2015 is the year when the smart home market witnessed an influx of connected health devices and applications. With advancements in both the hardware and software for the smart home, use cases for connected health in the home continue to expand and evolve, offering infinite possibilities unimaginable. Advanced form of telecare for the elderly or those with special needs, and smart sleep, are two leading applications that are gaining momentum.
“We definitely see a lot of interest and growth in connected home and homecare solutions. Most seen use cases include eldercare and care for the disabled. Utilizing connected home devices as the infrastructure will strongly support growth of such solutions, and calls for reliable and quality build devices with non-intrusive designs have become the norm. Our device portfolio has been designed to support this type of customer demand,” comments Marco Dorjee, director of Business Development and International Sales at CentraLite Systems.
While it does not have a universal definition yet, telecare, as defined in Deloitte’s report, “uses alarms, sensors and other equipment to help people live independently longer, particularly those who require a combination of social or health services. Telecare comprises assistive technologies and services tailored to individual needs. It monitors activity changes over time and can call for help in emergencies. For instance, a bed occupancy sensor can monitor when a person gets out of bed at night and raise an alarm if they do not return within a certain period.”
PERS Transforms in Form and Function
These alarms, or also called personal emergency response systems (PERS), are typically in the form of a system that includes a transmitter and an emergency button. The wearer can press the emergency button to seek help when accidents occur, such as falling down. The emergency button is often worn as a pendant so it would be within reach of the user. However, some users may associate wearing the pendant with stigma and would not wear it as often, thus reducing the effectiveness of such system.
In recent years, a new form of emergency button has emerged. Rather than wearing the button as a pendant, users now have the option of wearing it as a watch. Furthermore, companies have started to add features such as fall detection to their emergency buttons so users can seek help when they fall even if they don’t press the button. In this way, the button also becomes proactive in ensuring the safety of the user.
Philips Lifeline offers three models of medical alert systems for seniors – GoSafe, HomeSafe Standard and HomeSafe with AutoAlert – each including a help button and an in-home Communicator (hub). HomeSafe Standard offers users the option of wearing the help button either as a pendant or a watch, and both GoSafe and HomeSafe with AutoAlert feature fall detection so that the system will contact Lifeline automatically when the help button senses a fall and/or if the user fails to push the button. By leveraging location technologies including GPS, Wi-Fi, cellular networks and others, GoSafe can even offer out-of-home emergency assistance when the user is out.
With the employment of advanced software and smart algorithms, users' behavioral patterns, or lifestyles, can now be learned and analyzed for detecting changes in patterns, which can be a sign of users being at risk. Many companies are also developing mobile apps to make communication more instant and convenient.
Lively’s 24/7 emergency medical alert system features an emergency button in the form of a watch – the Lively Safety Watch. Users can press and hold the button on the watch to initiate a call from the Lively Care Team when needed. Besides the watch, the system also includes an In-Home Hub and several Activity Sensors. The Activity Sensors can be placed on pillboxes, the refrigerator or other locations to measure the user’s living patterns. When abnormalities are detected, alerts can be sent to select family members. With the Lively app, users can choose to receive alerts sent by email, text or mobile app.
Although wearables continue to expand on their functionality to bring enhanced services for the elders, their short battery life remains a major weakness, along with other issues like limited range, as pointed out by Poul Møller Eriksen, VP – Business Development at Develco Products A/S.
“I think the optimal solution for wearables for older, senile or semi-senile people is providing a device that can detect falling and also detect when you are leaving your house and your exact location [after you have left the house]. So it also needs to have online communication. But the challenge with wearables today is that battery life is very short. So until we have a wearable device that has a good battery life, preferably one week, and is capable of communicating worldwide using GPS, I don’t think it will be a success,” says Eriksen.
No Wearables, Just Sensors
Companies like GreenPeak Technologies are taking a different approach that foregoes wearables altogether and just uses sensors to monitor activities of elders at home. GreenPeak’s Sensara Senior Lifestyle System consists of a gateway and a mix of motion sensors and open/close sensors that can be placed around the home. The system also learns user’s behavior pattern by analyzing data collected by the sensors.
“A self-learning application in the cloud analyzes the data collected by the sensors, and after a period of two weeks, the analytics engine will have collected enough data to be able to recognize living patterns of the person in the home. For instance, what time the person gets up, how long is the bathroom occupied, and so forth. If there is a sudden change in the schedule, it sends an alert to family and caregivers,” says Cees Links, founder & CEO of GreenPeak advent of smart sleep solutions, people can track their sleep right from their own bed and be able to sleep better.
hugOne by sevenhugs is a sleep sensor designed to help improve the sleep quality for the whole family. The device records all family members’ sleep behavior and can figure out when is the best time to wake users up. On top of sleep monitoring, hugOne also has environmental sensors for monitoring indoor temperature, humidity and air quality, and it will notify the user when the air quality needs attention.
Aura Connected Alarm Clock by Withings features the ability to help users fall asleep faster and wake up more energized through the use of light and music. For example, Aura has light programs that simulate sunrise for a gradual wake up, or it can stream Spotify playlists or wake-up programs to help users start the day feeling refreshed. Similarly, Aura has environmental sensors. It can monitor temperature, luminosity and sound levels in the room. An optional sleep sensor is available if users want to gain more insight into their sleep, such as sleep duration, sleep cycle variation and more, and they can view full sleep cycles on their smartphones. With integration with Nest thermostat, Aura can even notify the Nest to change the temperature to promote sleep quality.
Although the introduction of connected health to the smart home is relatively recent, it is nevertheless expanding rapidly as industries and companies are moving fast to develop related products and applications. With the increase in healthcare demands worldwide and the fact that connected health brings clear benefits, we expect to see more development in 2016.