When Minutes Matter

Dr. Mohammed Imtiaz with students Kelsey Vogt, Sean Miller and Ethan Supler. (Duane Zehr photo)

Additional images

Matt Hawkins
February 19, 2018

When an elderly person falls, every minute could be a life-or-death matter. Bradley business and engineering students are developing a medical alert device that could save time by automatically calling for assistance.

Unlike many devices on the market, the Bradley team’s fall alarm doesn’t require the user to activate the system. Instead, it senses falls and automatically notifies user-designated contacts, who can then check on the loved one and call for help if needed. It’s designed as an option for people with dementia or others who may not be able to press a button to call for help.

“The clock starts ticking when an elderly person falls, so I wanted to find a way to minimize the time it takes to get help,” said electrical engineering professor Mohammed Imtiaz, who was inspired to develop a device after his mother fell and couldn’t quickly call for help. “This puts families and caretakers at ease because they will know about an emergency as soon as it happens.”

The fall alarm is part of the convergence project initiative between the Foster College of Business and Caterpillar College of Engineering and Technology. Senior business and engineering students devote a year to collaboratively develop, design and market professional products. The experience models research and development processes students will likely encounter after graduation.

“We’ve learned how to jump into a field and succeed in an area we’re not familiar with,” said management information systems major Ethan Supler ’18, of Homewood, Ill. “It’s a good real-world test instead of classroom scenarios where we’re working toward a specific answer.”

Students build on groundwork started during the spring 2017 semester. Electrical engineering students developed algorithms to differentiate between normal human motion and harmful events such as falls. They also tested features the alarm could incorporate, such as alerts for unusually long periods of inactivity or the ability to predict future risks by noticing differences in motion patterns. These predictive capabilities could allow wearers to seek proactive physical therapy or even diagnose diseases that affect motor skills.

While engineers developed hardware, business majors researched the marketplace. They looked at size, placement, usage ease and features.

The alarm started as a box about the size of a playing cards deck, and a second version was half the size. Future developments could turn the alarm into an even smaller piece of wearable technology.

Collaboration forced students to see the project from new perspectives. They learned to speak the other discipline’s basic “language” and worked through occasional conflicts between engineering idealism and business pragmatism.

“We all have very different training. Engineering is obsessed with device performance while business is focused on marketability,” said electrical engineering major Sean Miller ’18, of Freeport, Illinois. “It’s great to learn how to work together and give customers what they want with the best technology available.”

Because students worked with an on-campus client, they benefitted from Imtiaz’s mentorship. His guidance made it easier for the team to work through challenges.

“I can’t put a value on interaction we’ve had with Dr. Imtiaz,” said finance major Kelsey Vogt ’18, of Barrington, Ill. “It’s been great to work with a professor who wants to help us so much. I know we won’t always have that strong support in the future.”

If the alarm makes it to the marketplace, Imtiaz hopes it can be a humanitarian contribution to Peoria and the world. Students expect the final product could be significantly cheaper than competitors. By continuing data analysis and product refinements through the university, the device could keep improving and double as a valuable research tool.

“I want to help the community,” he said. “I’m an idealist in that I believe academia should be doing something for the greater good. It will be very rewarding if this project can do that.”