SJ startup combining GPS, Bluetooth to fight falls

February 1, 2010 7:14:37 AM PST
GPS, Bluetooth and accelerometers enable cell phones to do more than just place a call. Now, a San Jose startup is using these technologies to solve a health problem.

The Centers for Disease Control says falls are the leading cause of injury death among older adults, and that the rate of fall-related deaths is increasing rapidly.

"I've fallen, and I can't get up," goes the TV ad.

Those cheesy commercials from the 1990s have spawned a hundred spoofs and parodies on YouTube. The product they tout is a medallion that can send for help when you push a button.

"What if you can't push the button?" asks Casey Pittock. "What if you're unconscious or if you have a fall where you can't use your arms to push the button? That's a problem."

That's also the idea behind a safety and activity system from Wellcore of San Jose, where Pittock is a Vice President. Inside, is a three-axis accelerometer that detects 27 different types of falls. Once trouble is determined, it uses a household Wi-Fi network to alert a monitoring station.

The human monitor uses GPS to locate the victim and responds not by telephone, but through a speaker in this base station via VOIP, Internet Voice Over IP. When you're not indoors, built-in Bluetooth pairs with a mobile phone that places the emergency call, say, when you've crashed and you can't get up.

Informal tests show that if a car veers enough or stops suddenly, the monitoring stations see it. Sure, GPS can tell you where the car is, but it can't report what the driver is doing in real-time. ABC7's automobile test was its own unauthorized use and Wellcore is not marketing this as a feature. The company has competition, though not with the same feature set. The cost is still unknown. The system will be offered on a subscription basis sometime in March.