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'Proximity Button' Has a Beacon to Keep At-Risk Individuals From Straying

Startup Proximity Care is marketing a system that sounds an alert on a caregiver's phone if a dementia patient or child is wandering off.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 09, 2016

U.K. startup Proximity Care is offering a low-cost solution for tracking the movements of individuals and issuing an alert if they wander away from caregivers. The system—consisting of a smartphone, an app and a wearable Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon—was developed by London industrial design consultancy Mettle Studio Ltd., and will be sold in the United Kingdom and Europe in November 2016, and in the United States next April.

Proximity Care was founded in 2014 by Natalie Price, who also serves as the creative producer of London-based advertising agency TMW Unlimited. Price says she was inspired to develop the solution by her mother, who works as a caregiver for Alzheimer's patients. Her mom must keep an eye on several patients whom she may take on walks or other excursions in small groups. It is imperative that no one wanders away, Price explains, but it is impossible for a caregiver to be looking in two directions at once.

The Proximity Button is designed to be clipped onto a user's clothing via a magnet.
"I knew about beacon technology and wondered if it could provide a solution," Price says. She took the idea to Mettle Studio, which helped to create the app and wearable device that would enable anyone with the phone and app to know if a person who wore the device had wandered beyond its transmission range.

Proximity Care's Natalie Price
Mettle specializes in the crossover between hardware and software, and also manufactures products and develops apps, according to Sam Parkinson, the firm's technical director. The company makes solutions that include sensors, electronics housings, signal-processing systems and data-management apps. "This is the first time we've worked on beacons for a commercial product," he states.

The system is designed to be simple to use. A user downloads the free app onto his or her iOS or Android phone. The wearable beacon device, known as the Proximity Button, can be powered on or off by squeezing it. When activated, the Bluetooth device transmits its unique ID number at regular intervals, and the phone, when within range, receives that transmission. The app has an algorithm to monitor and analyze signal strengths, and is designed to disregard normal signal changes as a person wearing the Proximity Button moves around the phone (carried by the caregiver). If the transmission drops off entirely for a predetermined span of time, however, the app-management software detects the problem, prompting the app to sound an audible alert on the caregiver's phone and notify him or her that the patient has stepped out of range.

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