July 15, 2003
Smart Homes Will Do Constant Medical Monitoring

The MIT Technology Review has a report on the efforts of Honeywell Laboratories in Minneapolis, MN, the Intel Proactive Health Research lab in Hillsboro, OR, and other labs to develop technology to monitor the health and activities of senior citizens. (free registration required)

The Intel consortium is developing even more sensitive ways to follow the activities of elderly people. Its research goes beyond motion detectors and pillbox sensors to include things like pressure sensors on an Alzheimer’s patient’s favorite chair, networks of cameras, and tiny radio tags embedded in household items and clothing that communicate with tag readers in floor mats, shelves, and walls. From the pattern of these signals, a computer can deduce what a person is doing and intervene—giving instructions over a networked television or bedside radio, or wirelessly alerting a caregiver. Dishman says Intel will install the first trial systems in the homes of two dozen Alzheimer’s patients by early next year.

Intel's system would help family and professional care-givers to check in on an elderly person remotely.

In collaboration with Intel Research Seattle, the Proactive Health team is building an advanced smart-home system to help those like Carl and Thelma deal with Alzheimer’s. Researchers are integrating four main technology areas into a prototyping environment to be tested in the homes of patients: sensor networks, home networks, activity tracking, and ambient displays. The researchers wonder about developing a better pill-tracking system for Carl’s medications, about sensor networks to help his adult children look in on things from far away, and about computer-based coaches that help Carl keep his mind fresh.

Intel foresees the use of WiFi wireless networks to spread sensors and actuators throughout our physical environment. (PDF format).

Small, inexpensive, low-powered sensors and actuators, deeply embedded in our physical environment, can be deployed in large numbers, interacting and forming networks to communicate, adapt, and coordinate higher-level tasks. As we network these micro devices, we’ll be pushing the Internet not just into different locations but deep into the embedded platforms within each location. This will enable us to achieve a hundredfold increase in the size of the Internet beyond the growth we’re already anticipating. And it will require new and different methods of networking devices to one another and to the Internet.

The University of Rochester Center for Future Health is working on a model home in their Smart Medical Home Research Laboratory which they are using to try out a number of concepts for constantly measuring human health signs and activities.

The Center's overall goal is to develop an integrated Personal Health System, so all technologies are integrated and work seamlessly. This technology will allow consumers, in the privacy of their own homes, to maintain health, detect the onset of disease, and manage disease. The data collected 24/7 inside the home will augment the data collected by physicians and hospitals. The data collection modules in the home will start with the measurement of traditional vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, respiration) and work to include measurement of "new vital signs", such as gait, behavior patterns, sleep patterns, general exercise, rehabilitation exercises, and more. This five-room "house" is outfitted with infrared sensors, computers, biosensors, and video cameras for use by research teams to work with research subjects as they test concepts and prototype products.

There are a few things to note about these reports:

  1. Automated electronic monitoring of the elderly at home will encounter little political opposition as the ranks of the elderly grow and the costs of caring for them rise quite dramatically.
  2. Monitoring of the elderly will also be done for reasons other than health purposes. Security is a big concern.
  3. Home monitoring systems will inevitably be used by parents to monitor children, for younger people with disabilities and illnesses, and others with special needs.
  4. These technologies will be used to enhance existing electronic systems which enforce what is effectively house arrest for some parolees. Their movements will be continuously monitorable and violations will be instantly detected and reported.
  5. The ability to automatically monitor is necessary in order to support a large array of automated home services. A home computer will not be able to respond to human commands unless it is constantly listening and watching for them.

The last point is in many ways the most interesting. Even adults in perfect health in safe environments will want to have extensive automated sensing systems installed in their homes if those systems can save them time and effort. Well, if automated systems can detect a dirty carpet to send out the automated vacuum or it can detect a spill on the kitchen floor and send out an automated cleaning device to clean it up then many people will want the automated sensor systems that will make these things possible. Ditto for systems that can pick up dirty clothes to take them to the laundry, that can notice that the counter has lots of dirty dishes, or that can respond to a voice command to clear the table.

But less obvious sensor systems can be imagined. Picture a section of floor tile that can accurately weigh what is standing on it. If that tile was connected to a computer that also had several video cameras which intersected that position then it could recognize what was standing on it, what it was dressed in or carrying (got to adjust the weight for clothes, pocketbooks, a plate of food, or whatever), and determine that Spot the dog is getting too fat or daughter Kathy might be becoming anorexic.

The Surveillance Society is going to become widespread more because of individual choices of hundreds of millions of private individuals than because of decisions taken by governments.

Update: MIT inventor Ted Selker has a smart futon that watches your face for cues about what you want.

The seemingly normal futon in the corner is actually a multimedia couch bed. By staring or blinking at images projected on the ceiling above the bed, you can turn on a radio or set an alarm clock without moving a major muscle. While the system could create the world’s worst couch potato, it could also be ideal for people with physical disabilities.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 July 15 03:25 PM  Surveillance Society


Comments
Patrick said at July 15, 2003 3:40 PM:

So some of Spot's food is diverted to Kathy's plate?

Mr. Jupiter said at May 29, 2004 5:50 AM:

This is a great idea for homes in south florida, over 55 communities.

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