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Intelligent home environment

People are living longer and longer. Today, over 40 million EU citizens are over 65 years of age, and by 2050, this figure will have doubled. Many older people would ideally like to remain in their own homes – even if they are frail and regularly need assistance.

In the future, automated homes, intelligent environments, modern sensor systems, and information technology can help elderly to live autonomously in their own homes. These systems remind residents to regularly take their medicine, for example, or send out an alert if someone falls. The technology remains discreetly in the background – until it is needed.

Ambient Emergency Detection – Safety for Autonomous Living

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering IESE in Kaiserslautern, Germany, are creating these intelligent environments. The scientists are developing information technology concepts for a system that collects detailed environment information via a network of numerous, unobtrusively installed sensors that analyze and respond to specific situations. "Through this technique we make the environment intelligent. Using many hidden sensors, the system monitors the daily routine of the occupants," Dr. Martin Becker, Head of the Research Department "Ambient Assisted Living" at IESE, explains. "Risks can be detected and it is possible to assess whether the situation appears to be deteriorating, or most importantly, whether an emergency exists."

One particular challenge is to develop a system that not only functions safely and reliably, but also continuously adapts to changing requirements. New assistance services and devices can easily be integrated into the system, such as motion detectors or pressure sensors in the mattress. The sensors automatically report their data via wireless communication to a control center concealed in a cabinet. If so desired, functions of the sensor can be manually controlled by a computer screen on the nightstand. Should users prefer not to concern themselves with the technology, they can leave everything to the system, which operates autonomously. The system can also detect whether an occupant has fallen, communicate this information via telephone or Internet to a pre-selected contact person. This may be a relative, a neighbor, a care facility, or an emergency medical center.

The bathroom, your friend and helper

The "Assistive Bathroom Environment" of the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS in Duisburg demonstrates how these support services function. "The obstacle-free electronically equipped bathroom has a toilet that recognizes the user and automatically adjusts itself to a suitable height," Dr.-Ing. Gudrun Stockmanns, Group Manager from IMS, explains. A light switches itself on and off automatically, and the tap shuts itself off to save water. This bathroom even has the capability to monitor the amount of toothpaste being used. The goal is to monitor and support the occupant without being intrusive.

The new cutting-edge bathroom is particularly helpful for older and infirm people who are sometimes a bit disorientated and may confuse important everyday tasks. Illuminated pictograms in the mirror indicate what the user is to do next: for instance, wash up, brush his or her teeth, shave – even the days for showering are permanently saved. A recorded female voice gives the bathroom's occupant a friendly reminder when it it´s time to take his or her medication.

"This individually tailor-made support assistance is combined with the documentation of the procedures that occur in the bathroom," Project Manager, Dr.-Ing. Edwin Naroska, reports. Sensors in the door, toilet, tap, light switch, and carpet detect every activity and record them electronically. Above all, this is important if the user needs professional care one day. Doctors or care personnel can see from the computer records what personal hygiene tasks the person under care has completed, how often he or she has visited the bathroom, used the toilet, or whether he or she has fallen down. In the case of an emergency, the computer automatically alerts the chosen contact person or calls the care center.

Alexander Rabe | EurekAlert!
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