IU led $1M NSF-funded smart-home effort to advance health and independence in older adults

November 16, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As part of a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Indiana University has received over $670,000 to establish "HomeSHARE," the first networked system of smart homes designed to advance research on older adults.

The funds from the NSF's Computing Research Infrastructure Program will support the installation of high-tech sensors and other equipment in the homes of 15 elderly volunteers throughout the city of Bloomington. The project is an effort to improve the quality of life of elders through the unobtrusive collection of high-quality research data.

"As far as we're aware, this is the first large-scale research infrastructure project focused on smart homes," said Kay Connelly, an associate professor in the IU School of Informatics and Computing, who is the leader on the grant. "Typically, research infrastructure awards help maintain complex systems like supercomputers, or the purchase of advanced equipment. In this case, we're looking to generate research data from people who enroll in a long-term study."

Homeowners who join HomeSHARE -- Home-based Smart Health Applications across Research Environments -- will agree to the installation of certain technologies, such as motion sensors, in their homes. They will also wear a simple activity tracker -- like a FitBit -- and participate in occasional surveys though a tablet computer. In return, volunteers will receive the tracker, the tablet and high-speed internet access for the duration of the study.

An additional 15 homes will be similarly outfitted near the University of Colorado at Denver, co-recipient of the grant. Other partners on the project are the University of Virginia, the University of Washington and Clemson University.

"There's no need to constantly re-invent the wheel," said Connelly, who said HomeSHARE data will be able to support many types of research projects. "There's a lot of duplicate effort in this field -- and a lot of great research on aging that never gets off the ground because it's so difficult to enroll people and install technology."

Simply understanding how people operate in their homes -- how easily they're able to cook, move about the house or get in and out of a chair, for example -- provides significant insight into elderly citizens' health and well-being, she added.

"Studying activities of daily living is a big topic," Connelly said. "It's when people can no longer perform them that you start to see the need to bring assistants into the home, or the need to transfer to assisted-living facilities."

The survey data may also be used to glean other information about elders' lives, such as their social networks, another strong indicator for overall health and independence.

All of the technology used in the study will undergo user trials in a building on the corner of East Cottage Grove and North Park Avenue near the IU Bloomington campus that has been designed to provide a natural, home-like environment to interact with technology.

In addition to these trials, Connelly's lab will be responsible for recruiting research volunteers, installing technology in their homes and establishing a review board to assesses outside requests to access data from HomeSHARE.

IU researchers will also act as a liaison to homeowners to ensure they are comfortable with all research projects that use their data. And they will oversee the approval and installation of any new technologies requested by these projects.

A software system called Piloteur, developed by the University of Virginia, will be used to collect data from the homes. The grant to IU will support the work of programmers to expand the software so it is able to aggregate information from multiple networked homes across long distances.

The assessment of the technology, development of the software and establishment of the internal review board will take place in the first year of the project. The installation of the technology in one to two homes in Bloomington is anticipated at the end of 2017 or start of 2018. All 30 homes should be outfitted by the end of the grant in August 2019.

Previously, Connelly served as a co-investigator on two NSF-funded projects at IU which helped lay the foundation for HomeSHARE.

The first, titled "Ethical Technology in the Homes of Seniors," or ETHOS, focused on the privacy implications of surveillance technology and how these issues are regarded by older adults. The results of that study, led by Jean Camp, professor in the IU School of Informatics and Computing, established the first incarnation of the house on the corner of Cottage Grove and Park avenues.

The second project, titled "Supporting Older Low-Socioeconomic Status Adults and their Caregivers Electronically," or SOLACE, focused on how aging-in-place technologies could be adapted to low-income older adults who have different needs and resources available to them. Connelly notes that both ETHOS and SOLACE, which ran studies in homes of older adults in the community, are examples of projects that could benefit from HomeSHARE infrastructure.

Other researchers on the grant are Katie Siek, associate professor in the IU School of Informatics and Computing; Blaine Reeder of the University of Colorado at Denver; Kamin Whitehouse of the University of Virginia; Kelly Caine of Clemson University; and George Demiris of University of Washington. Caine is also a co-investigator on the SOLACE grant.

Indiana University

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