One of the reasons why activity recognition in the home is interesting to me is because it has the potential to enable so many important health applications, such as remote monitoring. There are many people, especially older adults, who would much rather stay at home while battling chronic diseases than move into an assisted living facility or hospital. But without a range of supportive services, which are often prohibitively expensive, it becomes virtually impossible to properly care for someone in their own home.
There is a wide range of commercial products centered on supporting independent living, from fall detection to medication compliance systems. One piece of the puzzle that is missing is a communication channel that offers caregivers a holistic view of an individual’s patterns of daily living at home. This would enable caregivers to observe everyday behaviors on a regular basis and hopefully anticipate problems.
One type of sensor goes on pill boxes, while another measures whether people are eating and drinking on a regular schedule by indicating when refrigerator or pantry doors are opened, both using accelerometers. A third variety is a key fob with a Bluetooth Low Energy transmitter than lets the server know when the user is out of range, typically 125 meters (about 410 feet). This measure acts as a proxy for indicating when the person has left home.
Researchers have attempted to use sensor networks this way, with moderate success. For example, Tapia took the idea of sensors in the environment and showed how one could learn more about an individual’s high-level activities from low-level sensors. Rantz and Skubic demonstrated how a sensor network could be used as an early-warning system for conditions such as urinary tract infection in older adults. The only limitation of these system has been the large number of sensors required, sometimes in the order of 50-80 sensors per home. That is too many.
It’s clear that there is room for sensor networks in health monitoring at home, and Lively is betting that a few strategically located wireless sensors can tell us most of what we need to know about someone’s well-being. I do agree with this direction, and I am now curious to see how the company does in the future, including whether it raises significant funds through Kickstarter, which is a good indicator of how demand exists for a product like this.