MIT wireless system can monitor what care facility residents are doing while preserving privacy

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) have developed a way for a fully wireless system to monitor not only movement and vital signs contact-free, but also to track activities — in a more privacy-preserving way without using video. The system has the potential to be used at long-term care and assisted living facilities to provide a higher standard of support, while also ensuring that the privacy of the residents of those facilities is respected.

The system, which is dubbed “RF-Diary” by the research team that created it, can identify whether a person is sleeping, reading, cooking, watching TV or more, by combining a map of a person’s living space with the types of activities that happen in different activities. The research team behind it trained the system on wireless signals generated by people performing known activities in these spaces, and was subsequently able to categorize activities from new people, in entirely new locations using the knowledge it gained through training.

Not only does the system preserve privacy more effectively than video-based monitoring, but researchers found that RF-Diary was actually more accurate, too. That means that it could accurately identify activity captions for individuals even when they were in dark settings, or blocked by other objects that would’ve thwarted visual checks. Overall, researchers found that their system was able to identify activities accurately over 90% of the time, across a range of 30 household activities.

This technology could not only help with communal care facilities, but also with aging-in-place, since the researchers note that families looking to support older relatives who are living alone could also use it as a way to keep up-to-date on their loved ones.

Because it also can monitor vital signs and general movement, the system created by this MIT CSAIL team could be a comprehensive solution that will not only help with resource-strained care facilities, but also with assisted care and remote monitoring in the COVID-19 era, when distance is often a prerequisite for safe and responsible best practice. Now the team hopes to get the system ready for real-world use, as a step toward commercializing it for general sale.