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Developing technology for safe homes

New technology developed by the ICT community at the University of Agder will help the elderly feel safe and secure in their home.

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Illustrasjon av eldre mann som leser bok hjemme
Den nye teknologien skal gjere eldre meir trygge og sjølvstendige i eiga heim.

“The prototype is now ready. Radio-frequency sensors can detect whether a user falls over and will then transmit a message to a healthcare provider. This device will help elderly people living alone to feel safe, enabling them to live independently in their own homes for longer”, says Professor Matthias Pätzold at the Department of Information and Communication Technology at UiA.

Matthias Pätzold is a Professor at the Department of Information and Communication Technology at UiA.

Matthias Pätzold is a Professor at the Department of Information and Communication Technology at UiA.

Pätzold leads the research project WiCare (Wireless In-Home Healthcare Monitoring System for Supporting Independent Living of Elderlies).

With the help of radio waves, the project group has created a system that recognizes daily life activities of users.

“The goal is to recognise and trace a large number of different user activities. This is made possible by the fifth generation of mobile communication systems (5G) combined with radio-frequency sensors and audio sensors”, says Pätzold.

Individual variations

The researchers envisage that the sensors could be discretely placed in different locations in the homes of elderly residents. Sensors monitor their activity, and the data reveals information about the user’s level of activity. All the data collected from the radio-frequency sensors is analysed by time-frequency signal processing and interpreted by machine learning techniques.

The system will be able to determine how much support the user needs. This will make it easier to organise the appropriate care for each individual user.

“The design of the developed prototype is based on experiments involving several people. It has been trained to interpret various activities, such as falling, walking, and sitting up or down. Every human being has a different pattern of activity. The challenge is to train the prototype to recognise as many different activity patterns of people of different sizes, weights and genders as possible with a high degree of reliability, regardless of the environment”, says Pätzold.

Weaknesses in current solutions

The need for new solutions in this field is great, according to the researcher. Not least because panic buttons and smart watches do not work optimally. Such devices are being used by healthcare services in many areas, but according to Pätzold, they have many weaknesses.

“Panic buttons are ineffective if the user cannot reach them or is unable to perform the action. A watch is easy to forget or the user might simply not wear it. And video surveillance is challenging in terms of the right to privacy”, says Pätzold.

This monitoring system will be able to say something about the level of support the user needs or detect if a user falls. This will make it easier to organise the necessary support for the user.

“In addition, users will feel safer being home alone in case something should happen”, says Pätzold.

WiCare is funded by the Research Council of Norway's ICT FRINATEK programme. The project is being continued from 2020 to 2023 by UiA in the CareWell project, funded by the Research Council of Norway’s IKTPLUSS programme. This programme funds projects that develop new knowledge and innovative technology that increase productivity and efficiency.