Norfolk County Council is entering phase two of an assistive technologies project that will make use of the LoRaWAN networking protocol.
The Norfolk Assistive Technology Application for Living Independently (NATALI) project has completed a proof of concept to demonstrate that smart sensors placed in residents' properties would work.
In phase one NATALI connected sensors to the LoRaWAN software communications protocol and systems architecture, placing assistive technology care in Norfolk onto the Internet of Things (IoT).
"During phase two, we will link sensors to a third party IoT platform," said Chris Metcalf, county manager - assistive technology at Norfolk. If successful, phase two will enable the local authority to source numerous sensor solutions and link them to a secure platform, allowing trusted carers to access wellbeing data via an online web portal or app on their smartphone.
LoRaWAN uses low power battery sensors to connect to local or national internet networks. It is of importance to assistive technology as by 2025 the public switched telephone network (PTSN) will be switched off by Openreach, following which all UK networks will use the internet protocol (IP). The switch-off will impact electronic point of sales (EPOS) machines, remote door entry systems, CCTV and, of course, landlines.
The NATALI project, alongside the digital switchover of community alarm telecare services, is helping the council prepare for the PTSN switch off. "We can send small packets of data over the LoRaWAN network," Metcalf said the project proved.
NATALI has also demonstrated to Norfolk that it can cost-effectively develop and deploy assistive technology services that are more tailored to the needs of the individual citizen. Metcalf said that previously local authorities have had to buy activity monitoring systems as a kit, working over the mobile network, and fit their functionality to the needs of the citizen.
NATALI has utilised an existing county council LoRaWAN network and off-the-shelf sensors and technologies that can be applied as appropriate to a household.
"We have been limited by what the industry has dictated. This project has seen us take more control," Metcalf said. "With IoT, there are more opportunities to create bespoke solutions for the citizens."
Assistive technology (AT) is important as the demand for care in the home increases. the council's AT team is reporting estimated savings of £5.3 million over the past three years. Metcalf said the estimated savings were calculated by modelling the predicted costs of preventing, reducing, or delaying other statutory services if the assistive technology had not been used.
"For example, the comparatively low cost of home sensors that allowed someone to stay living independently, compared to potentially moving into funded residential care," he said.
He added that the service puts the citizen's welfare first but has and will deliver financial savings as a result.
Assistive technology has challenges for local authorities; Metcalf said many citizens are not aware of the technology or don't always identify it as appropriate for them. However, the mainstream adoption of technology such as the Alexa voice activated hub has meant there is better awareness and utility and less stigma.
Metcalf said: "As a prevention service, there is always a desire to reach people sooner to encourage utilising technology for their future health and wellbeing," he said of the need for local authorities to apply assistive technology early.