Seniors’ Health Tracked By Avatars In WebSphere

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The University of Alberta’s virtual world in IBM’s Websphere traces elderly patients’ health and activity

IBM and the Universityof Alberta are collaborating on a project that involves using IBM Websphere Sensor Events to create avatars from data gathered from devices monitoring elderly patients.

Websphere Sensor Events is a platform that captures data from sensors on vital signs such as body weight and heart rate using situational event processing. The software allows researchers to apply rules on event triggers, which prompt software to store data for a particular incident. Then Websphere performs a sensor event analysis of each event.

Avatar actors

Avatars will re-create the elderly patients’ real-life activities captured by sensors and help physicians to understand how to care for the elderly population and allow them to remain in their homes longer.

University of Alberta researchers have been working with the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital teaching facility in Canada since June to monitor elderly patients in a private living suite called a “Smart Condo.”

“The software provides visibility to the physical world by integrating the various types of data the sensors emit,” Bernie Kollman, IBM’s vice president, public sector, for Alberta, and co-chair of the board of IBM’s Centres for Advanced Studies Alberta, wrote in an email to eWEEK. “It acts as an integration platform that provides the infrastructure to collect, filter and analyse this data, and turn it into the actionable events – in this case, a virtual world video replication of a patient’s daily activities.”

The avatars exists in an environment called Open Sim, an open source software tool for creating virtual worlds. Doctors will be able to study the avatars to assess patients’ behaviour, such as whether they’ve taken medication.

Using avatars rather than monitoring patients in real life is less intrusive, according to the researchers.

“We are using an avatar and the visualisation to represent the people in the suite, as this is far less intrusive than having a video or live monitoring system on them all the time,” Doctor Lili Liu, a professor of occupational therapy at the University of Alberta, and research affiliate at Glenrose, said in a statement.

“Instead of recording a video of what’s happening in the suite, we’re analysing the sensor data and we’re making inferences about what the patient is doing,” Eleni Stroulia, NSERC/AITF industrial research chair on service systems management at the Universityof Alberta, told eWEEK.

NSERC is the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and AITF is Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, an R&D organisation in Alberta.

Unobtrusive observation

Avatars provide more context of what is happening in the Smart Condos without the intrusive video cameras, she said.

“Instead of video recording, it’s video produced by simulating activities in a virtual world,” Stroulia said. “So you get the context of how the patient behaves and what’s the activity in their environment without being intrusive and recording them.”

Researchers will produce data tables that indicate what the sensors uncover, and the avatars will provide more “intuition” to viewers of the stream, according to Stroulia.

IBM and the University of Alberta announced the pilot at IBM’s Centres for Advanced Studies Conference, which highlights Canadian research between academic and government research organisations.

Although Glenrose is the only hospital currently using the virtual world technology based on Websphere, the University of Alberta will install a personal installation of Smart Condo at its Edmonton Clinic Health Academy.

In the Smart Condos, researchers place sensors on areas such as seats, beds, tables and cabinets to collect information about patients’ activities and infer about long-term behaviour, Stroulia said.

Researchers can view the virtual world in real time or record the activity so that health science students can get training in simulation. The sensors will track what patients are eating and if they are walking, using a walking frame or in a wheelchair.

Stroulia plans to build out social networking features in the virtual world to eventually allow teleconferencing and communication among physicians and researchers.

In addition to health care researchers, the multidisciplinary project involves computer scientists and experts in industrial arts and design, Stroulia noted.

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