SLA moves to plug gap in pinpointing location of at-risk persons such as dementia patients

The Singapore Land Authority wants tertiary students to develop a small enough device that can more accurately pinpoint where the wearer is. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

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

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) is now trying to plug the distance gap with a competition dubbed the GNSS Innovation Challenge, which will be launched on Thursday (Feb 25).

Working together with private space-technology company Singapore Space and Technology Limited (SSTL), SLA wants tertiary students to develop a small enough 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 devices with tracking properties designed for the elderly, such as the key fob-like SOSBuddy or Pebbell, uses 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 that helps to correct the inaccuracies in signals transmitted by space satellites before it 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.

But SiReNT is currently used only at the industrial level, such as in land surveying and mapping, as well as in navigating self-mobility vehicles.

The SLA said it hopes to be able to expand the use of SiReNT to the community through the challenge.

Participants are tasked to incorporate other indoor technologies together with the DGNSS so the device worn can be used both indoor and outdoors, as DGNSS signals may be blocked by walls or roofs when used indoors.

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

SLA 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.

The SiReNT reference station on Sultan Shoal Lighthouse, off the coast of Jurong Island. PHOTO: SINGAPORE LAND AUTHORITY

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 to look after him until I arrive."

Figures from the Department of Statistics Singapore show the proportion of elderly 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."

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