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No.6 Grandma’s Little Helper

September 16, 2009
by Molly Berman
two elderly women


The big idea: “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”—the cheesy TV-ad catchphrase should reach its final resting place shortly. For elders needing help, at-home support is in the works.

The players: The goal of Eldertech is simple: Use medical monitoring with wireless sensors to improve quality of life among the elderly. A project of the Berkeley Body Sensor Network Lab, Eldertech is designed for use in old-age homes as well as for those who live alone, according to Ruzena Bajcsy. “We mount these sensors on people’s bodies: waist, ankles, and on wrists. As they move that data gets recorded,” the noted professor of electrical engineering and computer science explains. The sensors could also be woven into fabrics and used to assess everything from heartbeat to orientation. Fixed home sensors would include cameras and a fall detection system. The information will be relayed wirelessly to neighbors, relatives, or nursing stations on pocket PCs and mobile phones. The user will decide who has access.

What’s next: Commercialization is still three to five years off. One difficult issue: the sensor batteries must be compact, wearable, and reliable.

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