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Falls in elderly is a major health problem and a cost burden to social services. Thus automatic fall detectors are needed to support the independence and security of the elderly. The goal of this research is to develop a real-time portable wireless fall detection system, which is capable of automatically discriminating between falls and Activities of Daily Life (ADL). The fall detection system contains a portable fall-detection terminal and a monitoring centre, both of which communicate with ZigBee protocol. To extract the features of falls, falls data and ADL data obtained from young subjects are analyzed. Based on the characteristics of falls, an effective fall detection algorithm using tri-axis accelerometers is introduced, and the results show that falls can be distinguished from ADL with a sensitivity over 95% and a specificity of 100%, for a total set of 270 movements.