Participants in the BREATHE project led by Professor Katharine Willis.

This EPSRC Network Plus Beyond project 'Human Data Interaction and the Future of the City' aims to understand how people in rural communities can be helped to breathe more easily by sharing breathing data in an 'Internet of Things' (IoT) ' in the wild' test bed network. Led by Katharine Willis, Professor of Smart Cities and Communities, it looks at piloting smart technology within rural and coastal communities, like in the South West of England. In collaboration with Ray Jones, Professor of Health Informatics and the eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (EPIC) project, the project is engaging with technology companies, local breather groups and GP services.

Partnering with the South West IoT Network, Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) and Edinburgh IoT Network, the project aims to provide a model for policy change across the UK.

The project will include:

  • Breathing networks: a pilot to test the implementation of a network of people creating/sharing data on breathing through the LoRaWAN IoT as part of the South West IoT Network.
  • A breath of fresh air: test a low power IoT network in isolated communities in Cornwall.
  • Breathe together: evaluate the benefits for improving health outcomes for patients by partnering with ‘Breathers’ support groups through the EPIC project.
  • All breathe: test if the project can be replicated elsewhere in the UK, starting with the highlands and islands of Scotland.

Participants in the Breathe Project led by Professor Katharine Willis
Participants in the BREATHE project led by Professor Katharine Willis.

Breathing networks

Smart technologies are rarely used in isolated coastal and rural settings, like that of the South West of England. Smart sensors and networks are commonly seen as urban technologies. However, it is this technology that stands to benefit rural, poorly connected communications much more, enabling people to manage data themselves. Enabling connections through technology can support some of the most traumatic health challenges related to breathing. From asthma to COPD, accessing personal data about breathing can help self-awareness of the condition and allow data sharing with health professionals to help manage symptoms. For those living with these conditions in rural areas, everyday data sharing of this kind can be challenging when help cannot be access quickly.

Internet of Things (IoT) In the wild

The BREATHE project will look at implementing a low power LoRaWAN network in rural Cornwall that will allow breathing data to be shared easily with respiratory conditions network and GPs and ultimately improve patients' quality of life.

It aims to understand if by sharing data in an IoT ‘in the wild’ test bed network, it helps people in rural communities breathe more easily. 

BREATHE aims to test ‘in the wild’ interactions with data to understand how IoT technologies work off-grid and in areas of poor connectivity or ‘wild’ rural and coastal settings. In this patients will wear smart biometric sensors and use speaker interfaces linked to IoT networks. 

Data ethics

The project seeks to address some of the ethical challenges in how people access and share their data, especially health data which is highly personal with high consequences if shared with commercial companies. 

Testing smart sensor networks ‘in the wild’ has not been widely undertaken and this project will seek to create a model of data sharing where people and communities share data to help both the individual, the group and more widely for the treatment of particular health conditions.

Smart communities

Smart cities concepts have focused on urban, high connected cities with the isolated, ‘village’ community being overlooked. This project seeks to address this by facing some of the challenges these communities face – geographical isolation, lack of resources and connectivity.

Smart sensors have rarely been tested ‘in the wild’ with people, especially where people are given control over their own data with help to navigate how they share it in ways that positively impact their everyday lives.

On a technical level, the project aims to demonstrate the benefits of IoT networks ‘in the wild’ with a view to new products and services being created, to innovate off-grid data sharing for health policy guidance on data ethics and truly benefit patients and people living with health conditions in rural and coastal communities.

Read the Human Data Interaction project story.

Collecting data

This graph shows a day’s BREATHE data for one participant.

A day’s BREATHE data for one participant

Professor Katharine Willis

Professor Willis is Professor of Smart Cities and Communities and part of the Centre for Health Technology at the University of Plymouth. She leads on the UKRI-funded Centre for Health Technology Pop-up.

Over the last two decades she has worked to understand how technology could support communities and contribute to better connections to space and place. Her recent research addresses issues of digital and social inclusion in smart cities, and aims to provide guidance as to how we can use digital connectivity to create smarter neighbourhoods.

Find out more about Professor Katharine Willis

Katharine Willis
Online tele medicine isometric concept. Medical consultation and treatment via application of smartphone connected internet clinic.

Centre for Health Technology

Bringing together digital health and health technology expertise from across the University to drive the development, evaluation and implementation of innovative technologies, products, services and approaches to transform health and social care.