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"Falls Alarm" -- The Discovery Files

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Electrical engineers at the University of Utah have developed a network of wireless sensors that can detect a person falling.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

"I've fallen and I forgot to wear my alarm"

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

For Americans over 65, it's not water polo mishaps (Sound effect: water splashing) or meteors (Sound effect: chime) or even wild boar attacks (Sound effect: boar grunt). Nope. A leading cause of injury and death is falling. Those neck-worn monitoring systems work well when you remember to wear them. But, most older Americans who own them were not wearing the device when they suffered a fall.

Electrical engineers at the University of Utah have developed a new type of system that doesn't require the user to wear a device. It can actually determine whether the fall was serious, or just grandma demonstrating the 'downward dog.'

An array of radio frequency sensors similar to the ones used in home security systems is placed around the perimeter of the room at two heights--corresponding to someone standing or lying down. Anyone standing--or falling--inside the network alters the path of signals sent between each pair of sensors.

The system uses information on how long it takes a person to fall, sit, or lie down on the ground to determine if a particular event merits calling a caregiver for emergency help.

The engineers are working to make the system commercially available giving seniors a much more reliable guardian, 'cause it can monitor falls without the person having to wear a device.

Seems like it could be handy for younger adults too--on bar night.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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