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Software for independent living

By Wendy Barnaby

New, non-invasive technology is being tested to enable older people to live independently.  Sensors build up an electronic pattern of the normal movements a person makes at home, and can give an alert if something abnormal happens.
Dr Ernesto Compatangeto of the University of Aberdeen told the British Science Festival about the software system on Tuesday.
The system uses a network of sensors placed throughout a person’s home to detect movement, sound, temperature, humidity, opening and closing of doors, and so on.
The information gathered, which is encrypted into images not visible to anyone, is fed into a small computerised hub which builds up a pattern of the person’s daily routine.
If a fire breaks out, the abnormal temperature would alert the system and an alarm could be routed straight to the fire station.  In other circumstances, the alarm could go to a member of the person’s family.  Authorised end-users would be able to decode the images to see what was actually happening.
The system is sensitive enough to distinguish between someone on the floor having slumped out of their chair and someone on the floor looking for something they’ve dropped.
If the person is able enough, it can also incorporate signs with meaning.  For example, a raised fist may mean “Turn up the TV”; thumbs up could mean “Turn on the light.” 
This technology is a spin-off from the Portable Sign Language Translator, the first in the world which can be used on portable devices and allows users to customise sign language to their own specific needs.
Dr Compatangeto, from the University’s School of Natural & Computing Sciences, has developed the system in partnership with the Scottish charity Cornerstone Community Care in a spin-off company called Technabling. It is currently being trialled in various flats, with and without human inhabitants.  Depending on the sophistication of the system, the cost is expected to be between £1000-£1500.

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