Posted Wednesday 21 April 2021
Kingston University has teamed up with Salutem Care and Education in a £220,000 technology project to improve care for people with autism and learning difficulties. Experts from the University's School of Computer Science and Mathematics will work with the homecare provider to design and develop a sophisticated sensor system that will alert carers when urgent support is needed.
The digital alert system will use wearable technology to monitor physiological data such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, breathing and other stress responses. It will be designed with end users so that it can be tailored to individual needs, with unobtrusive sensors placed in a watch or clothing for continuous heath monitoring or in a room to constantly check movement, along with light and noise levels.
Artificial intelligence technology developed by the Kingston University team will process the data to predict behaviours or medical events, such as a seizure, that might be detrimental to health. Carers will be able to access the health information of individuals instantly from a database connected to the sensor system and will be alerted when there is a need for rapid action or potentially life-saving interventions.
The first phase of the project will involve working with residents and carers to research their needs. Then a prototype of the system will be piloted at one of Salutem's care homes, with data from this used to adapt the system if necessary before it is rolled out throughout the company.
Leading the project will be Dr Nada Philip, Associate Professor of Mobile Health and Technology, with Dr Eckhard Pfluegel, Senior Lecturer in Cyber Security, from the School of Computer Science and Mathematics. Their work will be supported by Professor Kathy Curtis, Professor of Professional Development from the University's Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education who will bring expertise in care homes research and experience of working with vulnerable groups.
The technology will have a two-fold benefit, Dr Philip said. It will boost round the clock observation of a group of people with complex physical and mental health needs and free up carers from paper-based note taking to focus more time on the people they support.
"The new sensor system will lead to significant improvements by helping carers take action as soon as possible to prevent or limit the effects of stressful or medical episodes. At the same time, the data will be easily stored and accessible to support carers in focusing more of their time on looking after people," she explained.
Behaviours and reactions in this vulnerable group of people could change suddenly, resulting in stressful episodes that could potentially be harmful to their health, Dr Philip added. "Having a system to predict when this is likely to happen will help carers mitigate the negative effects of such episodes and provide better care."
The project combines the high-quality research expertise in the University's Faculty of Science, Engineering and Computing with industry knowledge from Salutem Care and Education. It has a budget of £220,000, financed jointly by the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the country's largest public funder of research and innovation, and Salutem Care.
KTPs are government-funded initiatives in which businesses and organisations are able to harness universities' expert knowledge, technology and research to improve processes and products. A postgraduate or post-doctoral level graduate, known as a KTP associate, will be recruited to work on the project, under the supervision of Salutem and academics from the University's School of Computing and Information Systems.
Dr Philip, who has spent 17 years specialising in mobile healthcare technology, said the project had significant potential to make a real impact on people's lives. "It is very rewarding to be working on something likely to bring such important support and health benefits to a vulnerable group of people with complex needs," she said.
Dr Pfluegel, a cyber security expert and academic supervisor for the project, will ensure that the technology follows modern security standards and that critical aspects of mobile security including data privacy will be considered. "We also hope that system that we develop will serve as an excellent academic showcase, boost research at the School, and add interesting perspectives to our teaching," he said.
Salutem Care and Education chief executive John Godden said the project would be a transformative opportunity. "It has the capacity to revolutionise the way we care for people across the country, delivering targeted support and enabling us to provide potentially life-saving interventions," Mr Godden said.
"I am particularly pleased to be working in partnership with Kingston University on this innovative and strategic technology. To have the backing of UK Research and Innovation is also a real vote of confidence in our endeavours," he said. "Through careful research and development, working in partnership with the people we support and their families, we will be able to provide a tailor-made service that will protect residents and allow our teams to focus on delivering high quality care."
• Find out more about Kingston University's involvement with Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.
• Find out more about courses in Kingston University's School of Computer Science and Mathematics.