Senior citizens are a population at a higher risk of serious complications due to COVID-19, prompting doctors to recommend they remain at home and self-isolate and caretakers to cut back on visits. How do we protect vulnerable populations that might still need check-ins and medical attention? The elderly, in particular, have been left increasingly isolated and without watchful monitoring of their health. A team of electrical engineers in Portugal came up with a solution — a wearable monitoring system that tracks a person’s day-to-day routines and alerts caregivers remotely if something could be abnormal.
The new system, called Zelar@CB, works by monitoring a wearer’s usage of electrical appliances, tracking changes in usage or even if the stove is left on and notifying family or caregivers. The system combines a low-power wide-area LoRa network with a low-power wearable device that can be worn as a bracelet or embedded in clothing and an energy monitor that connects to home electrical appliances. It also includes an accelerometer and gyroscope to detect falls. All of this appears to be running on a Raspberry Pi.
The energy monitor connects to the home’s main electrical line and monitors the power consumption of each appliance, including timestamps. An AI algorithm, trained on a user’s routine and power consumption, is used to flag changes. Alerts are sent either as an SMS, email, or a message on the system’s mobile application.
The system is particularly beneficial for vulnerable populations self-isolating in rural areas, where it is difficult to check in daily. It may take up to two weeks for the AI algorithm to be fully trained to recognize how the user operates their home appliances, but upon establishing a baseline becomes a relatively reliable indicator of changes in a person’s routine that could be worrisome. Even more, it requires very little knowledge on the user’s end to be fully functional — all they need to do is somehow carry the wearable component on their person.
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted even the way the project was completed; the team completed much of the work through videoconferencing and improvised IoT labs. Still, they hope to reduce response time for isolated elders in case of emergency events and are currently testing their prototype with senior citizens living in Castelo Branco in Portugal.