The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming the lives of the elderly and disabled, enabling them to live at home safely and giving reassurance to their carers.

A huge range of low-cost cameras and microphones is now available that connect to a home’s wi-fi system. Smartphone apps enable carers to keep an eye on their charges over the internet, wherever they are.

 

Devices are helping connect those in need

 

IoT devices are even beginning to replace the familiar emergency pendant with the big red button. Amazon’s Alexa, for example, can connect someone who has suffered a fall with their carers by listening out for simple commands.

"We are interested in helping people to live easier lives, whether it is comfort, security or control."

Cameras and microphones can, however, be seen as intrusive, even though their purpose is good, says Chartered Physiotherapist, Louise Rogerson, inventor of a new way of approaching the problem that avoids feelings of loss of privacy.

Her tech start-up, Howz, has been working with EDF Energy to launch a new home monitoring system that uses energy data and connected home technology to empower the elderly, or those with additional needs, to live independently for longer.

The system, which has been developed and tested extensively with existing EDF Energy customers over the past two years, includes a motion sensor, a door sensor and a smart plug. The three communicate with the home hub, which analyses the times each sensor is triggered and uses complex algorithms to develop a picture of the lifestyle of the client. Carers can consult a smartphone app for reassurance that everything is normal without having to ring up all the time.

 

Intelligent tech learns a client’s routines

 

“We learn their individual routine and that’s the baseline from which we can detect change,” Rogerson explains. “The analytics determine what is a big change from routine and that might result in an alert, but also will detect gradual changes or reductions in activity that might indicate a new condition, and they get that back via an app or a website view, which they can then share with carers.

The standard approach to home monitoring is to put a sensor in every room, but older people find that quite intrusive. We are absolutely not tracking people from room to room - we can monitor lifestyle using just the three sensors.”

The system can detect gradual changes that might indicate problems in the future. “Detecting change early means you can take action early,” Rogerson says.

“A really good example is balance. People who start to lose balance will self-limit and start to move less and go out less. Our system detects that, and they think, "Why am I going out less?’"and realise they are feeling a bit unsteady now. The answer might be as simple as finding a local Tai Chi class, which has excellent evidence of improving balance.”

Howz got a boost when starting by winning a start-up challenge run by EDF Energy Blue Lab, an incubator for innovations in smart home technology.

John Hutchins, Head of Smarter Living at Blue Lab, says “At Blue Lab, we’re not just interested in gadgets and novelties; we are interested in helping people to live easier lives, whether it is comfort, security or control. Howz helps people live independently longer.”