eWALL is an EU co-funded research project providing e-care at home aiming at prolonging independent living for the elderly and chronically ill. eWALL is about to enter its pilot phase, to be used at 20 homes. Up to now, we (the eWALL researchers) loved doing research with our experimental devices, but also envied the elegance of consumer devices. But now it is the time of reality: Which devices should we employ in setups used by actual people that are technology-literate but no experts?

Wearable devices choices: Experimental devices like our LilyPad-based activity tracker live well in the labs. Commercial devices like the ProMove 3D accelerometer do the job, but certainly lack elegance. Consumer devices are either dedicated like the Fitbit Charge HR activity tracker, or general-purpose like a smartphone with dedicated activity tracking software. They are always designed to fascinate the buyer.

There is certainly a lot of distance between the experimental or custom solutions we build in our labs, the commercial devices intended for specific needs in niche markets and the widespread consumer devices. Let’s explore the pros and cons of each regarding the regulations, robustness, battery life, system integration and cost.

Regulations

What are we allowed to do in order to use devices with people? We need to comply with regulations that vary somewhat between EU member states, but in general fall into the following lines:

  • CE-marked devices (i.e. commercial and consumer) are always OK
  • Custom devices (even when assembled from individual parts carry the CE mark) should be OK if they are not for medical use and the user does not interact (i.e. gets on physical contact) with them.

Robustness

Commercial devices are robust. They are easily fit and can be handled with minimum care.

Custom devices should be packaged in ways that take into account the environmental conditions where they are deployed. Even then, sensors that need exposure to the environment are to be manipulated with care.

Environmental sensing device choices: Experimental based on Arduino, either unpackaged or packaged. Commercial Waspmote Plug & Sense built around the Libelium platform. Consumer Fibaro motion sensor.

Battery life

This is important for wearable devices. In general consumer devices pay more attention to battery life, but there are some research groups out there with their devices having exceptional performance avoiding screens and using energy harvesting techniques.

System integration

Consumer devices usually come with their own base station or server, either local or in the web. In most cases the companies provide some API to access the data from the servers, usually after some processing. Attention should be paid with web servers: We do not get the data in real time; instead we read them every time the device is synchronized.

Custom devices come with their interfaces designed by us in the exact way we need them to integrate with the rest of our e-Care system, making our life much easier!

Cost

Commercial and (to a lesser degree) consumer devices are usually expensive: You have to pay for the robustness, the elegance and the data hosting services! A second factor increasing the cost is the multiple base stations, since usually a single vendor does not cover all our needs.

Custom devices are usually built around some Arduino platform variant, which allows for quite cheap implementations, even when the packaging is considered.

Conclusion

Properly packaged custom devices can monitor the environment, not the body of the care recipient.

Lots of search is needed to find commercial or consumer devices that do the job (sense what is needed and report it in the way needed) but are from the fewer possible vendors to reduce the costs. Local servers are preferred to web-based ones, since usually they offer the data faster.

Aristodemos Pnevmatikakis

Associate professor Athens Information Technology, interested in tracking and identification systems for activity recognition in smart spaces, the hills and the sea.

http://www.ait.gr/ait_web_site/faculty/apne/pnevmatikakis.html

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