SMILE trials smart metering in health monitoring of elderlies

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University of Edinburgh researchers are investigating the potential for smart meters to spot health related incidents in the elderly and people with disabilities.

The goal of the Smart Meters for Independent Living (SMILE) project is to develop algorithms that can detect energy usage changes that may indicate a health related incident in elderly people or those with disabilities living independently.

The project draws on smart meter data and machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to analyse usage patterns, from which a daily routine view can be established and unusual changes in behaviour detected.

The trial, currently under way in partnership with the Edinburgh Blackwood Homes and Care housing association, is in the closing stages with results expected towards the end of the year.

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“It provides an opportunity to apply the machine learning outputs from a previous research project in a new real world setting for social good,” says Dr Lynda Webb, Senior Research at the School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh.

“The fact that we are also co-designing the service with Blackwood customers means we can take forward the research in a way that is adapted to people’s true needs.”

The proposal of SMILE is that family members or carers could set specific ‘rules’ for the system, telling it which changes in routine are a cause for concern, such as the duration of a shower being longer than usual or a change to normal cooking schedules, which could indicate that an incident has occurred.

In the event of such an incident occurring, the system would then send an alert to the family member of carer, enabling further investigation.

The ambition is that this new predictive digital technology could provide an additional service to complement the traditional proactive push button personal alarm worn by many elderly and disabled people, particularly those with dementia who can become easily confused and may forget or be unable to activate their current alarm.

The researchers believe the technology also has the potential to be used as a decision support tool. For example, if it detected a resident getting up frequently during the night, then the care professionals can review whether changes in support are needed.

“The UK smart meter rollout programme presents an opportunity to use energy usage data for good. If we can prove the principle of the technology with this project, then we have an opportunity to provide a safety net for vulnerable people, to identify patterns of decline and provide early intervention, potentially saving lives and reducing hospital admissions,” says Colin Foskett, Head of Innovation at Blackwood Homes.