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Aug. 30, 2016

MSU technology could help keep elderly safe in their homes

Can Grandma’s Wi-Fi router alert you that it’s time to check on her?

A grant from the National Science Foundation will allow Michigan State University to explore whether home Wi-Fi systems can preserve the privacy of our aging loved ones while detecting abnormal events in their homes.

Mi Zhang, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in the MSU College of Engineering, has been awarded a two-year, $171,600 grant from the NSF Computer and Information Science and Engineering Research Initiation Initiative program.

The grant will support a project titled “Wi-Fi-Based Human Behavior Sensing and Recognition System for Aging in Place.”

“As baby boomers age, the United States will experience considerable growth in its elderly population over the coming years,” Zhang said. “Current aging-in-place technologies are typically based on cameras, wearable devices or sensors that are embedded inside furniture and appliances. Their fundamental limitations – invasion of privacy and a burden to users – prevent them from being widely deployed.”

This project will try to monitor activities of daily living and detect abnormal events, such as falls, using existing home Wi-Fi signals without instrumenting houses or requiring older adults to wear any devices.

“Wi-Fi has been known as a communication technology. This project will re-purpose Wi-Fi as a sensing technology,” Zhang said. “The central idea is that different activities cause different changes in Wi-Fi signals. By analyzing these changes, the activity that caused the change can be recognized.”

This technology can be very helpful for long-term monitoring of health conditions of older adults. For instance, Zhang said, if an older adult isn’t moving around as much as usual, it may indicate that his or her health is deteriorating.

Zhang’s other research interests include mobile health, ubiquitous computing, and wearable sensing systems.

By: Tom Oswald