‘Big Brother’ coming to front rooms for elderly

A benign “Big Brother” house that watches over its old, disabled or vulnerable residents is undergoing trials in the UK.

About a dozen homes in Scotland have been fitted with an array of sensors, motion detectors, microphones and digital cameras linked to intelligent software.

If the system spots anything unusual that may indicate a problem, it sends an alarm signal to a network of on-call carers.

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It not only spots dramatic events, such as a fall, but also subtle changes in behaviour over time – for instance, going to bed unusually early or skipping meals.

Early results from the trials are expected in the next two or three months and a prototype system costing around £1,000 could be available by the end of 2013.

Dr Ernesto Compatangelo, told the British Science Festival at the University of Aberdeen that so far the feedback has been positive.

He dismissed fears about privacy an monitoring people by CCTV in their own homes as a “non-issue”. He insisted: “The technology’s absolutely not intrusive and is just the same as having a trusted human carer around all of the time.”

Two versions, called are being tested.

They work in the same way but one is called Caring Aide is aimed at the elderly and disabled, while Invisible Neighbour focuses on people at risk in other ways, such as domestic violence.

The sensors, placed throughout a person’s home, can monitor movement, temperature, humidity, when doors and windows are open or closed, and whether appliances such as TV sets, cookers and heaters are switched on or off.

The system is a spin-off from a visual recognition system that would allow people with disabilities to control appliances with sign language or turn gestures into written text.

It may even allow people to drive a car without a steering wheel or pedals, merely by moving one’s arms and legs.