Can AI help people living with chronic illness?

Two Queensland universities have teamed up with a tech start-up to see how “care bots” can improve the lives of people who need high-level care.

The technology responds to sounds, eye movements and gestures, and can flag seizures, fevers and falls.

Russell Conyar is unable to speak after two strokes, and also has epilepsy.

He and his partner Karen Caddis have been together since 2007. He proposed just months before his first stroke, in 2013.

a man in a blue shirt and sunglasses sits in a wheelchair with his partner leaning in, smiling beside him
Russell and Karen in 2014, a year after his first stroke. (Supplied: Karen Caddies)

They joined the pilot, run by QUT, the University of Queensland and Brisbane-based start-up Ariel Care, hoping to make their lives “easier and safer”.

Mr Conyar needs 24-hour care and knowing what he wants is like a “guessing game”, Ms Caddis said.

“Sometimes it is like a competition. What does he want? Does he need a drink? Or the hoist to go to the toilet? He can’t verbally tell us.”

The trial focuses on people with acquired brain injuries and disabilities that require assisted living.

Mr Conyar uses a Brisbane-developed smart bed with sensors that provide a “halo-like safety net”.

A ceiling mount can detect fevers, choking, falls, moisture, seizures or elevated heart rate.

A new language

It is the eye-sensor technology that Ms Caddis is most excited about.

While it has been used in gaming, developers Ariel Care say they are creating a “new language” with algorithms that let people use an eye movement or gesture to send a message to their carer’s mobile phone or computer.

“If I am outside talking and he wants a drink, he can access the monitor with his eye and I know ‘OK, Russ wants a drink’,” Ms Caddis said.

“Instead of him screaming out, at the top of his voice, as he does sometimes, but we can’t understand what he wants.”

Close up of Russell Conyar's face.
AI systems allow Russell to communicate what he needs.(ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh)

The 61-year-old now lives in a joint care home in Ipswich, west of Brisbane. Ms Caddis comes every day and carers are on duty when she is not there.

“At least now I can go home now and know the carers who may be dealing with other residents will know if Russ has a seizure,” Ms Caddis said.

“Because when he was having seizures a lot earlier this year, the carers had to put a bed here, so they could keep an eye on him.”

Professor Mark Harvey, vice-president of QUT business development, said the trial was “revolutionary”.

“It is bringing together that high-tech into a home environment for high-need people,” he said.

“So very much re-creating the level of care that you would have in an intensive care facility in a hospital, bringing that together at home.”

Example of AI technology in assisted care setting, showing what can be detected and an example of a message sent to a phone app
Example of AI technology in assisted care setting.(Supplied: Ariel Care)

One in 10 Australians (2.65 million people) provided informal care in 2018, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Carers experience significantly higher levels of psychological distress than average Australians, and are two-and-a-half times more likely to report low wellbeing, a 2021 carers survey found.

Professor Harvey said the technology would make caring easier.

“I think it will be a huge release of burden to those high-care carers and loved ones,” he said.

“Also we just do not have the workforce in Australia and globally to have that type of care that people really need at the moment.” 

man in suit smiling at camera sitting at a desk beside another man in a navy polo-tshirt
Co-director Mark Xavier (left) and QUT Avionics engineer graduate Joshua Romero. The team is writing “care bot” programs for everyone in the trial. (ABC: Lexy Hamilton-Smith)

Co-developer Mark Xavier is an aerospace specialist.

He and QUT avionics graduates are writing bespoke “care bot” programs for everyone in the trial.

“While some of it will be off-the-shelf, the engineers have been able to effectively interpret what we want and turn that into tech for each individual case,” he said.

“We have to remember that certain people have different cognitive levels and we need to provide as much support as we can across that group.”

Karen Caddis and Russell Conyar kissing while he lays in his hospital bed
Russell proposed to his fiancee Karen months before his first stroke.(ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh)

One program will not work for everyone, and people’s needs also change as they grow older, or their conditions progress, he said. 

“The right collection of sensors, working within an online platform the right way, with the right algorithms will enable an individual to do the things they could not do before,” he said.

“We believe it is a world-first integration of fit-for-purpose technology in a fit-for-purpose bricks-and-mortar house for disability care.”

High-tech homes

Co-director of the start-up David Beard hopes to create a model of “smart high-care homes” that detect falls, fever, if someone has stopped eating, or wet the bed. 

man in pinstripe blue shirt smiles into the camera
Ariel Care co-director David Beard says our homes have not kept up with changes in technology.(ABC News: Lexy Hamilton-Smith )

A smart home could let someone close their blinds with a blink, set their air con with a gaze, or, if they are unable to leave their bed, see who is at the door and let them in.

“There is a lot of things technology can do and really homes have not kept up with the age,” Mr Beard said. 

“If you look at how far phones have come in the last 10 years, look how far cars have come in the last 10 years, and you have a look at homes … they really have not gone too far when it comes to assisted living.”

Compassionate computing

University of Queensland computer science expert Dhaval Vyas is focused on “human-centred computing”.


Source link

Queensland pilot brings artificial intelligence to people in assisted living

You May Also Like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *