Alex Mihailidis appointed to chair at
TORONTO – Advancing
the “intelligent home environment” has earned Dr. Alex Mihailidis
(pictured) the new Barbara G. Stymiest Chair in Rehabilitation
Technology Research at Toronto Rehab.
His work encompasses homes that know when you have fallen, kitchens that
assess your nutritional intake and flooring that monitors your vital
signs. And even a voice that politely reminds you where you’ve put your
Dr. Mihailidis’ vision for an intelligent home – considered far-fetched
by many just a decade ago – was inspired by a colleague whose wife had
early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Today, Dr. Mihailidis is recognized internationally for his use of
artificial intelligence, computer visioning and voice-recognition
technology to support older people and those with disabilities in their
“We are closer than ever to realizing our vision of an intelligent home
that uses these capabilities to help people age in place, giving them
independence and reducing demands on caregivers and the healthcare
system,” says Dr. Mihailidis, a biomedical engineer and an associate
professor of occupational science and occupational therapy at the
University of Toronto.
“Imagine if every brick or other building materials, such as flooring or
wallboard, could include the computer and networking capabilities needed
for an intelligent environment,” he says. “The idea is that no matter
what you are doing, the home recognizes your intent. No matter what your
abilities and preferences, it provides a system to meet your needs –
whether it’s coaching you through tasks or reminding you where you left
your keys. These systems could apply to anyone – without or without a
Already, Dr. Mihailidis’ team has developed a home-based fall-detection
device that knows when a person has fallen and can call for help. The
system includes ceiling-mounted cameras and uses artificial intelligence
to ‘learn’ and track the actions and patterns of the user. If it senses
the user has fallen or stopped moving, it can ask questions, recognize
different responses and, if necessary, alert relatives or dial an
There’s also a sophisticated system that uses artificial intelligence to
“prompt” people with dementia through the task of hand washing and other
daily activities. Like the fall detection system, it has a camera that
sends images to a computer. The computer then compares the person’s
motions to a set of recorded algorithms and reminds them if they’ve
forgotten a step.
Now, the team is working on a new feature that will monitor what a
person is eating and drinking – and how often. Eating habits can
deteriorate in older people and those who have memory problems – with
potentially serious consequences, such as dehydration and malnutrition.
In the future, the system will be able to monitor other activities, such
as medication use, detect changes in a person’s health, and provide
warning messages before things deteriorate. The technology will also be
used for other daily activities such as dressing and cooking.
“Because an intelligent home learns and adapts to the habits of its
occupants, it can interact with a person if his or her behaviour does
not fit with typical patterns and, if necessary, alert caregivers,” Dr.
The Toronto-born scientist will use his research chair to move from
standalone systems that need to be installed in a home to a “fully
integrated intelligent home environment”. Futuristic though it might
seem, Dr. Mihailidis talks about incorporating the different
capabilities into the building materials themselves, a concept he calls
Dr. Geoff Fernie, Toronto Rehab’s Vice President, Research, says the new
appointment is “recognition of Alex and the fact that we really believe
his field of research has an important future here. We’re an applied
institution, which means we believe that within a reasonable timeframe,
this work will have important implications for the people we serve.”
The Barbara G. Stymiest Chair in Rehabilitation Technology Research was
made possible by donors to Everything Humanly Possible: The Campaign for
Toronto Rehab in honour of the Campaign Chair – Barbara Stymiest, Group
Head, Strategy, Treasury & Corporate Services at RBC.
Dr. Mihailidis was recently named president-elect of the Rehabilitation
Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America.
About Toronto Rehab
Toronto Rehab is at the forefront of one of the most important and
emerging frontiers in health care today – rehabilitation science. As a
fully affiliated teaching and research hospital of the University of
Toronto, Toronto Rehab is a leading academic provider of adult
rehabilitation services, complex continuing care and long-term care.
Toronto Rehab is revolutionizing rehabilitation knowledge and practice
through research and education to maximize life.
Posted December 16, 2010