Contest to design device to better detect wearer's location

Wrist-worn gadget to use more accurate tech to keep track of the vulnerable

Checks by ST show that most tracking devices designed for the elderly, such as the key fob-like SOSBuddy and Pebbell, tap GPS technologies that are not as accurate as another tech called differential global navigation satellite systems (DGNSS). ST PH
Checks by ST show that most tracking devices designed for the elderly, such as the key fob-like SOSBuddy and Pebbell, tap GPS technologies that are not as accurate as another tech called differential global navigation satellite systems (DGNSS). ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Current satellite technology, such as Global Positioning System (GPS) that can track the location of dementia patients or special needs individuals, is often imprecise with a margin of error of up to 10m, meaning the person one is seeking could be on the other side of the road or in a different building.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) is trying to plug the distance gap with a competition dubbed GNSS Innovation Challenge, which will be launched today.

Working with private space technology company Singapore Space & Technology (SSTL), SLA wants tertiary students to develop a device, worn on the wrist, that can more accurately pinpoint where the wearer is, with a margin of error of less than a metre.

The device will be based on another type of satellite technology known as differential global navigation satellite systems (DGNSS).

Consumer-grade wearables based on DGNSS are currently not available here.

Checks by The Straits Times have found that most tracking devices designed for the elderly, such as the key fob-like SOSBuddy and Pebbell, use GPS technologies that are not as accurate as DGNSS.

SSTL's chief executive Lynette Tan said: "Remote monitoring technology could help give family members better peace of mind, with real-time knowledge of the whereabouts of their loved ones."

Unlike GPS, DGNSS makes additional use of reference stations on land, helping to correct the inaccuracies in signals transmitted by space satellites before the information is sent to the user's device.

Nine of these stations can be found here, making up a network known as the Singapore Satellite Positioning Reference Network (SiReNT) that is managed by SLA.

SiReNT is now used only at the industrial level, such as in land surveying and mapping, as well as in navigating self-mobility vehicles. The SLA hopes to expand the use to the community through the challenge.

Participants are tasked to incorporate other indoor technologies together with the DGNSS so that the device can be used both indoors and outdoors, overcoming the possibility of DGNSS signals being blocked by walls or roofs when the person is in a building.

Participants can stand to win cash prizes of up to $3,000, along with a possible internship at SLA.

The authority's acting chief executive Simon Ong said Singapore is facing an increasingly greying population and the development of such solutions will be able to assist with caring for the elderly or those with special needs.

Ms Kris Foo, 53, said the device would be useful for people like her 89-year-old father, who is in the early stages of dementia.

She said: "My dad likes to sometimes move around on his own. If his location can be monitored precisely, that would be really helpful.

"I also hope the device can be so precise that I could contact the shops nearby to alert them of his whereabouts and look after him until I arrive."

Figures from the Department of Statistics Singapore show the proportion of residents above 65 in the population was 15.2 per cent last year, compared with 9 per cent a decade ago.

Mr Ong said: "This challenge is intended to engage young minds to overcome limitations in the development of wearable solutions to solve real-life problems to benefit the community.

"Through this initiative, we also hope to build interest in the use of satellite positioning reference technology to power real-time, high-precision positioning applications."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2021, with the headline 'Contest to design device to better detect wearer's location'. Subscribe