DIY: Remotely Monitor Your Aging Loved One (SmartThings + Initial State)

on March 17 | by

Introduction

Over 95% of people age 75 and older have no desire to live anywhere but their own home and remain independent. If you have an aging loved one, chances of you convincing them otherwise are very slim. You cannot be with them all of the time, and not knowing what is currently happening or happened while you were away can lead to an enormous amount of worry and anxiety.

Several solutions that leverage a variety of web-connected sensors combined with a monitoring service have popped up in the last couple of years. This is a fantastic and practical application of the Internet of Things. The biggest problem with most of these solutions is that they are remarkably expensive, costing $100+ per month plus the cost of the hardware (*tip, if you can’t find the price listed on a company’s website, it is probably too shocking to list).

Peace of mind can be obtained without breaking the bank using a combination of easy-to-use, consumer friendly DIY technologies. In this tutorial, we will show you how to setup a series of sensors (motion, door, presence, moisture, power, etc.) and securely connect each sensor to a web-based dashboard that you can access anytime, anywhere. You will be able to:

  • remotely monitor the usage of home appliances to ensure daily routines are maintained
  • know where in the house your loved one is currently located
  • know where in the house they have been throughout the day
  • know when they opened their medicine cabinet to take their medication
  • know when they take a bath or shower
  • know if they left the iron or an appliance on
  • know if they lock their doors at night
  • monitor the temperature of the house to ensure it does not get too hot or cold

and come up with your own monitoring solutions.

The Two Technologies We Will Use

Samsung SmartThings (https://www.smartthings.com)

SmartThingsKit

SmartThings is like Legos for home automation, giving you a set of web-connected sensors and devices that you can easily put together yourself to create your own solutions. Setup is easy, there are no contracts or monthly fees, and the SmartThings ecosystem supports so many types of devices that you have a ton of flexibility to create what you want. SmartThings users create their own security systems, smart home applications, and even build custom apps that anyone can use. To get started building your SmartThings network, you will need to purchase a $99 hub (https://www.smartthings.com/products/hub) and each compatible device/sensor. The hub setup process is very simple and is outlined at https://support.smartthings.com/hc/en-us/articles/205380634-Setting-up-an-account-the-Hub-and-Things.

Initial State (https://www.initialstate.com)

Tiles+Laptop1

Initial State is a data analytics/visualization platform for connected devices and services. Initial State will be the destination for all of that sensor data we will collect from our SmartThings devices. We will use Initial State for this application for several reasons.

First, we want to not only see what is happening in real-time but also want to store what happened over time for analysis. Initial State offers a real-time view of incoming data and unlimited data retention for historical analysis on all paid accounts.

Second, we need a set of tools that are powerful but super easy to use. Initial State gives us an awesome web browser based dashboard and a set of data analytic tools we can use on our laptop or mobile device.

Third, Initial State is really affordable, offering a completely free tier (only 24-hours of data retention) and a $5/mo (paid annually, $6.50/mo paid monthly) tier that gives us an unlimited amount of data retention. There are no contracts or commitments on any account. We can cancel the service anytime with a click of a button.

Last but not least, we can effortlessly connect our SmartThings devices to Initial State thanks to a built-in integration between the two services. Simply follow the instructions outlined at http://blog.initialstate.com/tutorial-smartthings-meet-initial-state/.

Sensors to Use and How to Use Them

Door Sensor (Multipurpose Sensor – https://www.smartthings.com/products/multipurpose-sensor)

 

STmulti

This sensor allows us to see when a door is either open or closed. Installation is simple (see https://support.smartthings.com/hc/en-us/articles/205382174-Samsung-SmartThings-Multipurpose-Sensor).

Once each door sensor is installed and you have enabled it in your Initial State + SmartThings integration, you will see its current status in your Initial State dashboard, Tiles (learn more about the things you can do with Tiles here):

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 11.22.23 PM

You can see a history of when each door sensor is open or closed in Waves (learn more about the things you can do with Waves here):

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 11.23.58 PM

Useful Monitoring Applications:

  • Place a door sensor on every external door of the home to be alerted when someone enters or leaves the home (setting a SMS or SmartThings app alert is very useful here, especially if you are worried about your loved one leaving the house and getting disoriented or someone breaking in).
  • Place a door sensor on the medicine cabinet to monitor when medications are taken.
  • Place a door sensor on the refrigerator and pantry to monitor daily eating routines.
  • Place a door sensor on windows for security monitoring and to ensure no windows are accidentally left open, especially during extreme weather (a notification on open and close is useful here).
  • Each multipurpose sensor includes a temperature sensor that can be used to monitor the temperature of each room to ensure the home stays a comfortable temperature in the summer and winter. Temperature anomalies can indicate the need for HVAC maintenance.

Additional Info:


Motion Sensor (https://www.smartthings.com/products/motion-sensor)

STmotion

This sensor allows us to see if someone is moving inside of a room or confined area. Installation is simple (see https://support.smartthings.com/hc/en-us/articles/205957580-Samsung-SmartThings-Motion-Sensor).

Once each motion sensor is installed and you have enabled it in your Initial State + SmartThings integration, you will see its current status in your Initial State dashboard, Tiles, as follows:

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 11.41.19 AM

You can see a history of each motion sensor in Waves as follows:

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 11.42.30 AM

Useful Monitoring Applications:

  • Strategically place motion sensors in each hallway and major room of the house to know where in the house your loved one is and has been.
  • Place a motion sensor in the bedroom and bathroom to monitor daily sleeping and bathroom routines.
  • Motion sensors can help you identify slip and fall situations, especially when paired with complex notification apps such as the SmartThings “Elder Care” app (https://blog.smartthings.com/featured/spotlight-smartthings-can-help-aging-loved-ones/).

Arrival Sensor (https://www.smartthings.com/products/arrival-sensor)

STarrival

This sensor reports when your loved one is at home or away by detecting if it is within proximity of the SmartThings hub. This is only useful if it can be placed on something that is always with a person when they leave such as their keys or purse. Installation is simple (see https://support.smartthings.com/hc/en-us/articles/205382134-Samsung-SmartThings-Arrival-Sensor).

Once the arrival sensor is installed and you have enabled it in your Initial State + SmartThings integration, you will see its current status in your Initial State dashboard, Tiles, as follows:

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 11.50.06 AM

You can see a history of arrival/departure in Waves as follows:

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 11.50.48 AM

Useful Monitoring Applications:

  • This one is pretty straightforward – is your loved one at home or not. This can be misleading if the arrival sensor is not physically with them, and they walk out of the house. A smart phone can also serve as an arrival sensor.
  • Putting an arrival sensor on a pet’s collar can provide useful information such as monitoring daily “let the dog out to potty” or “take the dog out for a walk” routines.

Smart Energy Switch with Power Monitor (http://www.amazon.com/Aeon-Labs-DSC06106-ZWUS-Z-Wave-Energy/dp/B007UZH7B8/)

STEnergy

This sensor has a built-in meter to monitor energy consumption for anything plugged directly into it. Installation is simple (see https://support.smartthings.com/hc/en-us/articles/202294170-Aeon-Labs-Smart-Energy-Switch).

Once the smart energy switch is installed and you have enabled it in your Initial State + SmartThings integration, you will see its current usage in your Initial State dashboard, Tiles, as follows:

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 12.02.43 PM

You can see a history of energy usage in Waves as follows:

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 12.08.08 PM

Useful Monitoring Applications:

  • Place a smart energy monitor on the coffee maker plug to monitor morning routines.
  • Place a smart energy monitor on lamps in the living area and bedroom to monitor daily routines.
  • Place a smart energy monitor on the iron to both monitor laundry routines and to know if they left the iron on.
  • Place a smart energy monitor on the microwave plug to monitor daily cooking routines.

Water Sensor (https://www.smartthings.com/products/water-leak-sensor) 

STWater

This sensor detects the presence of water and moisture. Installation is simple (see https://support.smartthings.com/hc/en-us/articles/202847044-SmartSense-Moisture-Sensor).

Useful Monitoring Applications:

  • Place a moisture sensor in the shower or tub to monitor when your loved one bathes. A notification is useful in this scenario if you are worried about a potential slip and fall.
  • Place a moisture sensor in the basement or other rooms in the house susceptible to water damage in the event of a heavy rain to prevent water damage from turning into a disaster.

Smart Lock (https://shop.smartthings.com/#!/products/kwikset-traditional-touchscreen-deadbolt)

STlock

A smart lock not only gives you the ability to lock and unlock a door from anywhere in the world, but you can also use it for monitoring purposes. Installation is simple (see https://support.smartthings.com/hc/en-us/articles/200969604-How-to-connect-and-reset-a-Z-Wave-Kwikset-lock).

Useful Monitoring Applications:

  • Smart locks on the outside doors allow you to monitor the safety of your loved one by ensuring that doors stay locked at night and while they are away. Visibility into when doors get locked and unlocked assist in daily routine monitoring.

Conclusion

This tutorial highlights a few simple, practical uses of web-connected sensors combined with an online data analytics/visualization service. You will likely be very surprised what you will learn once you start collecting this type of data over time. Being able to go back to what happened yesterday, last week, or even last month can be an invaluable resource. While this project is inexpensive in price, the peace of mind obtained can be priceless.

4 Responses

  1. Jim Kirkby says:

    I’m struggling to convert some of the outputs from SmartThings to Emoji’s on the Tiles view. I’d like to change Closed/ Open to Emoji’s for example. Has anyone else got this working?

    • Jeremy Keen says:

      I would like to do this as well. Clearly they show this in the screenshots but I cannot find this anywhere in the site.

  2. Keith says:

    Where is the tutorial?

  3. AJ Fager says:

    Have you considered also integrating a heart-rate monitor like a smart-watch or something?

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