Bright sparks brings AI to aged-care

By David Schout

When Adam Jahnke’s grandfather had a nasty fall in 2016, his family faced a predicament familiar to those with elderly loved ones.

The fall, which caused hospitalisation, had not deterred his grandpa – or “Ump” as he and his siblings called him – who intended to return immediately to his home of more than 60 years.

Adam and his family naturally wanted to support his independence but were also worried that, should it happen again, the consequences could be far worse.

Ump, like many elderly residents living alone, had an incident-detection pendant, but was not wearing it when he fell.

As the family sweated on what to do, Adam created a tech-based solution that has now developed into an inspiring tale showcasing the real-life application of technology to sectors where it’s most needed.

The 28-year-old, whose background is in technology and public health, set about creating a behaviour-detecting notification device to ensure that family were in-tune with what was going on inside the homes of their independent-living loved ones.

“The problem with those pendants is that people don’t wear them around the home, they feel uncomfortable wearing them there and the fact is, that’s where most incidents happen,” he said.

“We wanted to build something non-intrusive that works with the person’s habits rather than requiring them to wear anything.”

This is where Umps Health was born.

Adam, with the help of some friends, created a prototype product that notified him, via text message, each time his grandfather used the kettle.

Through this, he knew Ump was active and going about his daily business.

While this worked initially, Adam soon began to “tune out” to these rather basic alerts, and knew the product needed some work.

In November 2016, he left his job at Ericsson and started working on Umps Health full-time.

Shortly after this, he began a partnership with co-founder Geoff Ayre, which allowed the technical solution to really take off.

They developed the product to notify nominated family members when abnormal behavioural patterns appeared, rather than just normal patterns.

For example, should an elderly person fail to turn on their TV before 9am – something they’ve done for the last 100 days without fail – family would be notified via text when it ticked past 10 or 11am.

Through complex data analytics, behavioural patterns of individual users are observed and alerts are generated and sent to loved ones.

“We also look for other abnormalities, for example if appliances are being used longer and longer each day,” Adam said.

“More sedentary behaviour can be a pre-indicator of a health issue. Another one is if people are using appliances increasingly in the middle of the night – that will send a notification.”

“More and more we’re trying to identify abnormalities before incidents occur, because if we can do that we might prevent something happening and that’s the key to keeping someone living safely at home, independently.”

The product itself is surprisingly simple and takes just five minutes to install.

The pack contains five plugs (which are fitted between the wall socket and five everyday appliances) and a “smart hub” that contains a sim card, as the product does not depend on an existing internet connection.

The system then monitors a loved one’s behaviour for 30 days, building a data set based on their everyday habits, after which the notification system will kick in and send alerts to (up to) five nominated contacts when something isn’t quite right.

Since its inception, Umps Health has received seed funding from the University of Melbourne, whose Accelerator Program co-working space on Exhibition St currently houses its work. 

Adam and Geoff have also had support from crowd funding and, among others, the City of Melbourne, whose small business grant will fund an “experience centre” in 2019.

The centre will showcase their technology in an environment that simulates an actual home and will bring to life ideas that are still abstract for many.

“It will allow elderly people, their families and service providers to come in and experience the future of aged-care and the component of it that’s powered by artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and how those emerging technologies can be used in really tangible ways to support people living at home. It’s a physical environment, which takes a lot of the fear of the unknown away.”

Adam expects this year to be crucial.

“This is the scale-up year for us. The capital we’ve raised to date has really all gone into the product and the team we’ve built,” he said.

Their latest production run was for 200 systems. The one soon after will be for 5000, and then 10,000 after that.

Setting the standard for young tech-based entrepreneurs, Adam and his team are certainly ones to watch going forward.

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