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How Can Technology Help Improve the Prospect of a Longer Life?

The world is undergoing dramatic demographic change: By 2050, according to the US Census Bureau, about 20 percent of the population in the US will be 65 or older. In Japan, this development is even more significant: By 2030, Japan’s average age will be above 52 years, with 30 percent of the total population 65 or older.

Behind these figures, there are millions of people just like you and me reaching older ages. At a first glance, this is good news. Who is opposed to a longer life? But if we take a closer look, this has far-reaching consequences. Elderly people need support to cope with everyday life and often extensive care because not all of them will stay well and fit. Nonetheless, seniors still want to enjoy their lives to a full extent, meaning to live independently for as long as possible in their homes. In return, young people want to live their own lives but with peace of mind, knowing that their parents or grandparents are doing well.

How to solve this dilemma of generations and deal with the challenges? Modern technology is needed to balance both ways of life. Concepts and solutions for so called Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) come into play, making life easier, more secure, and comfortable for the elderly people but also for the caregivers and relatives.

In this scenario, wireless sensors will fulfill important tasks. This includes solutions for monitoring vital functions and ensuring an autonomous and healthy lifestyle with cautious and acceptable control. With regard to flexibility and low maintenance effort, self-powered, batteryless solutions offer unique advantages for an easy, cost-effective, and sustainable implementation of such assistive systems. In addition, health risks, power failure risks, and the effort of changing and disposing of batteries are avoided.

An example is a pill box that records and sends a message if the pills are taken out regularly. The needed energy is provided by an electro-mechanical energy harvester that converts motion into electrical power to immediately make it available for a radio module. Such a converter works like a small dynamo where a magnetic flux is passed through two magnetically conductive laminations by a small but very strong magnet.

A mechanical energy store in the form of a leaf spring builds the interface to the actuation of the converter. If the spring forces exceed the holding power of approximately 3.5 newtons, a movable core flips quickly into its second position, accelerated by the spring. This generates a voltage pulse in the induction coil. With an energy output of 120 µWs, a stabilized voltage of 2 V, and a wireless, batteryless module, it is possible to transmit three radio telegrams per operation.

Each time the pill box is opened, this movement activates the mechanical energy harvester to power the wireless signal sent to an IP gateway, which, for example, can be integrated into a power plug receiver. This forwards the message via a cloud service to the smartphone of a relative or caregiver. Having said that, such AAL solutions are also an attractive chance for service providers to offer new services in this field. Further developments try to use the energy produced by the converter to additionally cover sensory detection if the pill is taken out. The digital information helps to maintain an overview of medicine doses and ensures that elderly people regularly take their pills.

The pill box can be a first component of an even more interconnected approach and can be combined with an intelligent mattress, for example. Here, an integrated batteryless sensor registers the tenant’s activities and sends a notification to a caregiver or relative if there is a remarkable change in daily routines or not enough activity. If no movement is registered in the bed, the nursing staff will be alerted to do a checkup. Combined with extra controls, the wireless mattress can also offer excellent, convenient service. After a person has been in bed for a period of time, certain electrical appliances in the household can be switched off, a night light switched on, and the temperature automatically reduced for healthy sleep. Humidity detection may also be added, sending a notification when appropriate.

These are just a few examples where energy harvesting wireless technology enables seniors to live independently for as long as possible, by retaining their dignity and increasing their safety. There are many more developments for AAL, especially in areas where wired or battery-powered systems would be too elaborate and not cost-effective. With modern technology, we can truly enjoy the prospect of a longer life.

20 comments on “How Can Technology Help Improve the Prospect of a Longer Life?

  1. Davidled
    July 15, 2014

    There are a few area needed to be developed for a wireless sensor. Component material precisely storing the energy might be updated with nanotechnology. Microelectromechanical systems(MEMS) should be developed to support for wireless sensor. Two areas could be a key factor for the success of wireless sensor.

  2. samicksha
    July 15, 2014

    I agree you Daej, and with same producing low cost material will create more oppurtunities in area.

  3. vasanjk
    July 15, 2014

    Mathias

     

    After a long time, I am happy to read the word telegram, thanks for that – it kindles nostalgia.

    Your smooth narration takes us along the path and makes us believe that AAL is already there for quite sometime.

     

    The idea of keeping the transmission to the minimum to take advantage of the harvested energy can make things simpler and more effective.

     

  4. goafrit2
    July 18, 2014

    >> Microelectromechanical systems(MEMS) should be developed to support for wireless sensor. Two areas could be a key factor for the success of wireless sensor.

    I think MEMS is already playing a huge role in this area. The few of medical electronics is receiving a lot of advancements because of MEMS gryscopes and XLs.  Technology is helping to help people with heart problems via pacemakers now using MEMS devices to live better. That said, I am looking for technologies that can improve energy sourcing so that most technologies that can be used on humans can use energy sourced from man with no need of external battery.

  5. goafrit2
    July 18, 2014

    >> I agree you Daej, and with same producing low cost material will create more oppurtunities in area.

    That is what nanotechnology was supposed to do. But it has turned out that it is all patents and no products in the area. Nanotechnology can help create new types of materials that will be useful in improving the quality of human life, not just making it longer.

  6. fasmicro
    July 18, 2014

    The idea of keeping the transmission to the minimum to take advantage of the harvested energy can make things simpler and more effective.

    That is the missing element in the design community. Optimal energy usage and reuse in most of the bionics and neuromorphic system are not there yet. I think we need to examine asynchronous design paradigm for circuits which topologically eliminates some of the problems we have in making energy efficiency possible in some of the biomedical systems.

  7. fasmicro
    July 18, 2014

    We do not have to forget that some robots are improving surgery.  The DaVinci robot system by Intuitive Surgicals are big systems which are improving the capacities of doctors to do surgical operations at minimal incisions. In other words, they help to make operation minimally invasive. Robots are playing major roles in extending human longevity in clinics across the country.

  8. Davidled
    July 18, 2014

    My wife took robotic laparosconil surgery in the last month. Doctor said that robotic surgery has easy access to any inside of body and less skin damage. Surgery time was short and she was being recovered faster. We might see robotic driver soon.

  9. vasanjk
    July 18, 2014

    fasmicro

    Having said that, we cannot forget that all biomedical applications cannot utilize energy harvesting. Specific applications only could be the right candidates where harvested energy is sufficient enough.

  10. Vishal Prajapati
    July 22, 2014

    At present state we don't have efficient enough technology to harvest an energy from the surrounding environment, be it mechanical, thermal or optical energy. We are definitely progressing towards totally battery free sensors but not at this point of time. There are very few applications where battery free self energy harvesting sensors can be used.

     

    And once battery free sensors in general will becom reality, AAL will reach to the next level of technological advancement.

  11. yalanand
    July 31, 2014

    Ambient assisted living is a new concept gaining grounds recently that is absolutely a help to the senior citizens living all by themselves, specially in today's nuclear family world. AAL technologies are increasing comfort and safety needs but there are challenges too. There are still no widely recognised standard for these technologies and hence we cannot harvest enough of their potential.

  12. yalanand
    July 31, 2014

    I think the idea of interconnecting the pill box with home accessories like here a mattress here is pretty cool, collecting and sending data to the concerned people. smartphone apps are also developed that processes the collected data and can transmit the analysis report to the relatives.

  13. yalanand
    July 31, 2014

    @fasmicro nanotechnology is a newer science and is still on its developing stage. It would be wrong to say that they are all patents and no products.In nanotech, we are dealing with particles just the size of a fraction of human cell width. It demands time and extensive research. And they are already in use as in drug delivery systems, and medical tools such as the laprascopic vessel fusion system that allows surgeons to seal and transect small to large vessels, tissue bundles to achieve surgical hemostasis.

  14. fasmicro
    August 3, 2014

    >> Surgery time was short and she was being recovered faster. We might see robotic driver soon.

    Good to read that. I have worked on some of these robots. They offer one thing – Minimal Invasive Surgical procedures which make it possible to have lesser incisions thereby getting people out of hospitals faster through faster recovery.

  15. fasmicro
    August 3, 2014

    >> Having said that, we cannot forget that all biomedical applications cannot utilize energy harvesting

    Yes, the energy from harvest technologies is largely small for most biomedic systems. That remains one of the main areas that must be understood.

  16. fasmicro
    August 3, 2014

    >> And once battery free sensors in general will becom reality, AAL will reach to the next level of technological advancement.

    Indeed it will be a revolutionary moment in the industry. There are many areas that will benefit when we have battery-free sensing technology. Beyond biomedicals, we can see real advancements in many areas. The problem with batteries is that it costs so much to pay doctors to change them. When you take out that cost element, you have a great innovation.

  17. fasmicro
    August 3, 2014

    >> smartphone apps are also developed that processes the collected data and can transmit the analysis report to the relatives.

    The main problem with those with lifestyle disease that need these supports rarely can utilize these technologies effectively. We need to redesign them in ways they can serve them better. That is the main challenge.

  18. fasmicro
    August 3, 2014

    >> It would be wrong to say that they are all patents and no products.In nanotech, we are dealing with particles just the size of a fraction of human cell width. It demands time and extensive research.

    That is not debatable about the products and their promises. The point was the hype has been more than the reality. That is a fair assesments. Some of the top VCs and P/Es are leaving the markets as they have been disappointed also. KPCP, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, invested millions in that sector. Today, they do not get closer. That is my point – we wish that eldorado come faster.

  19. Vishal Prajapati
    August 4, 2014

    The benefit will be more than just a cost. Battery is big hurdle right now for stand-alone sendsors.

     

    — Battery increases weight of the sensor which prevents it to be used on small animals and other places where weight is important factor.

     

    — Changing battery every now and then prevents them to be medically implantable and very tedious when there is whole bunch of sensors in a factory.

     

    — You have to put battery sensing circuit in many of the applications which minimises the downtime of sensor.

     

    So, there would be whole new application era will open up after existance of battery free sensors.

  20. fasmicro
    August 5, 2014

    Besides the points you have noted, the most problematic is that batteries can bust and that means release of dangerous chemicals inside animals or humans in a case they are implanated. I know these batteries are specially packaged, but it is not going to be evident they can survive some serious stress over 12-15 years some are expected to last before they are changed.

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