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Elderly health monitoring system to expand reach

18 January 2013

Dr Yuan (left), one of the developers of e-Guardian, receiving an award from Mr Alan Wilson, Regional CEO of MSIG Holdings (Asia)

e-Guardian prototype comprising a wearable device, base station and range extender

Senior citizens may soon be able to rely on a simple and inexpensive system for monitoring their health at home. The e-Guardian, developed by a group of NUS engineers for the elderly, was one of the winners of the 2012 Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Welfare Foundation (MSIWF) Research Grant. It was also a finalist at the International Conference of Engineering and Applied Science 2012.

Associate Professor Tan Kok Kiong from the NUS Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Dr Yuan Jian from the Graduate School for Integrative Sciences and Engineering, and Ms Er Poi Voon from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering jointly built a prototype of e-Guardian that is low-cost, energy efficient and simple to use. The unit was made possible by an earlier MSIWF grant in 2010.

e-Guardian is a remote monitoring system with a base station at its heart forming a local wireless sensor network. The base station incorporates a GSM/GPRS module that supports short message service (SMS), phone calls and Internet data. By placing a number of range extenders, the coverage can reach a much larger area, allowing seniors with wearable devices to go anywhere within the range and still be connected.

The wearable devices are small, low-power wireless nodes that are capable of detecting accidental falls, measuring body temperature, monitoring heart rate and other functions. In case of emergency, alert signals will be sent to family members and caregivers via SMS, email or phone calls. They can conveniently interact with e-Guardian either via SMS or a web browser anywhere in the world.

A home kit comprising a base station, three or four range extenders and a wearable device for the elderly can be set up easily using SMS commands, said Assoc Prof Tan.

With the new grant, the team aims to incorporate additional functions in the system such as a scalable architecture. The updated prototype could be potentially used in community settings including eldercare centres or public rental flats. It could also be implemented in remote areas, and its application is being explored in a small village in Sri Lanka.

The next step in the research will be to carry out a trial and deploy the health and monitoring system at eldercare centres as well as in homes with single senior citizens.

Funded by the Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Company, Japan, the MSIWF Research Grant was first introduced in Japan to advance research in the areas of senior citizen welfare and traffic safety. Since Singapore projects became eligible for the programme in 2007, more than 10 NUS projects have benefited from the grant, worth a maximum of S$10,000 each.