Consider it the next generation of Life Alert. Homes of the future may soon be equipped with “smart carpets,” or sensor-packed rugs that can instantly detect when someone has fallen and can’t get up or when unknown feet have been taking a walk around.
Developed by a group of researchers at the University of Manchester in the U.K., the carpet contains a layer of optical fibers that creates a 2-D pressure map. When stepped on, this map distorts, causing sensors around the carpet’s edges to relay signals to a computer. The computer then analyzes the footsteps to figure out just what is going on — is this a normal walk across a room or has someone fallen to the ground? The system can even be set up to call for help if it detects a fall and a person doesn’t immediately get up.
By monitoring footsteps over the time, the smart carpet may also be used to prevent injuries. According to New Scientist, the system can learn people’s walking patterns and look out for small changes, such as putting more weight on one foot over the other. By measuring such subtle modifications in gait, the smart carpet may be able to use this information to warn against oncoming mobility issues in the elderly.
“The carpet can gather a wide range of information about a person’s condition,” Dr. Patricia Scully, the project’s lead researcher, said. “From biomechanical to chemical sensing of body fluids, enabling holistic sensing to provide an environment that detects and responds to changes in patient condition
Since the smart carpet will learn the exact footsteps and walking patterns of individuals, researchers say it could also be used as a security system, alerting homeowners of intruders.