New IoT research project aims to provide trusted high-quality elderly care

By equipping the rooms of care-needing people with internet-connected sensors, it’s possible to provide much better care at a much lower cost – the hard part is making the internet of things (IoT) applications secure. “We have initiated a new research project that we hope will result in a truly secure smart-healthcare system for elderly as well as younger and healthier people,” says Helen Holst, CIO at the Swedish City of Solna.

The elderly population is growing quickly. It is estimated that there were 0.9 billion people over age 65 in the world in 2015, and this number is projected to grow to 1.4 billion by 2030 and 2.1 billion by 2050.

“The share of younger people in the population keeps shrinking, which means that it is paramount to take advantage of smart technology to make high-quality elderly care less staff-intensive,” says Shahid Raza, the technical project leader and head of cybersecurity at RISE, which is Sweden’s research institute and innovation partner.

Existing initiatives are not secure enough

There are already several e-health initiatives in care facilitates around the world, but they are all based on off-the-shelf devices, mostly proprietary.

“The main problems with this are that they use closed-source communication protocols, meaning the systems are locked down to specific technology vendors – and that the security isn’t good enough,” says Raza.

The goal of the project, SecureCare, is to design, implement, and deploy a smart-healthcare system for citizens – elderly as well as younger and healthier – that can be used as a model and replicated on a large scale.

Enabling end-to-end security

“In addition to using open internet protocols and standards for smart connectivity and reliability, the fundamental focus of this project will be to enable automated end-to-end security between households and smart-care providers, which is completely lacking in existing solutions,” says Raza.

SecureCare also aims to make it easier to create secure smart-healthcare systems with technology from different vendors.

“We will be able to secure the whole chain from staff accessing the system to the transfer of information from sensors. This project will be an opportunity to validate the security and user experience in a real environment in an elderly care home in the City of Solna.” says Fredrik Björklund, CTO at digital care and e-health system supplier Alleato.

Sensors reporting information about residents

There will, for example, be sensors that report if the residents don’t return to their beds after a bathroom visit during night, sensors that prevent residents from falling, and sensors that report if the residents have forgotten to close their doors or windows.

“Information from several sensors is combined, as a guide for smart and responsive actions by the staff,” says Holst.

With sensors monitoring people’s daily lives, privacy is of course of uttermost importance. Therefore, all internet-connected sensors are secured by a unique digital identity, based on public key infrastructure (PKI) technology.

Issuing digital identities to staff

“PKI enables encryption, authentication, and digital signatures, which makes it possible to protect communication with the sensors,” says Martin Furuhed, PKI expert at identity and security company Nexus Group, which is a project partner.

“The connected devices interact securely with systems that can only be accessed by authorized staff. We contribute with technology for issuing and managing the lifecycle of digital identities for staff and devices as well as technology for authenticating people in a secure and user-friendly manner” says Furuhed.

Combining human care with technology

SecureCare is funded by the strategic innovation program Internet of Things Sweden, which in turn is funded by Vinnova, Formas and Energimyndigheten. The project started in September of 2018 and will continue until August of 2021. The budding smart-healthcare system will continuously be evaluated and improved.

“Our dedicated and technically interested staff in the elderly care home is a very important part of this project, and the same of course holds true for our elderly residents. We are proud of this project, since it increases the care quality by combining human care with reliable and safe technology,” says Holst.