Green phones could assist Canada's aging population

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WEB-cellphone-Mark Burnham

An SFU computer science team is working to redesign smartphones to support more advanced applications

By Amara Janssens
Photos by Mark Burham

Alexandra Fedorova, an associate professor in Computing science, along with her team have been awarded $442,000 over the next three years from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to help lead the way in smartphone development. According to Fedorova’s proposal, smart phones are becoming increasingly available to the world, “with over one billion users projected by 2013.” She has observed that mobile technology is becoming very powerful and could have larger societal benefits.

Fedorova’s team has recognized that the use of smartphones in the health care sector could reduce costs, as the phones could be used to automate certain tasks that employees would otherwise conduct.

“The advantage of this device is it can do a lot of things, like measure your heart rate, or detect if you’re falling, if you’re unstable, if you’re off balance, it can help you navigate,” Fedorova stated, “and it’s with you all the time.” Having smartphones with highly sensitive applications for health care providers could help navigate patient’s homes, and automatically take records.

In order for these applications to work in this capacity, smartphones need to be operational for 24 hours a day, not the nine hours at best they last today. To combat this challenge, her team will study where smartphones are expending their power and energy. “The main culprits right now are radio, wifi, or cellular radio, and cpu and screen,” Fedorova described. “We want to understand how to manage these components better so they don’t use as much energy as they are using now.”

Fedorova further explained that the algorithms that decide when an application can “go in a low power state” are not very well tuned. It proves challenging for her team to finely tune these algorithms, as certain applications need to stay on longer than others. According to Fedorova, the algorithms would need to be “very dynamic,” and must allow for the “cooperation between the system and the application.”

Another area of development her team will research with the grant is how to allow for “fall detection algorithms” into smartphones. This would help Canada’s aging population who are most likely to fall. These fall detection algorithms would use the phone’s accelerometer to perceive if the user has or is falling. The phone could then automatically call for emergency or medical services to assist. However, this would require reworking the current systems used in smartphones, to detect slight accelorometer variations.

Through the redesigning of the system, a myriad of potential health care applications could be developed. “We are not designing the applications, we are more interested in redesigning the system to work well for those applications,” Fedorova explained.