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Sensor-tech university research, beloved by media, not by markets

Americans are worried about the risk of seniors falling.  It’s a YARP ("Yet Another Research Project"). Yay.  Carnegie Mellon researchers have provided this 2016 insight based on a survey -- accompanying their engineering project to 'solve' the problem. Coined to describe those special projects run by professors and grad students who appeared to have no access to the Internet to see what others have already developed and commercialized. But they have significant grant money that has yet to run out.

Groundhog Day.  Seems like we’ve heard this one before. In the CMU project, they’re working on "active fall-prevention sensors for both senior care facilities and private homes that can determine both who is in danger and where they are… even if they are not wearing their Life Alert®." To these two guys, that pendant is like Kleenex – it’s the only one they know, no search performed to see if that brand is, uh, a good choice. But wait, have senior care facilities expressed interest or willingness to upgrade/build with active fall-prevention sensors? Well, maybe not just yet.

If you research it, the media will come.  How unique:  promote a survey that confirms that people worry about their parents falling. Maybe the media will seize upon that insight. See how the NY Times hoped in 2001 that smart sensors could help keep seniors safe. And in 2014, the NY Times  was still worried.  Now look at the publicity of research from University of Texas at Austin (2015).  Or Missouri (2010). And AARP’s great research report Healthy@Home in 2008 verified older adult interest in sensors in the home (p. 16) to keep them safe. 

Can you buy/rent a home for your mother/grandmother with sensors built in? So with all of that research and interest, in 2016 do we have broad deployment of sensors in the home to keep the elderly safe?  Hmmm.  And home automation in general is still at the home tinkerer stage.  So why aren’t smart sensors standard? Because the commercial potential (combining the efforts of home builders, home remodelers, and university engineers) has not been demonstrated, either for senior housing or housing for seniors. And seniors, their families, and those who market to them still haven't bought into the concept. What must change? Sensor systems must be cheap enough, standard enough, and as likely to be included in home plans as wall electrical outlets (which consumers do not demand, but expect to be in the wall.) Let's see if the CMU project will cause that to happen.


A major issue with home sensors is affordability.  Folks like Comcast, Verizon, etc. want you to pay a monthly fee.  There is a company out there called Silver Mother that has a complete monitoring home system for $300 and no monthly charge.  A Smartphone connection allows monitoring.  Reviews seem to be good although have not personally used.

Undoubtedly price is an issue but I believe a bigger one is that old people don't want to be spied upon in their homes. We may be suffering from wishful thinking but most of us believe we can work out calling for help in ways other than having adult children and/or strangers watching our every move.

There was an Aging 2.0 Global Startup Search gathering in San Francisco last night.  CEOs from monitoring technology startups Sensassure and EmPowerYu were among the presenters. Sensassure is designing a device that attaches to adult diapers and sends a signal when wetness is detected.  Care facility managers view this as valuable because they can immediately integrate it in their operations as part of a complete solution.  Sensassure will almost certainly succeed. EmPowerYu is an activity monitoring system that uses discrete unobtrusive sensor devices to infer activity and behavior.  It is very much basically like Sens.se Mother and the many other such activity monitoring systems.

No doubt we have to figure out how to actually empower ourselves with the resulting information, not be spied upon by our relatives, caregivers; and not have our personal activity information taken from us and sold to and used by others at our expense. We have to be able to trust and control our personal surveillance systems so we can use them to help us remember things, help watch over and protect us, help us with our medical treatments, help us with our meds, help us get things we need delivered to the house, help keep an eye on our caregivers, help keep an eye on our money, and to assist us in taking care of our selves as long as we can. 

I wish I had just half of the money wasted(not half of all spent) over the past 15 years on aging in place monitoring system research and product development. If I did, I would use it developing an aging in place monitoring system.  AIP monitoring and surveillance technology is a fundamental enabling technology for AIP product service system automation. We have to have it and we will. Most of what we need is available off the shelf.   I needs to be done right, and right away.  


Great insight showing where the problem lies - if researchers have no clue about the state of the art, they will actually provide misinformation to the public. Great article by Laurie Orlov on a terrible waste of government money.

Hovakimyan recently told The New York Times that she believes drones will become an everyday fixture

Hovakimyan recently received a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to explore the possibility of using small drones to perform simple household chores.