Living in a Smart House (Part 2)

In Melbourne, an application called “Ask Izzy” provides the homeless with daily, on-demand updates on the locations where food, accommodations and social services may be accessed for free or at huge discounts. The application is well received because it keeps the information it receives from the homeless population strictly personal and confidential through use of smartphones, which over 75% of Melbourne’s homeless population have access to. Access to the Internet is highly affordable since they use the free Wi-Fi available in the central area and access free commercially promoted chargers. Many of their smartphones come through donations and as recycled models that can access the Ask Izzy site. Coupled with this site is another online application called “Go Digi” that helps homeless and unemployed Australians to learn how to use the Internet and develop digital skills, access information, mentors and other resources. In order to rise out of perpetual homelessness and poverty, Go Digi attempts to support the urban poor with options for self-improvement, especially to bridge the digital divide. Through mentorship and encouragement, people can seek opportunities to develop digital skills and identify opportunities for employment and housing, all the while creating a sense of self-worth.

smarthouse1.pngWhere smart houses become especially important is to provide opportunities for the elderly, house-bound and physically challenged individuals to lead independent and vital lives in an environmentally friendly, efficient, cost-effective and safe environment. Here preventive support and overall health and well-being efforts can be provided, monitored, and through technology and support groups, intervention may be possible at different levels to support independent-living. These smart homes become a living, working and leisure space for them, especially for an aging working population that could benefit from ever emerging applications, adapted to their specified needs, desires and medical requirements. For instance, as people age, there are many applications that can help to keep people physically and mentally fit focused on nutrition, exercise, ergonomics, and stress management.  Applications are already available for managing weight, diabetes, and to identify situations which can help to prevent falls in a home. Dedicated remote controlled devices and systems are incorporated to provide energy management and security support. Robots and other autonomous systems are being tested to assist in supporting independent living. Today, for instance, many elderly Japanese citizens benefit from Softbank’s Pepper Robot that is not only a companion to the elderly, but learns how to help the elderly in their efforts towards independent living. Through artificial intelligence-supported learning systems, future robotics and embedded automation will become commonplace in our homes.

smarthouse2.pngBack at the Eindhoven Smart Home, I connected to a caregiver on a computer monitor to order my breakfast. Before placing my order, the specialist asked me health related questions. As a routine, the connection with a live person would augment and validate the data that would be coming in to the health care specialists. Acting as a team, the integrated data would be shared and preventative strategies would be coordinated. Exercise, medical prescriptions and other recommendations on personal grooming would be offered. Over the course of my visit we repeated this routine. With all the data that was collected, my report was able to tell me, and presumably the health workers and doctors in real time, a lot about myself. More than I wanted to know, that was for sure! The applications generate a vast amount of data that can be used to analyze not only health conditions but can be used to generate strategies to assist the occupant with preventative medical solutions as well as provide vendors data used to improve their product design and services. Presumably a win for everyone involved.

In all these cases vast amounts of data is being generated to measure, monitor and analyze how to support, and where necessary, intervene to ensure safe and comfortable independent living for its occupants. Of course, knowing that a senior citizen is safe and being cared for provides much comfort for the individual and family members, especially for those living at great distances from their elderly family members. But this nevertheless raises many questions about privacy. How to protect people’s privacy in these cases will need to be considered. How is the use of this data, monitoring on a 24/7 bases and potential onsite visits by external individuals to be perceived by these occupants, especially the elderly? Privacy issues can potentially include negative impacts on insurance rates, unwanted commercial interference and the potential for misuse by other family members and even by caregivers.

Overall, my experience in the Eindhoven Smart Home back in 2010 was an experience about living in a home in the future that I, in some parts, now see in my home today. I have a smart TV that some say listens and watches me as well and my Nest thermostat informs me of my duties to keep it at the eco-temperatures to help save the world. We have more computers in our appliances and in our home than most business offices would have had a decade ago.  We have smart meters for our water and electricity, sensors for security and LED lights that are controlled by motion. Many of us are now charging our electric cars at home, actively use cameras to monitor rooms, control their door locks and window blinds from their smartphones and are off the grid using solar and wind technologies to generate and store energy at home. Hmmm....I guess many of us are already living in Smart Houses now.

(Based on the article first published in MyLiveableCity Magazine July-September 2017 pages 28-33. For more information: www.myliveablecity.com)

Co-Founder/Chair ICF; ICF Canada, formerly CTT/ GTMA/CEDA/Board CUI, Urban Planner & Designer, Author & Speaker on Econ Devel/ Smart & Intelligent Cities
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