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New pervasive systems centre could make independent living a reality

Pervasive computing technology which can monitor the welfare of the elderly will be made available within the next 18 months.

The technology is to be developed by the University of Southampton's new Pervasive Systems Centre which is being launched this month.

The Centre, co-directed by Professor Bashir Al-Hashimi and Professor David De Roure, both from the University's School of Electronics & Computer Science (ECS) brings together multidisciplinary expertise from across the school's research groups, ranging from sensors and wireless communications to computer science theory and practice.

This combined expertise will make it possible for them to develop a Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) which can operate in homes to monitor the health of the elderly.

According to Stephen Spikings, a PhD student under the supervision of Professors De Roure and Al-Hashimi, statistics show that due to the 1960s baby boom, by 2031 almost a quarter of the population will be over state pension age.

In order to make it possible for such individuals to live independently, the researchers are developing low-cost sensor networks to monitor their environment so that changes in health can be detected.

For example a weight sensor positioned under the bed could detect the individual's movements throughout the night. A sensor in the bathroom could monitor use of toilet facilities to pick up signs of digestive problems, and body imaging and temperature sensors could highlight areas of the body that are painful.

'If we image the body and then attach temperature sensors, say, to a chair, the parts of the body that are in pain will radiate infra-red and will be picked up by the sensor,' said Professor De Roure.

The new Pervasive Systems Centre will also use pervasive computing technology to implement a demonstration WSN to monitor people and activity in the new Mountbatten Clean room. A prototype will be available within 12 months.

'It isn't just our broad range of key skills that make the Pervasive Systems Centre unique, but having them in one place enables the collaborative working and codesign that is essential in tackling the engineering and operation of future computerised systems through their entire design lifecycle,' said Professor De Roure. 'Our methodology involves designing and building real systems and deploying them "in the wild", not just in the lab.'

Joyce Lewis | alfa
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