CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Falls are the leading cause of injury for older adults, causing more than 20,000 deaths a year in the United States alone. Now, a team of researchers is using the same technology found in smartphone touch screens to detect these dangerous tumbles as soon as they happen. To accomplish this, the researchers embedded long sheets of flexible padding with so-called capacitive sensors. The sensors detect when a person walks or lies nearby, even when conventional flooring is installed on top. This information is wirelessly beamed to a computer, which crunches the data looking for evidence of a fall. If the system, called SensFloor, senses something is amiss, it automatically calls for help (as in the video above). The technology has already found use in a French nursing home where it detected 28 falls in 4 months, a member of the team reported here today at the annual meeting of AAAS, which publishes Science. According to the nurses at the home, one of the falls involved a patient who fell and was hidden from view behind her bed. The nurses say without the system it would have taken much longer to realize something was wrong. While existing thermal camera systems are much cheaper than the capacitive floor sensors, the team says its system provides a better sense of privacy and works even when furniture is moved around. The researchers say the same technology could be used outside the assisted living community, including home security monitoring and customer tracking in stores.
See more of our coverage from AAAS 2014 .