U-Health Smart Home

By Nazim Agoulmine, M. Jamal Deen, Jeong-Soo Lee, and M. Meyyappan

NOTE: This is an abstract of the entire article, which appeared in the September 2011 issue of the IEEE Nanotechnology Magazine.
Click here to read the entire article.

The management of people with chronic diseases and the elderly is steadily pushing health-care costs upward in a dramatic way that could jeopardize the survivability of any national health- care system.

It has been proven that effective prevention of diseases and early detection of health problems help to significantly reduce the cost of health care. It is then necessary to develop new types of devices and protocols to implement these measures as soon as possible. Hence, to reduce the high cost of hospitalization or management in costly specialized institutions, it is necessary to develop new systems that allow the elderly and those with chronic diseases to live safely in their own home.

This future home aims to provide self-management-style health and safety services to its inhabitants, e.g., self-health monitoring and medical self-measurements. While the patients will be self-managed for most of the time, the smart home is always connected to a back-end medical institution (e.g., hospital) where doctors are continuously informed about the situation of the smart home inhabitant. Also, through technologies such as game consoles, the inhabitant can be encouraged to practice regular exercise, weight control, and a diet suitable for their chronic condition.

This concept of a ubiquitous healthcare (U-Health) smart home for the elderly has been identified by governments and medical institutions as an important part of the economical, technological, and socially acceptable solution to maintain the health welfare system viable for future generations.


A new generation of a ubiquitous health smart home is being developed at Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) in Korea by integrating advances in information and communications technologies, nanotechnology, and biotechnlogy to support the elderly and/or people with chronic diseases in their own home. The goal of the U-Health smart home is to help the elderly to continue to live a more independent life as long as possible in their own home while being monitored and assisted (as much as possible) in an unobtrusive manner.


The functional architecture of the U-Health smart home is composed of four layers, as depicted in the figure below. Innovation is expected in each layer of this architecture, which is the aim of the POSTECH project. The general requirements at each layer of this architecture are presented below.

Autonomic U-Health smart home framework
Autonomic U-Health smart home framework

Click to enlarge


The lower layer consists of two main components: the sensors and actuators. The sensor components are physical devices that collect data about the environment (e.g., temperature, presence, sound, and gas/vapor) and about the health status of the monitored inhabitant (blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature). Actuators are physical devices that allow performing remote action on the environment (e.g., light control and appliance control) or on the monitored inhabitant's body (e.g., drug delivery such as insulin). There are a variety of sensors and devices available for monitoring a patient's health status: e.g., we can find a blood glucose sensor that is capable of continuously monitoring the blood glucose level, and an electrocardiography sensor can measure the activity of the heart. All these sensors can use wireless communication to send data directly or via the HCN to the U-Health smart home ADMS.


The second layer of the framework is the HCN. Data generated by various sensors must be delivered to the ADMS for effective coordination of the actions in the smart home. Deployed sensors and actuators transmit their data either through wireless communication technologies.


The third layer is the autonomic computing part, the U-Health smart home ADMS, which is a computing system installed in the home and connected to the Internet. It constitutes the heart of the system where all the decisions are made. Data generated by the environmental sensors and medical sensors are transmitted to the ADMS smart home gateway through the HCN. The ADMS collects, filters, and analyzes the data and then saves it in a local database.


The last layer is the service part of the architecture. This layer describes the set of health-care and safety services that will be delivered by the ADMS. These services can be either related to safety in the daily life of the inhabitant or to their health. The portfolio of services that could be provided can depend on the specific status of the inhabitant and the available devices in the home.


A significant missing piece of capability to realize the U-Home currently is the area of biolomedical sensors. Only a few devices are available, including blood pressure, pulse, heartbeat, and blood glucose. The anticipated sensor needs in a future smart home can be summarized as follows: 1) sensors or a lab-on-a-chip to monitor vital functions, including pH, cholesterol, complete blood count, white blood cell count, urine analysis, troponin-I (heart attack), bilirubin, and metabolic panel (Na, K, and Ca); 2) sensors for chronic diseases such as diabetes and asthma; 3) sensors for contagious diseases, e.g., flu, other viral diseases, and bacterial infections; and 4) sensors for specific diseases as demanded by the specific inhabitants of the smart home.

At POSTECH, we have chosen a silicon nanowire (Si-NW)-based bio-FET as our sensor platform. A bio-FET is like a typical FET with the conventional gate replaced by an electrolyte solution (the sample and a reference electrode). The bio-FET has the ability to detect charges from biological molecules.


The U-Health initiative is being pursued vigorously in several nations across the world with strong research and development programs in many universities with participation from hospitals and industry. The showstopper to realize the full potential of the initiative is the lack of availability of biomedical sensors that are small, reliable, sensitive, and inexpensive. This is a challenge that the NT community can take head-on since it has the materials, processes, tools, and the interdisciplinary knowledge to develop low-cost biosensors.


This work was supported by the World Class University Program on IT-Convergence Engineering at POSTECH through the National Research Foundation of Korea funded by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (R31-2008-000-10100-0).


Nazim Agoulmine (nazim.agoulmine@iup.univ-evry.fr) is a full professor at the University of Evry, France, and a WCU distinguished visiting professor at POSTECH, Korea. He is leading a research group on networking and multimedia systems (IBISC Laboratory) and is an area editor of International Journal on Computer Networks. He is a coauthor of three books in network architectures and management and a book on autonomic networks. His research interests include wired and wireless network management and control, autonomic networks, and sensor networks. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE.

M. Jamal Deen (jamal@mcmaster.ca) is a professor of electrical and computer engineering and senior Canada research chair in information technology, McMaster University, Canada. His research interests include opto- and nanoelectronics for health and environmental applications. He is a Fellow of the IEEE.

Jeong-Soo Lee (ljs6951@postech.ac.kr) is an assistant professor in the Electrical Engineering Department at POSTECH and vice director of the National Center for Nanomaterials Technology.

M. Meyyappan (m.meyyappan@nasa.gov) is chief scientist for exploration technology at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California. He is a Fellow of the IEEE, Electrochemical Society, American Vacuum Society, and Material Research Society. He served as the president of the IEEE Nanotechnology Council from 2006 to 2007. He is currently the managing editor of IEEE Nanotechnology Magazine.