Posted by Ashley Osgood
With a longer-living generation of beloved grandparents approaching their golden years, the issue of maintaining their quality of life has more recently become a growing challenge. While caregivers face anxiety about their loved one’s safety, the mPERs (Mobile Personal Emergency Response Systems) market, an early member of the wearables industry, is stepping up to the challenge.
The wearable mPERS business today is estimated at about $1 to 2 billion in North America alone. And with the introduction of new technical capabilities, this once-stable industry is now facing a competitive landscape from multiple sources.
Traditionally, the devices - which most commonly are pendants or bracelets - transmit from the wearer to a base unit nearby, usually within the home, which dispatches to a central location. Now, device accuracy and capability are seeing rapid growth; as new mPERs devices can more precisely locate the wearer and include features that can automatically detect a fall based on motion patterns. With the market growing to include even more capabilities, like the ability to monitor vital signs - these new features are increasingly becoming the standard for mPERS devices.
Timing could not be better as seniors are more active and social than ever today - that is, they are more mobile. The MPERS industry is seeing a transition from requiring the wearer to be tied to one place in order to assure constant transmission of location data from the stationary location within their home - to now being much more mobile, fast and accurate with the evolution of device-level location. This ability accommodate grandma’s lifestyle and locate her at absolutely any time, anywhere; indoor or outdoor, near or far from home is critical for device success in the marketplace.
These advances in mPERs technology give relatives more peace of mind about the broader well-being of their loved-one and seniors the confidence to embrace an active retirement lifestyle. Not only that, but these devices give confidence for the wearers, as they are now able to leave the house without worrying that something may happen and they could be in a situation without help. As advanced capabilities are moving from nice-to-have features to expected functionality, the most daunting challenge these wearables will face is differentiating their devices.
Better user experience starts with the basics like using battery efficiently and adding precise location data. Complete user experiences go a step further, adding rich layers of contextual information to fit more precisely into users’ lifestyles - which are unique in the caregiver market. And beyond UX, the winners in the mPERS market will make products that users can’t live without, like the smartphones of today; they will be the devices users rely on and that their families can too.
To be all of this to users, mPERS wearables must leverage the value of wifi and precise location rather than just GPS when looking to locate wearers outside the home. GPS is a form of location that many device manufacturers provide without thinking twice, and that users have come to expect from their smart mobile devices: but what are the limits to this widely-accepted standard to location?
1) Battery life. The huge barrier of use for grandma is the hassle of a dead battery: it can be hard for her to remember or realize when it’s necessary to charge her device. A reliable mPERS device must be power efficient so the wearer and their families can be confident that it will do it’s job. Today, mPERS wearables typically use general purpose or existing smartphone chips to achieve microcontroller, sensor and radio functionality - which can lead to expensive and overpowered devices. Using power efficiently is also critical during any medical emergency needing an immediate response.
2) Delivering a precise location. GPS location alone cannot map indoor venues leaving seniors vulnerable to inaccurate readings when they activate the device. It also has a slow time-to-fix, taking as long as a minute to locate the wearer - which can be potentially dangerous in an emergency situation.
Many device manufacturers attached to GPS and are skeptical to transfer to a hybrid location solution - however, hybrid location does not replace GPS entirely. Instead it complements GPS capabilities with other forms of tracking and improves location accuracy on the device.
Hybrid location, like the Skyhook service used for the GoSafe system of Phillip’s Lifeline Response Associates, combines Wi-Fi positioning, GPS, cell tower, IP, and device sensor data. The GoSafe system intelligently chooses the best way to provide precise location data and return the fastest time-to-fix location. With hybrid location, the device is not always on: it simply turns on intermittently to gather location data and when the device is activated it turns on immediately and can report a precise location to emergency services. First responders can then be informed within moments of activation where granny needs their help. Hybrid location allows your device to provide the most accurate and reliable location.
When a loved one is in peril, there is nothing more important than reaching them as quickly and efficiently as possible, and right now wi-fi chips enabling hybrid location are the best way to do precisely that. For users, hybrid location can also lead to higher adoption rates for mPERS, as the speed and accuracy provides the reliability seniors need to feel they shouldn’t have to compromise their lifestyle so they can live actively, socially and confidently.
In a Skyhook press release with Philips Home Monitoring, Philips’ Senior Director of Global Product and Service Programs Rob Goudswaard noted:
Skyhook is the global leader in geo-location technology working through close to one billion Wi-Fi access points, cellular networks and GPS readings to produce a single, accurate location quickly and across all environments. It is that kind of power that is vital to back the life-saving ability of mPERS devices so that growing generation of seniors can make the most of their golden years without holding back.