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Energy-efficient phones could provide fall detection services for aging Canadians

By in Technology

The Peak (Simon Fraser University)

Improving smartphone technology may open up possibilities for health care apps that millions of people could benefit from.
Improving smartphone technology may open up possibilities for health care apps that millions of people could benefit from.

BURNABY, B.C. (CUP) — Computer science associate professor Alexandra Fedorova has received $442,000 for smartphone development over the next three years.

Fedorova and her team, working out of Simon Fraser University, were awarded the funding by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

According to Fedorova’s proposal, smart phones are increasingly available to people all over the world, “with over one billion users projected by 2013.” She says mobile technology could have social benefits.

Fedorova’s team has recognized that the use of smartphones in health care could reduce costs: phones could be used to automate certain tasks that paid employees conduct now.

“The advantage of this device is it can do a lot of things, like measure your heart rate or detect if you’re falling, if you’re unstable, if you’re off balance. It can help you navigate,” Fedorova said, “and it’s with you all the time.”

Smartphones with highly sensitive applications for health-care providers may be able to automatically take records.

In order for applications to work in this capacity, though, smartphones need to be operational for 24 hours a day rather than the nine hours — at best — they last today. To combat this challenge, her team will study where smartphones expend their power and energy.

“The main culprits right now are radio, wi-fi or cellular radio and central processing unit and screen,” Fedorova said. “We want to understand how to manage these components better so they don’t use as much energy as they are using now.”

Fedorova further explained that the algorithms that decide when an application can “go in a low-power state” are not very well-tuned. It is proving challenging for her team to finely tune these algorithms, as certain applications need to stay on longer than others.

According to Fedorova, the algorithms need to be “very dynamic,” and must allow for “cooperation between the system and the application.”

Another area her team will research with the grant is how to allow for “fall detection algorithms” in smartphones. This would help Canada’s aging population, who are likely to injure themselves due to falling.

These fall detection algorithms would use the phone’s accelerometer to perceive if the user has or is falling. The phone could then automatically call for emergency or medical services to assist. However, this would require reworking the current systems used in smartphones, to detect slight accelerometer variations.

Through redesigning the system, a myriad of potential health-care applications could be developed.

“We are not designing the applications,” Fedorova said. “We are more interested in redesigning the system to work well for those applications.”

Photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf

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