Telecare: A bright idea
How one company believes monitoring electricity will help the elderly gain more independence.
Using electricity to monitor the elderly
Britain has an ageing population with 11.4 million people aged 65 or over, and an estimated 3.5 million of those living alone. There is a misconception that a lot of elderly people live in care homes, but it’s actually less than 10% of that figure.
Howz is trying to help solve the problem of looking after the elderly when you’re not there, all at a low cost while also protecting their dignity. The obvious solution is infrared sensors and video cameras, however our approach is to use an off the shelf electricity-monitoring device attached to outlets in the house. By measuring their electricity usage throughout their home, we can collate data to create a pattern of behaviour, which feeds back to the family via an app.
The first layer of information is simply an observation of an event, “Mum used the microwave”, after that novelty has worn off we need to focus on when something happens that shouldn’t. For example, if someone has always been consistent in the times they go to bed and then Mum begins getting up an hour later, evidenced from a sequence of behaviour in her morning routine, you would look into that. This is the next layer of information, which looks at trends over time.
Declining functionality is what forces loss of independence and everyone wants to be independent for as long as possible. So it’s about looking for signals in that data, which we call insight, that might detect a problem early.
Challenges of entering the IoT health market
Whenever you are dealing with a dataset that hasn’t been designed for the purpose you are using it for, there are challenges of interpretation and signal processing. Everyone worries about security and privacy but it is particularly heightened when dealing with vulnerable people like the elderly. Anything associated with health in the UK should abide by the policies and standards outlined in the NHS Information Governance Toolkit (IGT).
It is also a formidable marketing challenge to sell an IoT device that monitors the health of an elderly person, it’s not glamorous like wearables, and the topic of infirmity is not something people want to think about.
While the majority of the elderly today don’t engage with this kind of technology, it’s about designing the future we want to live in and how we want to be looked after to maintain our own independence.
The telecare market, as it exists today, is B2B and typically sold to local authorities and housing associations. In the future, there will be a consumerisation of telecare. While there’s already a significant market, consumers just don’t know how to go about buying them. This was one key reason why we chose electricity, because it drives down the cost of these devices and makes telecare accessible.
Connecting the home
Ultimately, it’s not really about electricity; it’s about the home being the centre rather than something that’s wearable. What I’m interested in is embedding sensors into a home to generate data and establish behavioural trends that make sure people can have their independence for longer. I believe one of the big steps forward in achieving this is through monitoring everday use of electricity.
Jonathan Burr is CEO of Howz. You can find him on Twitter at @jonathancburr and you can also follow Howz at @howznewz . Don’t forget to follow IoTUK too @IoTUKNews. For examples of other UK companies working in health and IoT, please visit our case studies page.