“Everyone wants to get old, nobody wants to be old.” Unless that is, if we can use technology to make our lives more secure and more comfortable.

Elderly people, our senior citizens, often want to live at home longer because that is the environment they are used to and in many cases, they can. However, if something happens, will they be able to alert someone, will they be able to get help?

Everyone has heard of family situations where an elderly person was too incapacitated to get out of bed in the morning, or they fell and were not able to call for help. Seniors living home alone can generate a lot of concern – not only for the senior person, but also for their children, friends or caretakers. Wouldn’t it be nice if some technology could help?

There is a solution that utilizes the latest generation of sensors, communication and smart cloud technologies. The Sensara Senior Lifestyle System is a new generation Internet of Things (IoT) service application that can help people to live at home longer, secure and comfortable, and that provides peace of mind to seniors, their loved ones and their caretakers. This system does not use intrusive cameras or devices that people constantly need to wear on their body.


How it works

The Sensara Senior Lifestyle System exists of a limited number of small sensors (5 for apartments to 8 for large houses) that are installed in someone’s home – a few motion sensors and a few open/close sensors. These sensors are installed at strategic places in the home (living room, bathroom, kitchen, hallway and front door) and they automatically connect wirelessly to a gateway that is plugged into a standard home internet router provided by their telephone or cable provider. Because these sensor devices are small, battery operated, and do not have to be worn, they are truly install and forget.

After installation, these sensors start to collect data about what happens in the house. This data is uploaded to an analytics engine “in the cloud” and, over time, usually a period of about two weeks, the analytics engine has enough data to be able to recognize living patterns of the person in the home: at what time someone gets up, how long the bathroom is used, with what repetition the kitchen is used, how long one is out of the house for shopping, when are they taking a nap, etc.

When the behavioral patterns are known, exceptions can be detected and analyzed. For instance, minor exceptions like skipping a meal or major ones like not getting out of bed in the morning, or even suspicious inactivity in the afternoon.

The Sensara data analytics algorithm basically compares the inputs from the sensors (or the lack of inputs) with the normal behavior of a person, and based on detection of exceptions and anomalies, it sends a (text) message to the smart phone of a caring person, a family member or friend. The message could read something like this – “normally Ann is out of bed by now, but today she is not, maybe you want to give her a call” – and with a single click the call can be made, and further action can be taken.


The value provided

The Sensara Senior Lifestyle System provides something that is very valuable: peace of mind. Peace of mind both for the senior person living at home alone, as well as for family members, possibly living far away. Of course the system cannot replace personal contact, like visits or phone calls – but it is a very welcome and easy addition. If something out of the ordinary happens it will not go unnoticed, while at the same time the senior’s privacy is fully respected and well- meaning but worrying intrusions from family and friends (“I have not heard from you for three days”) become unnecessary. The system does not require a camera and preserves personal privacy. The system does not require wearing emergency buttons – for instance a fall detector – although those can be easily included as additional sensors as well.

But there is more. Something people are not good at is the recognition of slow deterioration. These downward trends can be easily overlooked, until something critical occurs. One example of this is walking speed – how fast someone walks through the house. By collecting data over a longer period in time, the system can recognize if someone has started to walk significantly slower than two months ago. Walking slower is a good early indicator for running the risk of taking a bad fall and possibly breaking a hip. If a gradual slowdown or a change is noticed, the Sensara system will generate an alert to a family member or a caretaker.

The Sensara Senior Lifestyle System provides both short and long-term values. Short-term value, because it creates alerts on instantaneous anomalies, like not being active as usual (i.e. in case of illness or a fall) or leaving the house longer than usual (getting lost more easily?). Long-term value, because it creates alerts for family members or caretakers when people slowly change their behavior, something that is hard to identify, like walking slower or having bad sleep (caused by illness, dementia or depression?). But in all situations, it truly provides peace of mind for everyone involved.


Big Brother

A logical question that often arises is “isn’t this Big Brother”? Well, in a way, actually it is. The real underlying question however is it worth it? Is it not great to have a Big Brother? Since George Orwell’s 1984, the term Big Brother has a bad name and reputation. But rightly so? Definitely, big brothers can be a nuisance or worse. But couldn’t having a Big Brother be something special and very positive? So in a way, Sensara is a Big Brother, but a very helpful one!

It is probably time to rethink our image of the Big Brother. The new age of the IoT helps us to quantify our lives. To measure is to know. Quantifying our lives helps us to make better quality decisions, or even to assist us to actually make those tough decisions. Quantifying our lifestyle helps us to live more safely, securely and comfortably.

Several Sensara users have said that since they started using the system, their relationship with their loved ones has improved. There is more involvement, more contact moments and discussions about live situations which matter. The involved elderly appreciate that and are proud to have children who “care about” them.

But there is obviously a flipside. What about the data being collected? Is it secure, can it be abused, who owns it, etc.? Those are all valid questions, but not necessarily that different as asking the same question about using a credit card in a store. And we know that there is a serious balance between convenience and ease of use on one side and security and privacy on the other side. But in the same way as internet hacks did not stop us from using our credit cards, we will learn how to deal with security and privacy on the IoT as well.



About GreenPeak Technologies

GreenPeak Technologies is a fabless semiconductor company and is a leader in IEEE 802.15.4/ZigBee silicon solutions for the Smart Home and the Internet of Things. GreenPeak is privately funded. It is headquartered in Utrecht, The Netherlands and has offices in the United States, Belgium, China, France, India and Korea. GreenPeak has won the prestigious 2014 Deloitte Fast50 Award and is recognized as a leader in developing new wireless technologies for consumer electronics and Smart Home applications, demonstrating rapid growth and adoption by major customers.