For seniors in general, falls can result result in broken hips or other serious injuries. For seniors living alone, however, there's also a good chance that they could end up lying on the floor for up to several hours before anyone else knows what's happened. User-triggered radio devices such as Life Alert are helpful up to a point, although they're not much good if the user isn't carrying them at the time, or if they get knocked unconscious. That's why a group of German companies are developing the automatic safe@home system.

In a home using the system, each room has a sensor box mounted on its ceiling – not unlike a smoke detector. Utilizing optical and acoustic sensors, these boxes monitor the user's location and movements within each room. If they detect the cues that suggest a fall has occurred (including cries for help), they start by waiting a specific length of time, to see if the user subsequently continues to move around. If no movement is detected, they then wirelessly notify the home's main alarm unit, the CareBox.

One of the sensor boxes at work

Before it does anything else, the CareBox first phones the user. This gives them the chance to answer the phone and cancel the alert, in the case of a false alarm. If they don't answer, however, the CareBox will then proceed to contact emergency services and family or friends, letting them know that a serious fall may have occurred.

Data gathered by the sensor boxes is stored and processed within the home system, in order to protect the user's privacy. No maintenance of the system, including battery changes, is required by the user. Additionally, it can be installed in existing conventional homes, unlike some alternatives which would require extensive alterations to the structure.

safe@home is being developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation, the BruderhausDiakonie foundation, and tech companies Vitracom and Sikom. Prototypes have been undergoing continuous testing at six residential care home units since the middle of 2012, reportedly with good results. A commercial version of the system is expected to be ready late this year.

Source: Fraunhofer