IBM, Cera Care to test self-driving car tech in elder homes

IBM and British start-up Cera Care plan a six-month pilot to test whether lidar laser sensors, used to help self-driving cars “see”, can enable elderly people to stay in their homes for longer – without compromising privacy.

Lidar systems that work by using laser light pulses to render fine-grained images of surroundings, have typically been used to make high-resolution maps, catch speeding motorists and more recently help automated cars navigate through the streets.

If the pilot is successful, it could potentially open up a new market for lidar just as it falls out of favor with some automakers, including Nissan and Tesla, who have called it expensive and unnecessary.

Jack Narcotta, a senior smart home analyst at Strategy Analytics, said lidar lasers were one of the more advanced solutions for elderly monitoring, but were still in the very early stages.

Even though lidar doesn’t recognize faces, some consumers may be concerned about the amount of tracking and location data collected and the ability to see repeatable patterns, he said.

In the pilot, IBM Research UK and Cera Care plan to install lidar sensors in around 10-15 volunteer households in Britain from June, and see whether they can build up a detailed picture of a care client’s daily routine and home environment using IBM’s machine learning software.

Their aim is to alert caregivers to any possible deterioration in a person’s physical and psychological health, such as changes in gait, or emergency situations such as a fall.

Ben Maruthappu, co-founder and CEO of Cera Care, hopes the technology will help the care system become more personalized even as the demand for care outgrows the number of careworkers on the front line.

Technology like this can help us solve that gap between demand and supply because it means we can pinpoint when a careworker needs to be in a person’s home,” Maruthappu told Reuters.

The world’s population is aging rapidly, with those over 60 expected to more than double to 2 billion by 2050 from 900 million in 2015, according to the World Health Organization.