When it comes to the TecHome, builders know that every client is different. And when it comes to the concept of the Healthy Home, builders should also understand that every client’s health situation will be unique as well.
The TecHome industry has experienced growth in healthy home components such as indoor air quality (IAQ) and home automation for the physically disabled. Now, we explore where smart home technology is headed to help clients with other types of disabilities, such as being visually or hearing impaired.
UK-based companies Wayfindr and Nominet have been leading innovations in technologies that, once they begin to integrate themselves into the TecHome, will help the blind and deaf live more efficient, healthy and independent lives.
Helping the Blind Navigate
Wayfindr began as a way for the blind or visually impaired to use the London subway system more independently. Bluetooth sensors (called beacons) were installed in stations to allow people to traverse with ease using their smart phones, voice navigation and a pair of headphones.
The best part about Wayfindr is that it can be integrated into apps that already exist, and therefore can eventually be tailored into smart home technology that builders can offer clients who may be visually impaired. This will allow them to navigate their homes more self-sufficiently.
“We’re producing less of a finished product and more of a standard, a set of guidelines, so that anybody who wants to use beacons in this way in any setting can,” says Katherine Payne, marketing and communications lead for Wayfindr.
Payne believes that smart home technology is heading in a direction that will begin to benefit people far more than simple home automation and Internet of Things (IoT) convenience.
“It’s not just about getting a fridge to talk to you because it’s funny,” says Payne. “There are entire groups of people who would not be able to live as well and as independently if technology such as this didn’t exist.”
Tech for Deafness and Dementia
Exciting innovations are also occurring over at Nominet, another UK company that senior researcher David Simpson says is exploring “how IoT can be a force for good.”
Nominet is currently investigating wireless sensor technologies and how they can be deployed both in large scale and for personal use in the home. Their latest venture, The Pips Project, is about helping people with cognitive and sensory impairments navigate their homes and manage daily routines.
Pips are simple buttons which light up and beep and are connected via Bluetooth low energy. They activate in sequence to guide users around their homes with light and sound. Like Wayfindr, this technology will soon be available for others to implement as well.
“We’ve decided to open up this project and make the hardware design and source code available to anyone who wants to contribute to building a distributed system for in-home navigation and reminders,” says Simpson.
Simpson believes these tech advancements are crucial for the future. Helping people maintain their independence in their own homes is especially important for their quality of life. Simple technological interventions of this sort can be useful in achieving these goals.
“Solutions need to be simple and useful. The biggest impact will come from interventions that solve a problem well and just work, not that have an overwhelming set of features,” says Simpson.
He also says it’s vital for those working in tech to test out products with people who have disabilities to make sure they’re practical options. “People with disabilities usually do not want special apps and systems. They want to be able to use the same technology as everyone else.”
The Future of Disability Tech
Both Payne and Simpson firmly believe that connected devices and tech innovations will pave the way for healthier homes that embrace all elements of a client’s well-being.
“The more connected the home becomes, the more potential will arrive for people with impairments to be able to live on their own,” says Payne.
And the future for these technologies is only going to evolve further as we progress.
“As it becomes cheaper to prototype hardware, we will see more people who have firsthand experience of disabilities developing solutions to problems they’re familiar with,” says Simpson. “I think we’ll see more sophisticated digital personal assistants, and we’ll especially see lots of voice controlled systems being built for people with disabilities.”
Odds are impairment-based technologies will also begin to work their way into aging in place.
“We’re seeing older people becoming more tech savvy. And as people who are familiar with smartphones and tablets age, we will see more demand for the apps that we rely on to be usable as we get older,” says Simpson.