Sensara: Unobtrusive and Invisible Monitoring for Aging at Home
Sensara is a Dutch company focused on helping the elderly age gracefully at home. Sensara’s mission is clear, “We provide a way of unobtrusive and invisible monitoring – the user doesn’t feel like they are monitored and family members don’t have to check in all the time,” says Irek Karkowski, CEO.
Irek has been doing research on the elderly for the past 15 years. His research covered everything from what people want and need to what worked and didn’t for living and aging comfortably at home. The current Sensara system is so sleek and easy to use that it’s hard to believe how much Irek’s team iterated on the product. Irek reminisces, “The first few solutions were complex and quite expensive. They required installing a lot of technology, which made uptake difficult because of the large upfront installation effort, and they also required people to adapt their lifestyle to the technology.” In 2008 the system had 40 sensors, and today the system comes with four.
When I asked about wearables, Irek responds, “We know that wearables are very hot. I think there is some potential in this area, but we noticed that the elderly did not like any additional wearable devices to what they are used to because at their age it is hard to change habits. We observed that you can’t rely on the elderly to actually wear devices, especially if they have to charge them. For example, for folks with dementia, you can’t ask them to wear a device, charge it, and have them remember to put it back on.”
While Sensara also has professional systems for nursing homes, they made some key design changes when it came to in-home monitoring, specifically to make the device as unobtrusive as possible.
“First we minimized the number of sensors. Our package comes with four sensors, all of them are wireless and operate on batteries. We also made the system less expensive and easy to install- the sensors are fairly insensitive to how people install them,” Irek says. On the note of four sensors, he says that “based on our experience, there are really only six to seven activities that are useful to monitor. We can increase sensors if the home is larger, but the main things to track are sleeping, eating, number of hours outside, walking speed, general activity level, and number of visits to the restroom.” By treating all of the sensors as one network, Sensara can accurately detect changes in their behavior over both short and long periods of time.
The sensors take about two weeks to learn a baseline for ‘normal’ activities and then it automatically switches to monitoring for abnormalities and suspicious behavior. Data are sent to software in the cloud and families are notified of any irregular activities through the Sensara app. Irek describes some typical notification situations as, “Someone takes a long time to get out of bed in the morning, someone leaves the house and doesn’t come back in the evening, or someone is at home but there is no activity for quite some time. But we also track long term changes – if someone starts walking slower then their chance of falling is greatly increased.”
Sensara is live in The Netherlands, Germany and the U.K., with more European countries to come. The company has started trials in China and they plan to also roll-out in the US, but no date is set yet.