It is always worrying when an elderly person lives alone. What if they should fall, and not be able to reach the telephone? The answer may have been invented.
Researchers at the University of Manchester, U.K. have come up with an idea - a "smart carpet" that can detect when someone has fallen over. The system will also detect when unfamiliar feet are walking on it, handy in detecting intruders.
Basically, the way it works is that optical fibers are woven into the carpet that create a 2-D plane, acting as a pressure map.
The map is distorted when someone walks across the carpet, and the sensors then relay these distortions to a computer, which in turn analyzes the data for trends. By monitoring footsteps over a period of time, the system learns people's walking patterns and can then monitor for subtle changes, such as a fall or stumble, or even unknown footsteps. When these are detected, an alarm can be set to sound.
In the case of a fall, obviously an entire body creates a much different type of distortion to a simple footstep, and the system can be set to call for help if a person falls, and does not immediately get up again.
Not only could it detect falls, but the system can also predict the onset of mobility problems in the elderly, if the system starts reporting anomalies. This is ideal for situations where the elderly live alone and can be very reassuring for the family.
Another theory is that it could be used to provide early warning of fire or chemical spillages, or as an intruder alert.
Team member, Patricia Scully, says, "In theory, we could identify footsteps of individuals and the shoes they are wearing."