Thursday, August 25, 2016

Seeing Through Walls for Greater Independence!

Kent Presents 2016

I just attended the second annual Kent Presents conference in Kent, Connecticut. It’s the brainchild of Donna and Ben Rosen, a New York power couple with connections to science, technology, politics, the arts and more. There were too many awesome talks to do them justice, but you are welcome to sample the session titles here.

The talk that especially blew my mind was by MIT professor Dina Katabi. She and one of her graduate students demonstrated their Emerald technology, and it was the first time I’d seen this capability. I’m sure you remember the “Help I’ve Fallen and Can’t Get Up” TV commercial of late night fame. Dina’s question was: why doesn’t this work most of the time? The answer is that it’s hard to get people to wear something.

The Emerald approach is to do away with the thing you wear. They place a low-power (far less than a wifi router) wireless beacon in your apartment, and it can track the exact location (including altitude) of up to five people. Even through the wall into the next room. (Two rooms away is more challenging: you probably need another beacon.) She demonstrated fall detection, heartbeat, breathing detection, and more.

The possibilities are exciting. Fall detection better than that of an on-person accelerometer. Gait tracking to detect health challenges (gait is apparently a huge flag of issues). Figuring out if a senior isn’t getting out of bed, or taking their meds.

There are challenges: the cat and dog filter came up of course. And privacy is a significant factor: this is the kind of technology that triggered my essay last year on privacy, Little Sister.

But, it’s clear to me that these issues could and should be addressed and the considerable benefits for independence of seniors and people with disabilities could be huge!


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