Jack Barber Design & Technology

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Electronic Project - Health Care

Electronic Project - Health Care

A few years ago a friend approached me with an idea to create a wireless alert system for those suffering with incontinence.

My friend, Dr Prasanna de Silva, explained that incontinent elderly patients in hospitals and care homes are subject to fairly intrusive observation from nursing staff. There is simply no other way of working out who needs assistance.

We wanted to restore patients' dignity and free up staff from performing these regular checks.

I worked through a number of prototypes - built around cheaply available hardware - as we sought a suitable solution. The image above shows an early prototype - built with an FM transmitter and simple microprocessor programmed to trigger an alert.

Initially I worked with short range FM radio transmitters (as found in car keys and door bells) to send a signal from the monitoring device to a control unit.

But as the project progressed so did the technology available to us and I developed the most recent version with a WiFi enabled device which sent a signal directly to the internet.

Project Components

The project consisted of:

  • A small sensor contained within the incontinence pad of the wearer - this consisted of a rubber cord through which electrical current travelled, as the cord stretched the resistance increased and this was used to check whether the wearer's incontinence pad needed changing or not
  • A transmitter device attached to the sensor and connected to the internet via WiFi
  • A website through which devices could be managed and alerts setup - this was linked to Twilio - an online service for sending SMS messages and performing voice calls

Progress to Date

We pursued the project for as long as we could. We had no funding for its development - and I had fewer children and other commitments at the time so was able to dedicate more time to the project.

However, we ran out of steam a year or so ago and so the project is currently shelved. We got as far as:

Functioning Prototype

Basically everything worked - but we struggled to fit the sensors to the pads in a reliable way. This would have come through third-party manufacturing but with no investment we struggled to find anyone willing to take the project on. I did approach Tena but they weren't interested - saying they were already developing their own system.

Basic Web App

The web application I built to mamage the devices was simple, but worked. Users could assign a device to their account and then define what kind of alerts they wanted, they could choose from:

  • SMS message to a carer's mobile phone
  • Voice call to a landline or mobile

Electrical Performance

The device could run for 24hrs on a single charge - and I was working on making it more energy efficient. I had hoped to get it to run for 72hrs on a single charge - but this would be dependent on WiFi range, regularity of sensor checking and battery capacity.

Future Development

I had more ideas which could have been implmented into the device:

  • Dehydration alert - send an alert if a pad has not been changed in 6-8 hours
  • Fall alert - build in an accelerometer and detect trips and falls
  • Build a version with a data sim card - to remove the need for WiFi

What Now?

Although we knew this project had commercial potential I think there is more benefit in my sharing our progress. if you'd like to know more about the project please get in touch.

I may well pursue this again in the future - time allowing. There is clearly a need in this area - afterall, it's not just the elderly who struggle with incontinence. Those with back injuries, paralysis and other ailments could all benefit from a device like this - restoring their dignity to some degree and freeing up nursing staff for other jobs.

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