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SPHERE: developing technologies to help people live at home independently

1 June 2014

We're all too familiar with the emergence in the 21st century of a complex set of health problems: an ageing population; rising obesity and diabetes; growing numbers of people living alone; shrinking healthcare budgets. But at the same time, there are striking new innovations in electronics and engineering: sophisticated sensors, wireless networks, monitoring software, videoanalytics, data mining. What if these technologies could be harnessed to address those problems?

Watch our animated film below

That was the question that Professor Jeremy Tavaré, who was then Director of the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute, asked Professor Ian Craddock, a medical imaging expert in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Bristol. Specifically, how could the world-leading research in the Faculty of Engineering be used to address major 21st-century healthcare problems?

The result of these discussions is SPHERE (Sensor Platform for HEalthcare in a Residential Environment), a project supported by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Its goal is the development of a digital ‘home health assistant' that would operate round the clock, monitoring someone with a health condition and watching out for physical warning signs, and helping people to remain healthy and living in their own homes rather than in a hospital or residential care.

SPHERE is developing sensor technologies that employ video, wireless sensing and data from home electricity and water meters to:

  • predict falls and detect strokes so that help may be summoned;
  • analyse eating behaviour, including whether people are taking their prescribed medication;
  • detect periods of depression or anxiety and intervene using a computer-based therapy (eg a mobile app).

Animated film

A key aspect of SPHERE is the involvement of the public in the development process. The following film, produced by Bristol-based Aardman Animations for the launch of the EBI, asked members of the public for their views on the technologies being developed by SPHERE, and what the outcomes might mean for them.

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