As the number of people older than 65 grows, how can those who need assistance be helped to live safely at home? Assistive robots and smart wheelchairs are two answers that have been developed by engineers. But engineering students are also involved, including a group of undergraduates at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University, in Kerala, India. The team received the 2012 IEEE Student Enterprise Award for its home health-monitoring system for the elderly.
Called HOPE, the system relies on sensors affixed to a person’s body to monitor heart rate, body temperature, tilt (whether a person is about to fall), and other factors. The data is transmitted to a caregiver’s smartphone, where an app sounds a warning if a reading falls out of range.
The IEEE award provides US $1500 to the student members to further their project.
IEEE Student Member Mourya Galla of Amrita Vishwa sees HOPE as an alternative to nursing homes. “Although elderly care centers are an option, we believe most people would rather live on their own,” Galla says. “But homebound patients face many problems, including having their health regularly monitored and ensuring a timely response to emergencies. HOPE can meet these needs.”
Rajesh Kannan Megalingam, a professor at the university in the electronics and communication engineering department—along with three students who graduated last year, Vineeth Radhakrishnan, Deepak Krishnan, and Denny C. Jacob—came up with the idea for HOPE in 2011. Galla, now a third-year engineering undergraduate, learned of the project from Megalingam and was inspired to take on the project to meet the need of the growing elderly population in India. Classmates Goutham Pocklassery and Vivek Jayakrishnan soon joined him.
One of the first things they did was consult with doctors at the university’s medical school. “We wanted to clearly understand the health problems that come with old age,” Galla says.
HOPE has three components: a sensing unit that measures body heat, blood pressure, oxygen content in the blood, and tilt; an interface that transmits the data via Bluetooth to a mobile device; and an app developed by another group of students, for Android devices, that monitors the measurements and notifies a caretaker if a reading is out of the norm.
It all begins with the sensors, which the students found commercially available. A tri-axis accelerometer is affixed to the person’s chest to monitor the tilt angle. A sensor under the armpit tracks body temperature, and another on a fingertip checks blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen content in the blood. A small electrocardiogram machine monitors heart activity.
The components are wired to a belt the students created to hold the system’s main circuitry and power supply. It has the microcontroller to digitize and process the signals. A Bluetooth interface chip that transmits data to the mobile device runs on rechargeable batteries.
Perhaps unique to the system is its ability to monitor whether a patient is tilting dangerously or has already fallen, Galla says. “Although many home health-monitoring systems are available, few address the common problem of falling,” he says.
Now that the prototype is finished, the students are preparing it for trials on patients at the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, in Cochin, about 140 kilometers from the students’ school. At the same time, they are applying for government approval to commercialize it.
“We hope to sell the system around the world and at a low price so it is available to anyone who needs it,” Galla says. The target selling price is less than $300. If HOPE is approved by the government, the students plan to ask Philips, Siemens, and other electronics companies to manufacture it.
“Our vision is to ensure that every house with elderly people who need it has a HOPE system,” he says. “We feel privileged to be working on a project that supports IEEE’s vision: advancing technology for humanity.”