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MU Researchers Creating "Smart" Carpet for Safe Senior Living

$200,000 grant to help researchers monitor seniors in case they fall

Jan. 29, 2008

Story Contact:  Jennifer Faddis, (573) 882-6217,
Vicki Hodder, (573) 884-3610,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Nearly one-third of American seniors age 65 and older fall each year, and such falls cause more deaths than any other injury, government statistics show. Harry Tyrer, a University of Missouri electrical and computer engineering professor, hopes to create a safer environment for seniors. Tyrer has received $200,000 from the Alzheimer’s Association to work with MU’s Sinclair School of Nursing to develop a “smart” carpet that would electronically monitor a senior’s location and sound an alert in the event of a fall.

“This is an unobtrusive monitoring system that will increase the safety of seniors and improve their ability to live independently,” Tyrer said.

Fall prevention and detection is at the center of a handful of Mizzou engineering research projects, including an ongoing effort to develop video silhouette monitors that capture movement of seniors, but still protect privacy. Tyrer, along with MU Associate Professor of Nursing Myra A. Aud, is exploring how new sensor construction technology may apply to the problem.

Tyrer and Aud’s smart carpet project incorporates a new type of sensor that can be printed on thin, flexible sheets using what is known as “organic ink.” Organic ink sensors are not only flexible, but potentially inexpensive making it practical to use them by the thousands on a sensor sheet layered between a room’s carpet and carpet pad, according to Tyrer.

Tyrer is developing circuits that will feed the sensor sheet’s signals several times a second to a computer for display and electronic analysis. Ideally, a caregiver will be able to see where a person steps on a smart carpet, assess that person’s gait and act immediately if the person falls.

“Current floor sensor systems rely on vibration readings that may be easily misinterpreted,” Tyrer said. “I think of the ‘smart carpet’ system as a significant improvement and a way for seniors to live both independently and safely longer, providing caregivers or family members an electronic emergency alert system.”

After developing and improving a prototype during the next two years, Tyrer plans to test the smart carpet at TigerPlace and The Bluffs, two senior housing complexes in Columbia. The researchers hope the carpet will register not only falls but changes in gait or behaviors that would serve as red flags for caregivers.

“If this turns out to be a good reliable fall detector, then we hope to see it used in homes, apartments and long-term care facilities,” Aud said.