IBM Watson is trying its hand at in-home health monitoring with a new system that combines IBM’s machine learning software with cutting-edge Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensors to paint an accurate, real-time picture of seniors’ daily lives. IBM’s teaming up with UK-based startup Cera Care — which links caregivers with elderly patients — to get the product into roughly a dozen patient homes in a six-month pilot phase launching in June, Reuters reports.
Here’s what it means: IBM’s making its home healthcare debut with a unique approach.
- Advanced sensor technology could arm caregivers with a precise run-down of their patients’ every move. LiDAR is a buzzy tech implemented by autonomous vehicle (AV) industry leaders to help self-driving cars “see” what’s going on around them. Here’s a quick look into how LiDAR works: The sensors use laser light pulses to create intricate images of movement and surroundings. In the context of home healthcare, caregivers can watch a real-time play-by-play of how their patients are faring: For example, they could see if they’re having trouble walking — a common sign of stroke — or whether they’ve fallen, which is the leading cause of injury for elderly folks.
- The sensors are as accurate as a camera — but less invasive, which should put consumers’ privacy concerns at bay. With LiDAR, a caregiver can “watch” their patients, but the process is less Orwellian than camera use because the viewer can’t see an exact image of patients or their homes; they merely see clusters of shapes. Using cameras to monitor elderly patients is a hot-button issue in the senior caregiver community, and many view the practice as intrusive, Senior Housing News notes. This less invasive option might ease some privacy-related worries.
The bigger picture: The tech has the potential to streamline care delivery for a shrinking supply of caregivers — but it comes with a massive price tag.
- As the pool of caregivers wanes, health firms will likely set their sights on innovative ways to keep track of patients remotely. As the US senior population expands, a caregiver shortage could leave almost 8 million direct care jobs unfilled by 2026, according to PHI. The UK — where IBM’s program will begin testing — is witnessing a similar, albeit smaller-scale, trend, per The Independent. So, it makes sense for firms that deploy caregivers into patients’ homes to invest in tech that allows workers to provide care from afar; it could prevent burnout, allow them to check in on multiple patients at once, and streamline the process of emergency services if something goes awry.
- But IBM’s LiDAR-enabled system could force firms to empty their pockets. LiDAR sensors cost up to $1,000 each, and some AV companies — like Nissan — are ditching the tech, citing an “imbalance between [LiDAR’s] cost and its capabilities.” Other in-home monitoring systems using sensors and cameras are much cheaper: UK’s Hive Link costs £150 ($190) to install and £15 ($19) for each month it’s used, and Lorex offers a camera system geared toward elderly care for less than $200. And other big names are looking to get into senior care with sensor-based solutions that would likely come at a fraction of the price: Google’s hinted it could use its connected home business Nest to dive into the market, for example. IBM’s product could make a huge splash in terms of innovation, but if it eventually makes it to the wider market, the high price alone might have potential partners running away.