iCARE system could provide home help for the elderly

Scientists in Leicester are developing an integrated home sensor system to monitor elderly people in their homes and summon help in emergencies.

De Montfort University (DMU) researchers are designing a communications platform to connect a variety of sensors and alarms as part of a £1.65m trial programme run by property firm The Co-operative Estates to create five custom-fitted ‘Smart homes’ for assisted living.

The ‘Distributed Integrated Care Services and Systems’ (iCARE) project will also include a mobile telecare device for monitoring older people when they are away from their home and raise the alarm if the person gets lost or needs medical assistance.

‘We live in an ageing society and increasing numbers of older people want the opportunity to continue living independently in their own homes,’ said DMU researcher Dr Eric Goodyer.

‘There’s a lot of technology out there that aims to help people do this, and this project will develop a way of ensuring that these devices can be connected and work together towards this goal.’

The sensors will include motion and fall detectors and other devices that can monitor typical actions in the home that indicate a person is going about their normal life, such as opening the fridge, boiling the kettle or flushing the toilet. Temperature sensors will also help maintain a comfortable environment in the house.

DMU’s software is developed from a similar system used to integrate energy management devices in the home and is designed to link equipment from different manufacturers that use open standards of communication.

The software isn’t tied to one piece of hardware but in the trial will operate on a device that could provide a user interface in the home and communicate with other systems to call for help.

‘There are likely to be three levels of potential monitoring that could be offered,’ DMU’s professor of mechatronics, Philip Moore, told The Engineer. ‘The system could alert a carer or relative by SMS.

‘In the iCARE project, it will provide access to an operating centre monitoring the homes on the trial, and this could typically be operated by a local authority.

‘Also, one of our partners called Intamac operates by analysing data from the home so they could perhaps provide remote monitoring using automatic algorithms and then contact the local authority or a relative directly.’

iCARE is partly funded with £800,000 from the Technology Strategy Board’s (TSB) Assisted Living Innovation Platform. Partners in the project include DMU, Leicester City Council and private companies Sure Technology, Intamac and Airetrak.

The trial will likely begin in 18 months’ time and last for a year, after which the partners may seek to commercialise their technologies.

David Leitch from The Co-operative Estates said: ‘The benefits of creating an open standard could be almost incalculable for end-users, as it will facilitate independent living through a smart home environment and beyond.

‘There also remains a powerful government commitment to personal budgets and direct payments, which will enable people and their carers to choose assisted-living technology to suit individual needs in a more cost effective manner than traditional care options.’