New device tracks seniors' activity from remote location

TP lecturer Aung San Win discussing the Smart DB Elderly Wellness Suite system with his students. PHOTO: TEMASEK POLYTECHNIC

SINGAPORE - Part-time primary school teacher Ng Wai Leng is able to visit her elderly parents only about twice a week but she knows exactly what they are doing from the time they wake up until they go to bed.

A device developed by Temasek Polytechnic (TP) called Smart DB Elderly Wellness Suite allows her to track for instance, when her parents boil water for their morning coffee, turn on the TV or the lights in the evening - signs that they are keeping to their normal routine.

The device is installed in the electrical distribution board found in every home and monitors the electrical usage and detects the type of activity based on data it receives.

Mrs Ng's parent's home was one of 10 households across Ang Mo Kio, Punggol and Toa Payoh where test-bedding of the device began in March last year.

She said: "I usually have to work in the mornings and also take care of my school-going children. I am not able to be all the time with my parents, who are staying alone, and I so constantly look out for them."

Mrs Ng, 44, lives with her husband and two children, aged 12 and 15. Her parents, retirees in their seventies, have health problems like diabetes and high cholesterol. Her father also suffers from dementia.

"With this mobile app, I know when they have woken up to boil water for coffee, how long they are in the shower, if they are watching TV, and what time they sleep at night," she said.

"It gives me peace of mind, knowing they are safe and well at home, even if I'm not there with them."

Mrs Ng added that she would consider buying a commercial version of the product if subscription charges were between $10 to $30 a month.

The device was developed as part of a multi-disciplinary project involving TP lecturers and students from the diploma in computer engineering and diploma in information technology courses, helmed by staff from the poly's Clean Energy Research Centre (CERC).

The project received funding from the Tote Board Social Innovation Research Fund and was a recipient of the Lee Hsien Loong Interactive Digital Media Smart Nation Award this year.

Mr Wang Gucheng, Smart DB project lead and senior manager at CERC, said the device aims to address the problem of social isolation faced by the elderly in countries like Singapore: "We decided to use energy analytics to predict users' behaviour and habits. This led to the development of this Smart solution."

Fixing what is a complex social problem involved bringing together a raft of disciplines - electronics, artificial intelligence, production design technology and human behaviour analysis.

The team also had meetings with an eldercare service provider, as well as seniors and their children, who were concerned about their parents living alone.

The monitoring system is made up of a hardware device - deployed with project partner and technology firm Smart DB - and a web application-based user interface, which users like Mrs Ng can use to check on their loved ones.

TP computer engineering student Samuel Tan, 18, said the project has the potential to help address a range of other issues: "It could flag mental health concerns that are not easily noticeable, such as depression.

"For instance, if someone is spending long hours in front of the TV or there is a sudden change in their home routine, action can be taken. It can also help in caring for those with disabilities, in the future."

One key concern, Mr Wang said, is ensuring the privacy of users.

He noted: "When the Smart DB is installed inside the house, it is done with the permission and in the presence of the caregiver.

"The one-time installation takes about one hour, after which, data will be automatically and securely sent to the app. The data captured is encrypted, protected and only accessible to authorised users like the caregiver."

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