As several household objects (smart TV, smart fridge, smart doors, etc) are now connected to the Internet (Internet of Things) the concept smart homes is emerging as a new reality.
As several household objects (smart TV, smart fridge, smart doors, etc) are now connected to the Internet (Internet of Things) the concept smart homes is emerging as a new reality. Big players such as Google and Apple have also started to invest heavily in smart home tech and will be soon releasing new products and services.
It’s Tuesday 7am, your smart alarm clock goes off, signalling the smart lighting to gradually increase the light intensity and open the curtains, whilst sending a message to your thermostat to raise the house temperature. You smart watch instructs your smart coffee machine to prepare a double shot of espresso as analysing last night’s sleep pattern reveals that you’ll need that extra caffeine kick this morning and your favourite music tune is played the minute you step into the shower.
The above example illustrates how smart homes are transforming our ‘dumb’ homes into highly personalised ones, by promising to keep our lives organised and simplifying daily activities by following our habits.
In addition to this smart homes are being proposed as a way to keeping our ageing population to live independently at home. According to Ed Vaizey, minister for culture, communications and creative industries: “In terms of healthcare, obviously the internet of things can help people stay in their homes, which is really one of the most important issues when we speak to people about healthcare”.
This can be true for some of our oldest old, who may suffer from chronic conditions, where smart homes can keep track of their health and general wellbeing, through a number of smart sensors and alert their family and GP if they are in trouble. One can also see its value for maintaining a certain level of independency as smart sensors can ensure that point of hazards in the home, such as stoves and the oven are automatically switched off, self-refilling fridges make sure you don’t run out of food and robot hoovers keep the place clean and tidy.
However, are smart homes, smart enough to deal with the often unpredictable human behaviour? Furthermore, despite their potential benefits, can they offer older people independent living without isolating them from the community?
A UK Research Council project, ProtoPolicy, explored how older people want to live post-2021 and what tech could be useful to support independent living. Working with groups of older people it created design fictions -imagined future scenarios of technology- to provoke and raise questions about direction of future technology and society.
A smart object therapist design fiction – a fully automated smart home similar to the one portrayed in the Robot & Frank sci-fi film (2012) and a new type of specialist fully equipped to fix the array smart goods and “program” human behaviour, to further support independent living for older people. This futuristic scenario –portrayed in a short video– explored in particularly what happens when smart home tech, such as a smart fridge start ‘misbehaving’ and the impact it has on its owner. In the portrayed scenario the smart self-refilling fridge of its diabetic owner, Mr Bell, caused havoc when it amended its owner’s diet and food stock by confusing Mr Bell’s grandson genetic traits (facial features) following his visit.
The discussion that followed this revealed that smart home tech, although can offer a few advantages, can lead to social isolation due to the individual over-relying on tech to stay at home and the added complexity it brings to their lives. Instead of encouraging people to stay more physically active by going out and reinforcing social interactions between people, it encourages more sedentary and self-isolation behaviours by replacing human contact with ‘smart’ technology. Other issues included privacy and security concerns (a big subject in this area which I will be covering in a future article).
Therefore as technology becomes smart and we start living in an age of greater digital connectivity –soon we will have self-driving smart cars so that we can travel to our smart home while having more time to look at our smart phone- a concern that starts to emerge more than ever before is that of becoming more socially distant and disconnected from other humans. Are smart homes the answer or are we more likely to be happier in dumb homes?