Northeastern University seniors took a family tragedy and turned it into a monitoring device that could one day help seniors who fall down with no one around to help. Max Flaherty’s aunt had a medical alert bracelet, but that didn’t help her when she fatally tumbled down some stairs, was knocked unconscious, and no one saw. So when Flaherty and other members of his group in a senior design class at Northeastern University met over pizza last summer to decide on a project, they used the failings of the bracelet Max’s aunt as a starting point. Over the year, through weekly meetings with their adviser Professor Charles DiMarzio, they came up with a bracelet that will call for help after a fall and send biomedical data to emergency responders. "We took development kits for a microcontroller, accelerometer, and zigbee chip, our custom pulse oximeter and integrated them into a single point fall detection system with biometric sensing," team leader Chris Udall told Medgadget, who will be going to graduate school in Electrical Engineering at Georgia Tech next year.
A review on falls by Elaine Rawsky in Journal of Nursing Scholarship reported that the risk for falling increases significantly in those over 75 and up to 1/3 of people over 65 fall each year. A large amount of those falls are unwitnessed. The LiveSafe, as the team calls their device, works by constantly monitoring accelerations at the wrist and is activated by a fall. Jon Sarafinas, another team member, made it able to discern a fall from other behaviors, like a high five. When activated, an alarm is sounded, giving the user 10 seconds to push a button to turn it off. After those 10 seconds the LiveSafe sends an alert to a monitoring station using a standard wireless protocol, along with the pulse rate of the patient, valuable information to emergency responders to help determine the urgency of the call. Brian Rosenberg, a team member headed to law school in the fall, used feedback from EMTs to decide which biomedical information would be important to responders. These abilities were integrated with the help of final team member Darren Nunes into a small engineering model that Udall calculated could run for 50-60 hrs before needing a recharge. The team decided not to continuously monitor the pulse, thus allowing the battery to last longer and they thought that most cardiac events that would be important would lead to a fall, and so decided that they would prefer the device to raise a false alarm than to not report a fall, hence the 10 second delay followed by automatic notification.
LiveSafe cost about $800 to put together and the team thinks that it could be produced for around $100 in larger scale production. A judge for the class competition, who is in the medical alert industry, was very impressed. The Northeastern team does not have any current plans to commercialize the technology, but are willing to entertain any offers that come their way. Dr. DiMarzio thinks that they did a great job with consolidating their 5 year engineering educations into a functioning technology demonstration, and if one day the LiveSafe is turned into a commercial product that saves a life, families like the Flaherty’s would probably think so too.