M2M technology plays increasing role in assisted living systems

4 mins read

In the near future, the number of elderly people will increase dramatically, as will demand for healthcare workers and retirement home accommodation.

This presents a challenge: there will be more people to be taken care of, but fewer people to do the caring. This is forcing us to take a look at new ways of caring for seniors. New technologies and new ways of employing technologies will be crucial. Embedded information and communication technologies present the opportunity to provide support for senior citizens in their homes, while coping the fewer support staff. By deploying these technologies in the home, senior citizens will be able to live independently for longer. Research shows this is beneficial for the individual and for society: seniors who live at home stay healthier – both physically and mentally – than those of the same age living in retirement homes. So why doesn't every senior stay at home for as long as they are physically and mentally capable? The answer is often a sense of lack of security. It feels safer to be somewhere with people and nurses who can help if anything happens – even if that means the loss of personal independence. But retirement homes are not the only answer. The combination of existing technologies, along with M2M based cloud applications, can offer peace of mind to the elderly and their relatives, without them having the feeling of being watched.

Sonitor Technologies' ultrasound based USID technology is already used in hospitals to locate and track patients. But it can also be deployed to monitor activity and detect falls in the home. The system is almost entirely battery powered and can be installed quickly and cost effectively. All that is required is a wide area communication interface and the infrastructure to manage emergency calls. Sonitor's system is based on a small waterproof sensor worn like a wristwatch. Every 15s, this sends a positioning signal using Wi-Fi to a homecare gateway. Positioning signals generated by the ultrasound system deliver 3d data to an accuracy of 3cm. The smart homecare gateway is constantly active and monitors these measurements. With local computing intelligence, the gateway only sends relevant data if help is needed. No data is stored unless the user allows it. Once a critical event is detected, the WAN connection sends out a notification. As long as the movements and locations detected by the ultrasound receivers are within what is defined as normal, the emergency call system remain idle. If something out of the ordinary happens, an alert is sent automatically to relatives or to a security call centre. Typical situations which will trigger an alarm include: • fall (resident on the floor for more than a certain amount of time) • irregular movement pattern (leaving home at night, not leaving the bedroom at the usual time) • lack of movement • active alert (resident has pushed the alert button) When movement information is combined with other data, other applications are possible. One example would be warning the resident if they leave home while their cooker is on. Because it is wireless, no physical network connection is needed. The battery powered system, which can operate for up to three years, cannot be recharged. This ensures high availability as nobody can forget to recharge the system. The only service requirement is for a new battery to be fitted every two to three years. Because the system is already used in hospitals for asset tracking, the technologies and physical platforms are already deployed, which offers a cost efficient starting point for extended deployment. The only major new component is a central smart gateway designed by Kontron which supports sensor data acquisition and cellular communication. Sonitor chose Kontron as its preferred partner for this new application area because it offers embedded computing competence and M2M know how. For the past two years, Kontron has made substantial investments in the smart M2M gateway market by adding cellular connectivity support to its embedded computing platforms. The goal is to offer application ready edge nodes for M2M communication. Device communication over cellular interconnects is expected to increase significantly and, within the next decade, the Internet of Things will transform into a market with billions of connected devices. Embedded computing platforms are expected to comprise a substantial portion of this market. Kontron's investment in this market is therefore strategic by nature. The market is being enabled by the globally available mobile phone infrastructure that continues to deliver more bandwidth at shrinking costs.

Kontron's professional grade M2M platform delivers a connection into the cloud using the 3G/2G cellular connection as a standard or as a fallback for wired telecommunication. This connection is integrated and application ready in an embedded computing box that includes all the required drivers and protocols, as well as configuration options in terms of applications and operating systems. The system carries a PTCRB certification and is approved for use in cellular networks by global carriers such as Vodafone. This saves R&D time as well as costs because, for companies such as Sonitor, it streamlines the process of carrier approval and their certifications before the application can be launched on a carrier network. Locally, the system provides direct access via Wi-Fi to the Sonitor platform. For integration of additional local sensors and other terminal devices, the system offers a range of interface options. Using the Kontron M2M Smart Services Developer Kit, links such as IEEE802.11a/b/g/n and IEEE802.15.4 wireless personal area network can be created, and there is a mini PCI-Express slot available for custom specific extensions. Meanwhile, face to face communication is possible with an optional smart video and audio module and custom configurations are available if required by the OEM. With its modular approach and custom design options, the M2M developer kit enables OEMs and smart services developers as well as independent software suppliers to reduce development costs and risks, thus ensuring a rapid introduction to the market. To show how the system can be used in real cloud environments, the demo system is connected to the Telenor Objects' Sheperd ehealth cloud. This platform, designed for assisted living and other eHealth-related use cases, can deliver data to nurses' tablets that can show the patients' records. In Norway, the Shepherd platform is part of a major assisted living project together with Visma. It is likely that insurance companies which use these new technologies will be able to win new customers as well as saving retirement home costs. Alarm triggered services can also help to provide billing transparency in homecare services because service time accounting is as precise as a telephone bill. Homecare service providers will benefit from reduced false alarms and increased customer satisfaction and consequently customer loyalty. Finally it is a win-win situation for insurance companies and homecare service providers – as well as for the senior citizens themselves and their next of kin – because it delivers the important feeling of safety in the home. Claus Giebert is Kontron's M2M product manager. Roby Peeters is Sonitor's vice president for international sales and business development.