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The high-tech future of healthcare: a digital health assistant in your home – University of Reading

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The high-tech future of healthcare: a digital health assistant in your home

Release Date 09 May 2013

The University of Reading is playing a leading role in a pioneering collaboration which could revolutionise the country's health care provision.

The £12 million project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), aims to develop a 24/7 digital home health assistant. New home sensor systems will monitor the health and wellbeing of people living at home, potentially detecting overnight or mini-strokes on waking, by monitoring small changes in behaviour, expression and gait. The system could also monitor a patient's compliance with their prescribed drugs.

The collaboration, known as SPHERE (Sensor Platform for HEalthcare in a Residential Environment), is a response to the unprecedented challenges the UK's healthcare system faces. Britain is the most obese nation in Europe and the country's ageing population is especially at risk from isolation, depression, strokes and fractures caused by falls in the home.

The system will be general-purpose, low-cost and accessible with University of Reading expertise central to two of the project's primary goals. The first is to produce 'passive sensors' in association with the Universities of Bristol and Southampton that can be worn and forgotten.

Professor William Harwin, from the University's School of Systems Engineering, said: "The production of ubiquitous and unobtrusive 'passive sensors' is a key constituent part of this project. These sensors could be embedded in clothing or jewellery, or more ambitiously implanted, possibly in association with remedial surgery. 

The University of Reading will also contribute to the integration of the sensor information.

Professor Harwin continued: "Information from these sensors will monitor and track the signature movements of people in their homes and trigger a response in accordance with health needs. For example there are signature movements that are an indication that a person may have an increased risk of falling. The concept is to allow the health care experts, residents and carers to have information that is appropriate to their needs, which could range from identifying activities that could cause concern, through to direct feedback to the individual to suggest alternative behaviours that would reduce risk."

This interdisciplinary research collaboration (IRC) is led by the University of Bristol together with the Universities of Southampton and Reading. They will work in partnership with Bristol City Council, IBM, Toshiba and Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC). It is one of three EPSRC Healthcare IRCs being established.

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, added: "New British technologies are transforming healthcare and saving lives. As healthcare challenges become more complex, our world-class scientists are finding the next generation solutions."

Professor Ian Craddock, Director of this particular IRC, said: "SPHERE aims to have a profound impact on the health and wellbeing of people with a wide range of different health challenges. Families, carers, health and social services professionals involved in all stages of care will benefit from the system. SPHERE will address real world challenges by developing a practical technology to monitor people's health in the home environment, targeting health concerns such as; obesity, depression, stroke, falls, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal diseases."


For all media enquiries please contact James Barr, University of Reading Press Officer on 0118 378 7115 or by email on

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Notes for Editors

The research programme team include: Professor Ian Craddock (University of Bristol), Professor Jeremy Tavaré (Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research at the University of Bristol), Professor Ann Ashburn (University of Southampton), Professor William Harwin (University of Reading), Ian MacDougall and Stephen Hilton (Bristol City Council), Professor Rodric Yates (IBM), Shinichi Baba (Toshiba Research Europe Limited) and Carolyn Hassan (Knowle West Media Centre).

The University of Reading is ranked among the top 1% of universities in the world (THE World University Rankings 2012) and is one of the UK's top research-intensive universities.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

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