Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Local News

May 2, 2013

Student project could protect seniors

IUK student, teacher developing fall detection app.

— Indiana University Kokomo student Andrew Boehner is using his Android programming skills to help tech-savvy seniors who fall and can’t call for help.

Boehner is working with his informatics professor to develop a fall detection application for smartphones.

Users of his app will wear watches programmed to send data to their smartphones if they fall. The phone then calls emergency responders for help.

“My grandmother’s phone has an SOS button on it, but if the phone is on the charger, it’s no help to her if she falls,” he said. “With my app, it doesn’t matter where the phone is or if she has it in her hands. Her generation of senior citizens [are] pretty tech savvy and have smartphones. Most of them are also used to wearing a watch, so this technology will be easy for them to use.”

The 24-year-old has been working with assistant informatics professor Gongjun Yan for about six months on the project.

They’ve done preliminary research and have created “primitive” demos.

Their work centers on three research questions. How will they collect data from the watches? How do they intelligently inform emergency responders if someone falls? And how do they accurately differentiate fall patterns from other patterns like sitting, lying down or even waving your arms around?

Yan said the last one is the most important.

You don’t want emergency responders called to homes because the watches fell off people’s wrists while they were washing their hands, Yan said, with a laugh.

Boehner conducted experiments to test the fall patterns. He wore the watch while walking up stairs, while sitting down, while lying down and while falling backwards onto a mattress.

He was checking to see if the software recognized when he was falling. It was 86 percent accurate.

“We need to get that number a lot higher,” he said.

Other fall detection devices have accuracy rates above 90 percent.

But those devices are often less convenient. Many require users to wear something around their chest or torso.

Yan said the goal is to improve accuracy without losing convenience.

He and Boehner will do more research this summer to make the app more sophisticated and more marketable.

Boehner will be doing the bulk of the work, though.

“I give him ideas and direction,” Yan said. “He does the concrete work.’

Boehner said working on these hands-on projects helps him remember what he learned in all of his classes. He likes that about IU Kokomo’s informatics program.

“I hear something in class discussion, and I think about how I can apply it to one of my projects,” he said. “I remember more of it when I’ve actually used what I learned to make something.”

Boehner is also working with a classmate to create an app called “kid speak” to help small children learn to identify animals and plants and other items.

Yan said that’s what informatics is all about — using technology to make life easier or better.

He thinks the fall detection app will do just that.

“Lots of senior citizens live alone,” he said. “What happens if they fall down and no one is there? Those are tragedies. Maybe we can do something for them.”

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