderly? Let us know below or take part in our poll

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