Saturday, March 15, 2008

Smart Carpet: Your Key To Survival

Lightbulb originally uploaded by minxlabs.

This may come as a shock, but we aren't getting any younger.

As a matter of fact, the entire country isn't getting younger. For the first time ever, we have more people over the age of forty than ever before! Interesting to contemplate what that means from a multitude of perspectives.

Think of the implications for how we live - and will live in the future - as well as what we require to make life more delicious physically.

I'm more physically aware of what creates comfort. My body reacts differently after working in the kitchen standing on hard tile than it does standing on carpet [for an extreme example, think of standing for seven hours on concrete in a convention hall...]. Sometimes, I set up a seated work station to compensate.

Carpet, especially a thick, plush carpet with a heavenly dense pad offers my body comfort. And I'm grateful. It cushions. It compensates for lousy knees and beat up joints. It provides warmth during frigid winter and overly air-conditioned summer days. It's very friendly. And, now, it's even friendlier and more comforting.

How? By contributing to a first response system and preventing death!

That caught my attention...

Here's the story: MU Researchers Creating "Smart" Carpet for Safe Senior Living.

According to government statistics, falls represent the leading cause of death for us as we get older. And falling can happen pretty easily. I see my six year old daughter doing it routinely. She catches her foot on something [usually something she left on the floor, like a crayon or a shoe], she doesn't watch where she is going, doesn't hold onto the banister as she goes down the stairs. Nothing major. But it happens.

I do the same thing. I just don't recover quite as quickly or gracefully. And, at some point down the road, I'll be more susceptible to hurting myself.

The solution is a "smart carpet that would electronically monitor a senior's location and sound an alert in the event of a fall" as Steve Pounds describes in A smarter carpet to catch a senior's fall from the Austin American-Statesman. It's a project that University of Missouri professor Harry Tyrer has embraced with MU nursing associate professor Myra Aud.

Vicki Hodder describes Tyrer's project in more detail in Building a “smart” carpet for safer living. The idea of creating an "unobtrusive monitoring system that will increase the safety of seniors and improve their ability to live independently" is a big deal.

Per the release, "Tyrer and Aud’s smart carpet project incorporates a new type of sensor that can be printed on thin, flexible sheets using what is known as “organic ink.” Organic ink sensors are not only flexible, but potentially inexpensive making it practical to use them by the thousands on a sensor sheet layered between a room’s carpet and carpet pad."

"Tyrer is developing circuits that will feed the sensor sheet’s signals several times a second to a computer for display and electronic analysis. Ideally, a caregiver will be able to see where a person steps on a smart carpet, assess that person’s gait and act immediately if the person falls."

Vannah Shaw's Smart carpet senses falls from the Columbia Missourian offers some additional details as does Smart Carpet Can Help Seniors Who Fall and Can't Get Up.

I was curious what other options were around and after a Google search found a Belgium article about Sensor carpet and knitted wall decoration with electroluminescent yarns for senior’s flat. It describes "knitted sensors and conductive yarns on the carpet’s backing that are entirely made from textile yarns. The entire surface of the carpet is activated by low voltage and functions as a kind of electric switch. The pressure of the person walking or falling on the carpet activates one or more sensors that are applied over the entire carpet backing."

Imagine getting up in the middle of the night and, as you step on your carpet, a low level night light comes up to guide you to the kitchen for a cookie snack. Definitely practical!

Then, I found this link from 2003: Smart carpet can spot fires, steer feet and sell beer. Although geared more toward monitoring building stresses and guiding traffic, it too demonstrates potential for survival.

I'm keeping my eye on smart carpet! How 'bout you?

Note: Making A Magic Carpet from in a 5/4/2008 article by Angie Bailey updates this story, including some nifty photos. [Added 5/12/2008]

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