Part-time primary school teacher Ng Wai Leng is able to visit her elderly parents only about twice a week, but she knows exactly what they are doing from the time they wake up until they go to bed.
A device developed by Temasek Polytechnic (TP) called Smart DB Elderly Wellness Suite allows her to track, for instance, when her parents boil water for their morning coffee, and turn on the TV or the lights in the evening - signs that they are keeping to their normal routine.
Installed in the electrical distribution board found in every home, the device monitors the electrical usage of the home, and detects the type of activity based on the data it receives.
The home of Mrs Ng's parents was one of 10 households across Ang Mo Kio, Punggol and Toa Payoh where test-bedding of the device began in March last year.
Said Mrs Ng: "I usually have to work in the mornings and also take care of my school-going children. I am not able to be all the time with my parents, who are living alone, and so constantly look out for them."
Mrs Ng, 44, lives with her husband and two children, aged 12 and 15. Her parents, retirees in their 70s, have health problems like diabetes and high cholesterol. Her father also suffers from dementia.
Said Mrs Ng: "With this mobile app, I know when they have woken up to boil water for coffee, how long they are in the shower, if they are watching TV, and what time they sleep at night.
"It gives me peace of mind, knowing they are safe and well at home, even if I'm not there with them."
Mrs Ng added that she would consider purchasing a commercial version of the product if subscription charges are between $10 and $30 each month.
The device was developed as part of a multidisciplinary project involving TP lecturers and students from the diploma in computer engineering and diploma in information technology courses, helmed by staff from the polytechnic's Clean Energy Research Centre (CERC). The project received funding from the Tote Board Social Innovation Research Fund, and was a recipient of the Lee Hsien Loong Interactive Digital Media Smart Nation Award this year.
Smart DB project lead and CERC senior manager Wang Gucheng said the device aims to address the problem of social isolation faced by the elderly in countries like Singapore.
He said: "We decided to use energy analytics to predict users' behaviour and habits. This led to the development of this Smart solution."
Fixing what is a complex social problem involved bringing together a raft of disciplines - electronics, artificial intelligence, production design technology and human behaviour analysis. The team also had meetings with an eldercare service provider, as well as seniors and their children who were concerned about their parents living alone.
The monitoring system is made up of a hardware device - deployed with project partner and technology firm Smart DB - and a Web application-based user interface, which users like Mrs Ng can tap to check on their loved ones.
TP computer engineering student Samuel Tan, 18, said the project has the potential to help address a range of other issues.
He said: "It could flag mental health concerns that are not easily noticeable, such as depression. For instance, if someone is spending long hours in front of the TV or there is a sudden change in his home routine, action can be taken. It can also help in caring for those with disabilities in the future."
One key concern, Mr Wang said, is ensuring the privacy of users.
He said: "When the Smart DB is installed inside the house, it is done with the permission and in the presence of the caregiver.
"The one-time installation takes about one hour, after which data will be automatically and securely sent to the app. The data captured is encrypted, protected and accessible only to authorised users like the caregiver."
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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