Imagine a bed so smart that it knows whether or not you’re in it. Imagine a bed that can tell you if your heart rate is at a dangerous level or can alert you that your child has stopped breathing. It sounds impossible, but researchers in Melbourne are already making this innovative piece of technology a reality.
When the makers of Sleeptite developed a silicone-based fabric containing thousands of tiny sensors that could tell whether or not there was a person lying on top of it, they had Alzheimer’s patients in mind. They wanted to be able to detect how much pressure was being put on the fabric and alert staff that an elderly patient had either rolled out of bed accidentally or had gotten up in the middle of the night and wandered off, either of which could pose a serious safety risk for a senior with dementia.
But this fabric has some serious perks for people in other situations as well. Parents of children with autism who tend to wander off or engage in destructive behavior when unsupervised will be able to sleep easy knowing they’ll be alerted if their child gets out of bed. Parents of neurotypical children may want the extra reassurance of a piece of technology that monitors whether their children are in bed at night as well. This ingenious tool could even prevent kids from running away from home or being kidnapped.
The best part? Down the road, researchers believe they’ll be able to integrate heart rate and breathing monitors into the fabric, opening it up to a much wider array of uses. Preemie infants might not have to be hooked up to so many monitors in the hospital, or the fabric could provide the added comfort of continuing to monitor a baby’s vitals after he or she gets home from the hospital. Researchers believe the fabric would be an effective prevention method for SIDS as well.
When the heart rate and breathing monitors get up and running, people with diabetes could be woken up during hyper- or hypoglycemic episodes so that they can take insulin or eat something sugary to get their blood sugar back under control. Others could use it to monitor their heart conditions, or it might even alert them to conditions they didn’t even know they had. The ideas are endless!
Nursing home and hospital staff will be able to monitor the vitals of patients without having to connect a bunch of wires to their skin, which could make sleep uncomfortable or impossible.
“For example, if you’ve got a carer with ten beds under their control,” says Cameron Van Den Dungen of Sleeptite, “we’ll be able to alert them to any potential issues in a certain room which means they can be most efficient with their time.”
$1.7 billion of government money has been invested in the product, confident that the technology’s benefits can reach far beyond the original goal of alerting nursing home staff when a patient falls out of bed. We have high hopes for Sleeptite and hope to see more from it in the near future!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?