GENEVA What if your home could tell you when to take medicine, or when your body needed more exercise, or if it could call for help if you became ill? Or even find your reading glasses? Such so-called smart homes are approaching reality as Switzerland and other European countries increase their focus on researching new technologies for aging populations.
Population demographics in Europe are changing. The next few decades will be characterized by an older population living longer, more independent lives. The Swiss Federal Office for Statistics reports that at the end of 2012, 52.9% of the population was already over the age of 40. European data show that a quarter of Europe will be over 65 by 2035.
Institutions and corporations are looking for ways to meet the needs of people who wish to continue living independently in their homes with the assistance of information and communication technology. The aim is to allow inhabitants to enjoy a higher quality of life with minimum intrusion, but to be able to receive assistance when needed. Lucerne University of Applied Science and Arts has developed the iHomeLab, which focuses on building intelligence. Andreas Rumsch, senior research and development engineer at the iHomeLab, says they are developing new technology for what they call called Ambient Assisted Living (AAL), or technology to assist people with personal security.
One type of smart home is specifically designed for personal security. It has sensors in all rooms of the home, which would recognize normal movement patterns. When those patterns became abnormal, such as a cared-for resident not going into the kitchen to make breakfast at the usual time, or if they went too frequently to the toilet, or not at all, the sensors would send an alert signal. If the resident does not acknowledge the signal, it would be forwarded to a remote receptor informing family or outside caregivers that something is awry. Rumsch maintains this could be as discreet as a lamp whose light bulb changes colour, or a picture frame displaying a message. The recipient can then get in touch with the resident. If there is indeed a crisis, the recipient can either view the person’s home via a webcam or notify emergency services. If necessary, the smart home can also notify emergency services itself.
Some AAL technology, such as internet alerts when a stove is left on, is already on the market, with companies including Switzerland’s ABB forming alliances on development. Other, more complex technologies, such as sensors built into mattresses to measure heart rate and respiration rate, are still being fine-tuned.
Munich University of Technology last year unveiled its “Wonderwall”, essentially a high-tech wardrobe with a small touch screen. Through biosensors, it can do everything from monitoring the inhabitants’ heart rates and blood pressure, or making recommendations such as taking a walk to reduce blood pressure. It can also locate misplaced glasses and warn residents if they’re about to leave home without taking their keys, proving that a home could soon be smarter than its inhabitants.