Internet-of-Things (IoT) Advances Home Healthcare for Seniors

Open, modular systems deploy quickly and improve monitoring and security.

By Satish Ram, Kontron America Inc.

Advancements in embedded information and communication technologies present enormous potential for the intensified healthcare support of senior citizens at home. By employing these technologies in the home, senior citizens are able to live independently for a longer period of time, helping to reduce costs and the need for additional caregiver resources in the process. Research shows that this is beneficial to both individuals and society as a whole.

So why doesn’t every senior stay at home as long as they are physically and mentally fit to do so? The answer is very often the perceived lack of security—either a senior’s own fear or the fear of their loved ones that something could happen to them and no one is around to help. Thankfully, today retirement homes are not the only answer, and technology is playing an important role in promoting better quality of life for the “greatest generation.” A combination of new Intel Intelligent Services Framework technologies are available that enable machine-to-machine (M2M)-based cloud applications that can provide the necessary connectivity that leads to safety and peace of mind without the negative aspects of lost freedom or lost privacy.

Technology in Context
IoT may be an unfamiliar term to seniors but today’s smart homecare gateways are making a real difference in their ability to live alone while having the right care at hand. For example, ultrasound-based technology already used in hospitals to locate and track patients can also be deployed as a homecare solution to monitor a senior resident’s activity and detect falls. This battery-operated system is cost-effective, easy to install and requires only a wide area communication interface and the infrastructure to manage emergency calls.

A system that would work well for senior home monitoring could be a small waterproof sensor system that is worn like a wristwatch. At regular intervals of 15 to 20 seconds, the system would send a positioning signal to the ultrasound receiver which communicates over standard wireless WLAN connections to the homecare gateway. The advantage of ultrasound-generated positioning signals is that they are highly precise and deliver three-dimensional data—accurate to 3 centimeters. The smart homecare gateway is constantly monitoring these measurements. Only relevant data is broadcast, and as soon as any critical event is detected, the built-in wireless wide area network connection is used to send out a notification for help. 


Figure 1: Typical situations that trigger an alarm are:

  • Fall (resident on the floor for more than a certain amount of time)
  • Irregular movement pattern
  • Lack of movement
  • Active alert (resident has pushed the alert button)

Keeping Seniors Safe at Home
One important benefit of this type of highly precise home positioning system (HPS) for fall detection is the ease of installation due to its wireless nature. No physical network connection is needed. The battery-powered sensors have a capacity of up to three years, and the units have no power connection for recharging. This ensures the system's high availability since they would otherwise have to be recharged on a daily or weekly basis. Only one service interval for a new battery is required every two to three years. 

As long as the movements and locations registered by the ultrasound receivers are within the thresholds of what is defined as normal for that senior, the emergency call system is idle. If a situation occurs that is not considered normal, an alert is automatically sent through an M2M platform to relatives, a home care provider or security call center. Proven as tools for asset tracking in hospital deployments, this range of M2M technologies and hardware platforms have already been found suitable for field deployments. The availability of new M2M smart services development platforms now offers a highly cost-efficient starting point for extended field deployment. Using these resources helps OEMs and providers quickly design and deploy new central smart gateways for sensor data acquisition and cellular communication applications.

Getting to the Internet of Things
These types of monitoring systems illustrate how all things can be connected—patients, doctors, emergency services, healthcare facilities—and used to extract the most value from available, real-time data. Sound futuristic? Not really, considering medical device developers have an increasingly sophisticated slate of technologies and tools at their disposal. Major manufacturers are focused on expanding connectivity into new arenas including healthcare, and are committed to reducing development time and speeding products and devices to market, while also reducing costs of healtcare. Intel for example, is working to simplify deployment of the Internet of Things (IoT) with its Intelligent Systems Framework (Intel® ISF), a set of interoperable solutions designed to address connecting, managing, and securing devices and data in a consistent and scalable manner.

Source: Intel
Figure 2: The Intel® Intelligent Systems Framework provides a consistent framework for connectivity, security, and manageability. Flexible developer ‘recipes’ use scalable, off-the-shelf elements that in turn, shift resource investments from interoperability to extracting value from data.

The Intelligent Systems Framework enables OEMs to shift their investments from achieving interoperability to unlocking the value of data. The framework features fundamental capabilities, delivered by components from Intel and ecosystem partners, addressing connectivity, manageability and security including software and middleware from Wind River and McAfee. Intel processors supported in the framework include Intel® Xeon® processors, 2nd and 3rd Generation Intel® Core™ processors with Intel® vPro™ technology and Intel® Atom™ processors.

The framework can scale across applications, reducing fragmentation and speeding time to market. It brings together hardware, operating systems and tools and software for increased connectivity. Advancing the Internet of Things also requires an established ecosystem of system vendors, ISVs, system integrators and cloud-to-device services; the Intel-driven ecosystem will work closely with the Open Data Center Alliance, building on the framework with interoperable solutions that ensure seamless integration of intelligent systems with the data center and cloud.

Achieving Rapid IoT Design and Deployment
Traditional embedded challenges apply in IoT arenas—but they are further complicated by extensive wired and wireless protocols and connectivity requirements. Wireless protocols can vary dramatically and may include LAN, WAN and PAN technologies such as WiFi/WiMax, 3G/4G, Bluetooth, ZigBee and many others. Sophisticated connectivity demands fine-tuning that covers a multitude of design, processing and communication factors. A platform that allows these complex systems to be semi-customized in development, without the need to master complex wireless technologies, is ideal for healthcare solutions developers. Standards-based, application-ready platforms streamline development, offering ready support for 90 percent of known software options. Reference designs can address these challenges via an intelligent connected device and building blocks that can quickly enable a complete data path. This path moves information from collection to cloud to aggregation to decision-making.

Developer kits that are compatible with Intel’s Intelligent Systems Framework can provide a valuable resource for medical device designers. These kits are designed to accelerate the creation of end-user applications and provide a pre-validated platform for M2M software. It also serves as the communication gateway for sending the information used for real-time medical applications supported by a range of wireless connections. This gives designers multiple options for generating, aggregating and transmitting machine-to-machine data to the cloud.

Ideally, R&D engineers are equipped with pre-qualified set-up for mobile network operators by using PTCRB-certified systems; these are validated and approved for use in cellular networks by global carriers such as Vodafone. PTCRB certification on a mobile device ensures compliance with a range of 3GPP mobile network standards; non-certified devices may be blocked by PTCRB operators. This saves R&D time as well as costs because it streamlines the process of carrier approval and vendor certifications before the application can be launched on a carrier network. It also can be manufactured accordingly for use as part of a medical device. The system also provides direct access via WLAN (WiFi) to the platform.

For integration of additional local sensors and other terminal devices, look for a range of interface options including 802.11a/b/g/n WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) and 802.15.4 WPAN (Wireless Personal Area Network) as well as a mini PCI Express slot for custom-specific extensions. Even face-to-face communication is possible with the optional extension of a smart video and audio module. The modular approach and custom design options of an M2M developer kit enables medical OEMs to reduce development costs and risks; designers can ensure a rapid introduction to the market for devices such as the ultrasound example shown above, delivering the management, connectivity and security features required for effective patient care. 

Figure 3: The new Kontron M2M Developer Kit is a compact platform that integrates its COM Express® mini Pin-out Type 10 compatible COMe-mTT family of Computer on Modules (COMs) based on the Intel® Atom™ processor E640 1 GHz. The external USB port simplifies use of M2M SDKs, and offers sufficient storage for M2M smart service applications, middleware and OS on the 4 gigabyte (GB) internal MicroSD card. The kit also supports a full range of wireless interfaces, protocols and network topologies.

A Connected Future for Smart Medicine at Home
Being and staying connected means more today than ever before. Not just with consumer gadgets, but in real-life applications that have the potential to change the way people think and live. The healthcare arena is benefitting tremendously from these advances, with doctors sharing information, accessing real-time data on portable devices, and bringing healthcare to all parts of the globe. These are important factors as the population ages, enabling preventive medicine and appropriate ongoing care.

In turn, the demand for high-tech healthcare solutions will grow dramatically, and the goal will be to care for more people in more affordable and effective ways. This looming challenge forces us to take a look at new methods of caring for seniors. Simplified product development, coupled with faster time to market, holds great promise for new technology-based home healthcare solutions, and will continue to drive creative and powerful deployments based on Internet of Things.

The ultrasound system highlighted here has potential beyond its current deployment monitoring movement and safety of seniors living alone. When movement information is combined with other security solutions within the home, a broad range of user scenarios becomes possible. In the future, smart systems could warn residents about leaving the stove on or the bathroom faucet running. Service providers are poised to offer a full slate of robust and reliable home care solutions that lend a true feeling of safety. With this peace of mind, growing old at home will be an easier choice for seniors as well as their relatives and caregivers. 


For more Intel Intelligent Systems news and information, be sure to visit the Intel Intelligent Systems Zone at DESIGN West. To register, please go to: https://designwest.reg.ubmelectronics.com/2013?cid=EXME




Satish Ram is the global product line manager for Kontron’s Internet-of-things/machine-to-machine and digital signage product lines. He has extensive experience in wireless connectivity solutions and cloud services, and has worked at leading global technology companies including Qualcomm, HP and Motorola. Satish has a master’s degree in computer science from Syracuse University and MBA from San Diego State University.