How your kettle could be providing care
Ever wondered how household appliances could be used to provide better health care?
Perhaps it sounds a little futuristic, but a growing area of research in home care is looking at how technologies that measure household energy use could also be used to remotely monitor people’s health and wellbeing.
All over the world, smart energy technologies are already being used to monitor energy consumption for billing purposes. But by using machine learning to monitor the patterns of electricity usage in a person’s house – the time the kettle goes on in the morning, for example – these technologies could also provide a key indicator of changes in the person’s health.
From smart meters to social care
In most households with a smart meter, energy usage tends to be monitored in a fairly simple way. Every 30 minutes or so, the smart meter will remotely analyse changes in the voltage and current going into a house, and report back to the energy company on the household’s energy consumption. The more sophisticated smart meters can even tell exactly which appliances are being used and when. So far, the information has only generally been used to give energy companies basic information, and to allow consumers to monitor their own usage a little more closely.
But over the last few years, several companies and technology research bodies have been looking at the ways in which the same process (called non-intrusive load monitoring, or NILM) could be used for the wider good – including in the health and social care sector.
By using machine learning to automatically detect a household’s regular usage patterns, and then checking for changes more often – say, every one or two minutes – technologies using NILM could flag up variations in energy usage. And some of these variations could indicate a change in a person’s health status.
For example, if a person usually has a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, then watches TV for an hour before using the shower, NILM could detect changes to this routine – and an app using this technology could learn which types of changes might indicate a health problem. For the caregivers and relatives of people with long term conditions like dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, remote monitoring using these technologies could flag up these changes and so offer better peace of mind.
One of the companies looking at the ways in which NILM could be used is Informetis (a Sony spin-off company). Its Infocare app, which is already being used in Japan, analyses the information from a person’s household meter and alerts users to certain types of changes in energy usage. It is hoped that the Infocare app will be launched in Europe later this year.
Here at Harley Street Care, we follow technology research in the health and social care arena with interest and look forward to seeing how the monitoring of home energy usage could be used in the sector in the UK.