Packed with smart meters, smart appliances, smart windows and doors, smart lighting, smart HVAC and other smart what-have-you, the smart home of the future is purportedly going to be overflowing with sensors that make life more efficient and convenient. Now, it could be packed with sensors that make sure you’re not splayed on the floor alone in the living with a busted hip, unable to reach the phone. A research group at the U.K.’s University of Manchester has developed smart carpeting that can tell when someone has stumbled or fallen, and even analyze people’s gaits for signs of oncoming mobility problems.
The carpet is woven with a layer of optical fibers underneath that create a 2-D plane that acts as a pressure map. When someone walks across the carpet, that map distorts. Sensors in the carpet relay these distortions to a computer that analyzes the data for trends and figures out exactly what is happening. An entire body on the floor obviously creates a much different kind of distortion than a footstep, and the system can tell when a person has stumbled and fallen. It can be rigged to call for help in the instance that someone falls and doesn’t immediately get up.
The system can also analyze a person’s footsteps over time, looking for anomalies in their gaits that suggest mobility issues are oncoming–things like gradually developing limps or the favoring of one leg over the other. It could even be used as a security system, the researchers say, and with enough data can identify footsteps of individuals as well as the footwear different people are wearing.