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Girl sitting on the floorImagine this scenario: I’ve been home from the hospital for a few days when I finally find the energy to get out of bed, walk to the kitchen and make a bowl of soup. Unfortunately, halfway there, I step on one of my child’s errant toys that he never seems to pick up off the floor. In a flash, I drop to the ground and cry out in pain. Although no one is home to help, the “smart floor” beneath me realizes what has happened and calls for an ambulance to race to my aid.

Is this an opening scene from a Hollywood movie set in the future, or could this be the future of ordinary homes? What exactly is a smart floor?

Smart Floors in General

As the internet and sensor technology increasingly permeate the home, the floor has become part of the technological wave. Smart floors have the potential to change building designs, floor layouts, furniture styles and the way people facing medical challenges receive care.

These high-tech floors have sensors and electronics that detect movement, weight, pressure and other data to help improve security, construction methods, traffic flow, interior design and more.

Smart floors also can generate electricity by movement or turn on lights when sensors indicate someone has entered the room.

Smart Floors in the Hospital

Smart floors are already in a wide variety of buildings, including homes, offices and hospitals. For example, at Cleveland’s Global Center for Health Innovation, administrators and researchers wanted to solve many of the recurring problems hospitals face, including patient falls and equipment theft. Smart floors with antennas built into their base are able to pick up data from employee badges, equipment badges, patient wristbands and more.

The floor can monitor the location and status of patients, personnel and equipment. Administrators set up alarms to alert them to possible equipment theft and patient accidents. Smart floors in emergency wards can help medical staff keep track of patients in many ways.

Smart Floors at Home

Similar technology is going into smart homes. For example, an elderly patient living at home can receive audio instructions when he wanders into the wrong room or takes the wrong path down a hallway. Sensors in the floors detect the movement and trigger an announcement that alerts the patient when he’s in the wrong area.

Lowering Health-Care Costs

Faced with a growing senior population and rapidly rising health-care costs, scientists in Finland have pursued similar goals. They have developed a smart floor using sensors to determine the movements and locations of people on the floor. That data goes to the mobile device of a nurse or other medical professional. They can adjust their sensors to accommodate the needs of individual homes and activate different alarms depending on the patient involved. The smart floor sends data about daily changes in their walking routine and detects potential falls and illnesses. It’s a seamless solution that’s always on, providing monitoring around the clock.

Body Position and Posture

In Germany, researchers have developed a system called Gravity Space, which translates footsteps into images captured by cameras and can then identify different people and objects based on foot position and body posture. It provides constant coverage of the room, sending a steady stream of data for analysis.

Intelligent Floors

IBM has also made considerable strides in “intelligent floors” that know what’s happening on the surface. It uses an electronic, multi-touch covering with sensors layered throughout. The initial purpose of the intelligent floor was for use in surveillance and medical monitoring. In the surveillance realm, the company sought to reduce the number of false alarms that occur in homes and businesses. On the medical front, their system detects falls by patients, signifying a possible heart attack or other emergency. The system “knows” what is happening and alerts the proper medical authorities, caretakers and emergency personnel to respond to the situation.

Another recently developed smart-floor technology is from a company called Future Shape. The system is dubbed as the “SensFloor.” It uses a system of sensors layered into textiles in the floor. This floor transmits radio signals from sensors to a collection location.

Foot Power Generates Electricity

In addition to security and medical applications, some entrepreneurs are using the energy displaced by people walking on floors to generate power. Floor tiles and sensors collect the kinetic energy from people’s footsteps and convert it into energy stored in batteries. Later, when energy needs increase, the stored power swings into action. During the World Cup in Rio, energy-collecting tiles buried beneath a soccer field allowed the teams to play after dark.

As the smart home evolves, smart flooring is developing right along with it. There are several technological solutions at this point, though none has become a standard for the home-building industry yet. However, it might not be long before you are generating power for your own home by simply walking around. How’s that for a new way to live off the grid? And should you fall on the way to the kitchen to make some soup, your smart floor might just save your life.

Do you have a smart floor? What do you think? Tell us in the comments section.

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