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KU students building 'smart home' for health

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Posted at 9:07 PM, Jan 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-26 22:07:32-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Imagine if your home could keep you healthy, predict when you or your loved one may fall or detect diseases, such as cancer or Alzheimer’s, early. 

A few miles from the University of Kansas campus in a nondescript building, professor Joe Colistra and his architecture students are doing exactly that. For about a year, they’ve been working on a "smart home" prototype, designed to help improve health. 

“Taking population health strategies and deploying them at scale in housing has the potential for the house to be like a medical device. You could create it in a warehouse, put the sensors in it and deploy it to site with all of these things in it,” said Colistra. 

Underneath the plywood floors are accelerometers and strain gauges to collect biometric data. These sensors pick up and record every footstep. 

The data is collected, recorded and used to detect changes in gait, which could alert someone of an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease or signal someone has had a stroke. 

“Being able to allow people to age in place more comfortably, I think that’s a big role as architects that we are going to have,” said Jeremy Weiland, a student working on the project. 

Smart mirrors, for example, could be used to monitor changes in skin, such as looking for moles or changes in eye movement — a possible effect of a stroke. 

Smart toilets could be used to monitor hydration and adjust diuretic or heart medication in real-time. 

“The senior housing demographic is exploding exponentially. There’s not enough housing to take care of seniors, not enough services to take care of seniors and more importantly, not enough caregivers,” said Colistra. “We’re trying to take these monitoring devices and find a way that a house may be able to take care of you.”

The project is funded by $51,000 in combined grants — $30,000 from the American Institute of Architects and $21,000 from Mozilla’s Gigabit Community Fund. 

Students finished building the prototype in May. Funding will allow them to continue working on their “proof-of-concept” project for a little long. 

However, Colistra hopes to find more grant money to do a clinical trial.