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Psychiatric Ward Uses RFID-based Alarms to Bolster Personnel Security

The system, developed by researchers at Finland's Tampere University of Technology, includes active tags with an alarm button and routers that form a wireless sensor network.
By Rhea Wessel
Sep 24, 2010Researchers at Finland's Tampere University of Technology (TUT) have developed a low-latency wireless sensor network that is currently being used to improve the security of personnel in a psychiatric ward at Kainuu Central Hospital, in the city of Kajaani. The network was designed at the university, and the security application for wireless alarming, requested by the hospital, was implemented with the low-latency network in the spring and summer of 2009.

According to the designers, the network is one of the first to feature multi-hop, low-delay data transfer and energy-efficient mobile tags with a battery that can last for approximately one to two years, depending on usage levels. The network devices, which operate at 2.4 GHz, use proprietary data transfer and wireless communications protocols developed at TUT. The protocols, the designers report, are optimized for robust and reliable operation.

The battery-powered tag includes a button that an employee can push to summon help.
The system consists of battery-powered tags, as well as routers that receive signals from those tags. The routers form a wireless multi-hop network that forwards the tag data to gateways that then transfer the information to a system server. All of the hardware—comprising standard off-the-shelf components, such as microcontrollers and radio chips—was developed at TUT.

Ville Kaseva, a TUT researcher working on the project, notes that sensors can be added to the network devices so that a variety of parameters can be measured and monitored via the network.

"Usually, wireless sensor networks are built to conserve energy for all network devices, which are battery-operated," Kaseva explains. "With the system we designed, routers are plugged into an electricity source and are active almost all the time, to allow for quick data transfer through multiple wireless hops."

At Kainuu Central Hospital, personnel are using the network with specially designed tags to alert supervisors if they are in a threatening situation in the ward. The palm-sized, battery-powered tags include a button that an employee can push if he or she needs help, causing the tag to transmit an alarm signal encoded with a unique serial number that identifies the individual to whom the tag was issued. The device's signal is transmitted to all routers in the vicinity, for reliability and positioning purposes. A single device's range can be as long as 25 meters (82 feet) indoors. The network set up at the facility covers 1,300 square meters (13,993 square feet) and includes a total of 50 static devices acting as routers or gateways, as well as 12 mobile tags used as alarming devices.

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