Informatics researchers use smart meters to revolutionise independent living for people with disabilities and older people

[2021] Ground-breaking trial led by Dr. Lynda Webb uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to monitor energy usage patterns.

Photo of a woman in a mobility scooter using a kitchen with a smart meter.
One of the participants of the SMILE trial.

The Smart Meters for Independent Living (SMILE) project is a ground-breaking trial into the energy usage patterns of people with disabilities and older people living independently. Smart meters and associated technologies are being used to monitor for health-related incidents around the home as part of a ground-breaking new trial led by School of Informatics' Dr. Lynda Webb, in partnership with innovative housing and care specialist Blackwood Homes and Care, and Scottish Innovation Centre, The Data Lab.

The revolutionary Smart Meters for Independent Living (SMILE) project will see the consortium develop and test machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) methods to analyse energy usage data from consenting residents’ smart meters, creating a view of their daily routines and spotting unusual changes in behaviour which could cause concern.

Blackwood Homes and Care provides a range of accessible housing for people with disabilities and older people. The SMILE trial began in November 2019 and, despite some delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, is currently analysing energy usage data in several homes across Scotland. The results of the trial are expected to be published in autumn 2021.

It is very exciting to be working collaboratively with Blackwood Homes and the industry partners on this project. It provides an opportunity to apply the machine learning outputs from our previous EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) research project, IDEAL, in a new real world setting for social good.

The fact that we are also co-designing the service with Blackwood customers means we can take forward the research in a way that is adapted to people's true needs.

Dr. Lynda Webb
Senior Research at the School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh

Working with and for people with disabilities and older people living independently

Individuals and their loved ones or carers can set specific ‘rules’ for the system, telling it which changes in routine are a cause for concern, such as the duration of a shower being longer than usual, or a change to normal cooking schedules, which could indicate that an incident has occurred. Machine learning algorithms use energy usage patterns to identify the timing of people's relevant activities in the home, looking for changes that should be flagged up. The system will then alert the individual, their loved one or carer, enabling a decision on the best course of action to be made.

The ambition is that the new predictive digital technology will provide an additional service to complement the traditional proactive push button personal alarm worn by residents – particularly aiding people with dementia and those who may be confused, may forget or be unable to activate their current alarm.

The technology also has the potential to be used as a decision support tool, meaning that if it detects a resident getting up frequently during the night, health and care professionals can review whether they need changes in their support.

Partners and supporters

The SMILE project is led by School of Informatics researchers in collaboration with key partners Blackwood Homes and Care and The Data Lab. The project is also supported by CareBuilder, Hildebrand, Mydex CIC & Smart Energy GB.

Blackwood Homes and Care is an innovative housing and care specialist that provides services across Scotland for people with physical disability, mobility, or age-related conditions to help them live independently. Blackwood has developed ‘the Blackwood House’, a new standard for a highly accessible, beautiful, affordable and connected home, with a programme for 150 new homes in Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh and demand for another 500 homes. Blackwood also developed a bespoke digital care system, CleverCogs™, which was recognised in the Scottish Parliament and by the Herald Digital Business Awards and evaluated by Carnegie UK Trust.

At Blackwood we are always looking for ways of enabling our customers to live more independently. The UK smart meter rollout programme presents an opportunity to use energy usage data for good. If we can prove the principle of the technology with this project, then we have an opportunity to provide a safety net for vulnerable people, to identify patterns of decline and provide early intervention, potentially saving lives and reducing hospital admissions.”

Colin Foskett
Head of Innovation at Blackwood Homes

The Data Lab is Scotland’s innovation centre for data and AI. Through hubs in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness, we foster innovation through collaboration, build skills and grow talent, and champion Scotland’s data science community. We help Scotland maximise value from data and lead the world to a data-powered future.

This project has the potential to shape the way we view machine learning and AI in social care settings, by empowering individuals to go about their daily routines without worry and only receive carer intervention when necessary.

The SMILE project is funded as part of The Data Lab Collaborative Innovation programme and further strengthens the relationship between Blackwood Homes and The Data Lab, cementing the relationship for further support in terms of skills, network access and external funding support in the years ahead.

We’re proud to be involved in such a forward-thinking project and look forward to receiving the initial findings soon. It is another fantastic example of data being used as a force for good.

Gillian Docherty
CEO of The Data Lab

Related Links

Lynda Webb

Blackwood Homes and Care

The Data Lab