CORDIS - EU research results

Secure Location-Aware Cooperative Network-Coded WSNs for better Quality of Life

Final Report Summary - WSN4QOL (Secure Location-Aware Cooperative Network-Coded WSNs for better Quality of Life)

The median age of the world population has shown a steady increase over the last 50 years, mainly due to the reduction of fertility and the extension of the average life span by almost 20 years. Current estimations show that about 17% of the population in Europe is over the age of 65, and this percentage is expected to double by 2060. This demographic shift towards older ages brings many challenges to both the individual and the society. At a personal level, aging comes with multiple health issues, such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, diabetes, visual and hearing impairments and other disabilities. These conditions usually require long-term care and monitoring, thus placing a significant strain on the public healthcare system and on medical and social services.
The use of wireless communication technologies to facilitate and improve healthcare and medical services, often referred to by the term mHealth, is bringing a shift to healthcare delivery. The new healthcare paradigm involves the use of appropriate sensor devices on patients to enable the remote monitoring of vital signals, the early detection of critical conditions and the remote control of certain medical treatments. As a result, many health conditions can be managed within the comfort of home, reducing the need for long and unnecessary hospitalizations and limiting the interaction with caregivers. Hence, disease management and prevention can be ensured in a cost-effective and patient-centered way, cutting down considerably on the expenditures of the healthcare sector and enhancing the quality of life of the patients.
Recently, there has been a lot of effort in the telemonitoring market to provide such innovative mHealth end-to-end solutions. Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs) are considered the key enabling technology for healthcare provisioning, combining sensing, processing and storage capabilities with distributed communication. However, there are still many open technical issues that should be investigated in order to fully exploit the potential of WSNs and achieve the seamless integration of market products and efficient communication schemes into practical mHealth applications. In this context, the main goal of the Marie Curie IAPP Project Wireless Sensor Networks for Quality of Life (WSN4QoL) was to bridge the gap between academia and industry, by applying theoretical and fundamental academic-based research to practical healthcare-specific industry-led solutions. WSN4QoL was committed to create a fully-integrated and multidisciplinary program on the development of WSN technologies for pervasive healthcare applications, ensuring high-quality, efficient, flexible and cost-effective healthcare delivery.
The key application scenario considered in this project was focused on the collection of multiple physiological data from a patient and their delivery to a central control unit, where processing and integration with medical-related software applications can take place. More specifically, the medical sensors, placed in the vicinity of, or inside, the human body, are interconnected through a short-range wireless technology, thus forming a Wireless Body Area Network (WBAN). The sensory data are collected by a gateway node and are forwarded to a remote medical server through an ambient WSN. This scenario was also extended to include multiple patients (i.e. data collected from multiple WBANs) and patient localization and tracking, by exploiting context-aware information provided by the ambient WSN deployment.
The WSN4QoL project has been successfully completed, satisfying its specified objectives in all aspects. First of all, in terms of research, the established research programme, developed within a multidisciplinary and cross-sectorial environment, covered a wide range of communication technologies, enabling the researchers to provide significant contributions in their respective areas. More specifically, the most important research findings can be summarized as follows: i) the design of energy-efficient Medium Access Control (MAC) protocols with energy harvesting (EH) capabilities to extend the lifetime of WSNs, ii) the investigation of cooperative schemes to facilitate multihop and bidirectional communication, iii) the application of Network Coding (NC) and Compressed Sensing (CS) schemes to improve robustness against errors and enhance Quality of Service (QoS) performance, iv) the development of security algorithms to ensure the confidentiality of sensitive medical information, and v) the design of distributed localization algorithms to extract information on the position and the activities of the monitored patients.
All the proposed algorithms were validated and evaluated through analytical models and extensive simulations. In addition, another key goal of WSN4QoL was the implementation of the algorithms and solutions in real testbeds and their incorporation in real medical devices. To that end, we performed tests in a real use case, i.e. a smart house where people suffering of Down syndrome usually live independently for few days each week, without strict and continuous supervision of care-givers. The produced prototype was able to measure biometric data, including body temperature, and wirelessly report them to a residential collector/gateway. This confirms that the actual implementation has been correctly done and the solutions proposed perform well in the scenarios targeted in the scope of this project.
The importance of the topic and the novelty of the proposed solutions can be also justified by several worthwhile publications in scientific journals during this period, while the actual implementation of the proposed schemes has also resulted to honorable distinctions, such as the best demo award in IEEE CAMAD 2014.
The novel e-Health solutions proposed within WSN4QoL are expected to have significant socio-economic impact, as we move from a world in which the majority of the population is relatively young to one in which a significant proportion of people are aged over 65 years old. While human care-giving cannot and will not be replaced, assistive technologies that can supplement human care-giving have the potential to improve the quality of life of both older adults and their care-givers. In particular, assistive technologies may enable older adults to “age-in-place”, i.e. continue living in their homes for longer periods of time. Institutionalization and hospitalization have an enormous financial cost, not only for elderly people and their care-givers, but also for governments. If current trends hold, by 2050 healthcare expenses is expected to double, claiming 20%-30% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for some economies and 20% by 2015. In this context, the new technologies designed in WSN4QoL may can help seniors live at home longer, providing a “win-win” effect, both improving quality of life and potentially saving enormous amounts of money.