LevenIsWater: one less worry for people living alone

How IoT can make living alone safer

In 2013, the CBS (Central Bureau for Statistics) predicted that the number of elderly persons living alone would rise sharply in the coming years. This development increases the chance that older people living alone will lie helpless in their homes as the result of an accident or acute medical problem. Now and then, a sad example of one of these situations makes the newspapers. The solution for this problem comes from an unexpected source. LevenIsWater (‘Life is Water’), a start-up initiative taken by Auke van Balen, is developing an alarm system that uses water consumption in a home to monitor whether or not a person living alone is still following their daily routine. This Internet of Things (IoT) concept applies a smart combination of a water sensor, the KPN LoRa (Long-Range) network, and Microsoft Azure. Betabit developed the interface between LoRa and Azure.

There are several ways for elderly people living alone to get help in the event of an accident or emergency at home. They can naturally do this with a mobile telephone, and some wear alarm pendants. These devices are however not always within reach, and don’t really help if a person has lost consciousness or is lying helpless on the floor. Motion sensors and cameras in the home can create problems involving privacy. Van Balen: ‘Water consumption is a reliable indicator to determine whether or not a person living alone is still following their daily routine. After all, water consumption requires human actions, such as turning on the tap or flushing the toilet.’ The LevenIsWater principle is simple. Using two clamps, the sensor is installed onto the main water supply pipe and registers water consumption. If almost no water is consumed during a certain timeframe, for example 12 hours, even though the resident is home, an alarm is automatically triggered. The goal is to eventually customise the signal using pattern recognition.

Reliable communication
A sensor alone is not enough to improve safety in the home. During an emergency, it is crucial for a report to be sent automatically. Van Balen: ‘Reliable communication between the sensor and the rest of the system is essential. Sometimes, the sensor is located in a hard-to-reach place. Communication via the GSM network places excessive demands on batteries. A local network such as WiFi is not reliable enough. The LevenIsWater sensor sends a verification message once every 24 hours to indicate it is still active. The sensor’s power consumption must be minimal so that the entire system will continue to work for three to five years without requiring maintenance.’

Energy-efficient LoRa network
LevenIsWater has addressed this challenge through a partnership with KPN. KPN’s Long Range network (LoRa) is designed to exchange small amounts of information between objects and systems. LoRa was also developed for ultra-low power consumption, and to serve as an energy-efficient solution that is very suitable for IoT applications. The low transmission energy consumption and the communication protocol used means that LoRa cannot be monitored by third parties. Security is also guaranteed since data is always encrypted. KPN is currently rapidly expanding the LoRa network which will ensure national coverage in the near future.

Fully automated process
The message that the sensor sends via LoRa after a period without water consumption arrives in the back-end system. This system includes a database that contains information on participants, contact persons and sensors. Van Balen: ‘After it receives a message, the system automatically dials the telephone number of the person living alone. If the phone is answered, there is probably nothing wrong. However, if no-one answers, the contact persons registered for this person are called immediately. These neighbours, family or friends can go check on the person living alone. All this information is input online via the front-end system. This is also where participants can input changes or report that they will be out of town for a few days, for example.’

Secure and scalable platform
LevenIsWater wanted to find a reliable, scalable and secure platform to serve as the engine for the communication system. The cloud satisfies all these criteria, and the decision was made to use Azure from Microsoft. Not only is this a stable, always-on environment, it also guarantees scalability and security. This allows LevenIsWater to grow without restrictions and without having to make concessions when it comes to the security of data and the privacy of participants. Betabit handled the entire Azure portion of the system.

Open Source
The decision to use Azure meant that a link was required between the KPN LoRa network and the Azure cloud. Betabit built this interface. Betabit’s Sjoerd van Roessel: ‘We designed this new interface in co-creation with KPN. It was a technical challenge to connect these two worlds for the first time, and in the right way, and as a result, we were able to offer part of the technical foundation for LevenIsWater. Our perspective is broader, however. We are making the NuGet package for the interface available free of charge so that it will be easy for other developers to create IoT applications for KPN-LoRa and Azure.’

Pilot in the domestic care sector
The idea for LevenIsWater has now been worked out in concrete terms, and is available as a functional prototype. Van Balen: ‘We are speaking with various organisations that can benefit from this solution. One domestic care organisation is very enthusiastic about the idea, and would like to start a pilot project. Water companies have also demonstrated interest. Thanks to this innovative technology, LevenIsWater can make a real contribution to increased safety for people living alone.’

For more information, please contact Marjolein van Ommeren by mail or by phone on +31 10 414 61 71