Drones, sensors monitor and react to elderly falls

A fall detection system that uses sensors, smartphones and drones to respond to and treat the elderly is being developed by Australian and Iraqi researchers.

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A team of researchers from the University of South Australia and Middle Technical University in Baghdad has designed the system to remotely monitor elderly people, detecting abnormalities in their heart rate and temperature which can lead to falls, and provide urgent first aid via a drone if a fall occurs.

In a new paper published in , the researchers describe how a wearable device can monitor vital signs using a wireless sensor attached to the upper arm and send a message to an emergency call centre if physiological abnormalities or a fall are detected.

University of South Australia Adjunct Senior Lecturer Dr Ali Al-Naji and Professor Javaan Chahl are part of the research team.

“The system not only correctly measures heart rate and falls with 99 per cent accuracy, but also identifies the elderly person’s location and delivers first aid much faster,” Professor Chahl said.

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“When a case is critical, first aid supplies can be delivered to the patient via a drone, up to 105 seconds faster than an ambulance.”

The fall detection device consists of a microcontroller, two bio-sensors, a GPS module to track the location and a GSM module to send a notification to the smartphones of caregivers. The second part includes a first aid package, a smartphone and a drone to deliver the package.

An advanced smartphone-based program that uses an intelligent autopilot, containing a destination waypoint for planning the path of a drone has also been designed as part of the project.

It is estimated that about 30 per cent of adults over the age of 65 experience at least one fall a year, in many cases fracturing a hip, or sustaining head injuries.

The annual global cost of fall-related acute care for older people has risen dramatically in recent years as the world’s population ages.

In Australia, the annual cost exceeds $600 million, and this figure blows out to billions of dollars each year in the United States and other parts of the world.

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