A smart floormat to help healthcare professionals or caregivers monitor the elderly, especially those who live alone, could be on the market by early next year.
Dr Poh Kok Kiong, a senior lecturer at the School of Engineering in Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), has developed a working prototype with local electronics firm Apps-Connect.
The IoT Night Watcher can detect when it is stepped on. When placed beside a bed, or in front of the entrance to the bathroom or kitchen, the data captured can create an image of a user's movement patterns and habits.
More elderly people live alone and want to be independent, said Dr Poh during a demonstration of the technology at NYP yesterday.
"As their children or caregivers, we want to know if they are okay but, at the same time, we do not want to be too intrusive," he added.
Dr Poh experimented with other solutions for monitoring the movements of his own parents and those of residents at community homes, but found that they had limitations.
Surveillance cameras are intrusive and the elderly person could be uncomfortable being watched. Motion sensors can be inaccurate and unreliable, while elderly people often forget to wear or charge wearable technology.
Dr Poh then came up with the idea of a smart mat that does not require the seniors to alter anything about their daily routines.
FINDING A BALANCE
As their children or caregivers, we want to know if they are okay but, at the same time, we do not want to be too intrusive.
DR POH KOK KIONG, Nanyang Polytechnic School of Engineering senior lecturer, who came up with the idea of the smart mat.
With the help of NYP students and Apps-Connect, he developed a waterproof prototype powered by two button cell batteries, which can last about a year.
The pad containing the electronic components can be removed from the mat, which can then be washed normally.
The mat consumes power only when it is stepped on, similar to the keyless entry system that is used to unlock some cars.
When a person steps on the mat, it sends a wireless signal to a central "gateway", which resembles a digital clock. The system then stores the time and frequency data in a cloud server.
Depending on the placement of the mat, a step could indicate that the user has got into or out of bed, or that the person has entered or exited the bathroom.
If the system detects unusual activity or inactivity, it can send an alert to a caregiver, who can then physically check on the user.
User's data may help doc in diagnosis
For example, a higher-than-usual frequency of toilet usage could indicate that the user might have a medical issue, said Dr Poh.
A caregiver can share with a doctor that information, which could be useful in diagnosing the user's condition.
If a user enters the kitchen but does not exit after a longer than usual period of time, it could indicate that he has fallen down and injured himself.
The mat can also be used to control other devices, such as lights.
For example, a series of lights to guide the user to the bathroom can be turned on slowly when the mat detects that the user has got out of bed at night.
For elderly couples who live together, the mats can be calibrated to their weights to differentiate between them, said Dr Poh.
The team plans to make the product commercially available by the first quarter of next year, according to Mr Chua Thiam Leng, managing director of Apps-Connect.
The data can currently be accessed through a Web portal, but the company plans to develop a mobile app before releasing the mat on the market.
It will cost about $400 or $500 and come with a "gateway" and two light nodes, Mr Chua said.