Friday, 4 September 2009

What next after Microsoft's SenseCam? SenseBulb - The Lightbulb that cares

At Microsoft Reseach Cambridge in 1999 I invented the SenseCam , a sensing camera that captured images of all the minutia of the day. I designed SenseCam to aid people with Alzheimer's and the team at Addenbrookes Hospital , Cambridge and Microsoft did a great job with proving this on patients. One patient could not remember more than 1 day, with SenseCam was increased to 4 months.

I left Microsoft Research Cambridge in 2007 and then set up Girton Labs. I wanted to move forward with my research using novel cameras to help people with memory loss. I was also obsessed with making the lightbulb more useful, we know about low power White Light Emitting Diodes for home lighting, but the light bulb in our ceiling is a bird's eye view to watch over and care for us. I wanted to solve problems like leaving the gas hob on and walking out of the kitchen, and forgetting to come back and so a burnt pan or worse. If we live on our own (like I do) and fall and have an accident, how do we get help? We don't want cameras (too invasive and too much data to process ), might not be able to reach our phone, and don't want gadgets strapped to our body, especially when in the bathroom. The answer - SenseBulb, covered here today by the BBC . Thermopiles measure temperature at a distance, they are used in heat seeking missiles and also non contact ear thermometers. I built some SenseBulb prototypes to measure temperatures of the objects in my kitchen. If we leave the hob on and a person is in the kitchen, that is considered safe, if we walk out of room for 20 mins and leave hob on, an alert needs to be sent. I initially tested bulbs with wireless (433Mhz) messages to the PC and then relayed message via internet. Bu not all people have the internet ( some also switch wireless network off at night!) and so I redesigned it to have a SIM card in lightbulb and send text messages directly to your cell phone or a friend. Messages in test took about 30 secs to be received (we can pay a premium for faster, reliable delivery times). The device, called SenseBulb, used very fast sensors, sampling temperature 200 times second, and this can also detect hand waves. You fall and don't move for a time period, bulb "calls a friend". You fall, but can also wave at bulb, bulb flashes to acknowledge, sends text to a friend, who calls to check up. Bulb also used for normal family care, I am a single parent, I might be out at the pub, but bulb sends me text messages to say "fridge door been opened 4 times in last hour", so I know all is well at home with my family. Detecting a fridge door open doesn't need switches, a thermal image signature from door open (quick temperature drop, then slow rise) is sufficient. Same with the cold draft from the cat flap, I get text message sent when cat in!
The state of the project, Sept 2009, a working PCB of hardware and software, sending GSM messages via Orange mobile phone network. People want to use the device, e.g. elderly people on their own. What next? I'm looking for some investment to cover my time, to build a smaller pcb and bulb, adjust algorithms for more messages, wrapped in a beautiful 3D CAD designed lamp enclosure, make some prototypes and delivery to university and medical researchers.  I estimate a bulb could be sold for <$100, business plan is similar to a cell phone, annual contract for 500 messages/ month.

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