How the Smart Home of the Future Can Keep You Healthy
We've addressed the Internet of Things in previous posts. Our friends at Houzz have an interesting take on how that translates to the home and what level of connectivity we might expect in the future as connection becomes more important and more commonplace.
About the author: Kayla Matthews is a contributor to Houzz.com and several other online publications.
Imagine a day in the future when your whole home is connected to the internet, not just your smartphone, thermostat or TV. Your whole home would be a smart house, fully connected to the internet and able to monitor everything inside, including your own health and well-being.
That might sound a bit intrusive to many people. But others see it as the wave of the future and as a way to ensure good health and safety.
Joe Colistra and the University of Kansas, original photo on Houzz.
How Can a House Be Healthy?
At the University of Kansas, Associate Professor of Architecture Joe Colistra and his students received a $30,000 grant from Upjohn Research to design a practical smart home that could monitor its inhabitants’ health.
“Typically, we think of ‘smart homes’ as being able to connect our devices, appliances and building systems into a network that can be synchronized,” Colistra says. “What we’re looking at is how the collection of biometric data through sensors can be utilized in population health strategies. That is, how can the architecture take care of you?”
The image above shows Colistra and his students working on a mock up of the home of the future they are creating. They are testing the technology and its ability to track people’s movements.
The kind of home they are researching and designing would be equipped with embedded sensors that could detect and record the residents’ biometric data in every room of the house, as shown in the diagram above.
The possibilities include:
- Smart floors: Your steps would be counted and your gait analyzed. If you fell, emergency services would be immediately contacted.
- Smart mirrors: Mirrors could “see” changes in your skin. A new mole could be scanned for cancer. Lesions could be analyzed for infection or causation.
- Smart toilets: There would be no privacy in this smart home. Your waste would be monitored for hydration and analyzed for possible medical conditions. Your medications might be adjusted based on these findings.
All these sensors would be connected to the internet. Health professionals and anyone else involved in your care would have access to this abundant amount of information to properly manage your care.
“So, for example, we are looking at bed sensors that monitor sleep apnea, restlessness [and] how many times you’ve gotten up to use the bathroom during the night, [and] smart mirrors that can monitor changes in skin, plaque on teeth, even dysfunction in eye-tracking,” Colistra says. “Advances in facial recognition software can even determine a stroke event coming on. Color spectrum-adjusted LED lights can help reboot circadian rhythms that inhibit sleep, alertness and even depression. We’re also looking at a toilet that could sense blood sugar levels and take your hydration readings.”
You can imagine this would all be quite expensive. But Colistra and his students have thought of that too, noting that getting insurance companies involved in the construction of these health dwellings would be a way to finance the costs. This option could even lead to decreased costs in health insurance with so much preventative care in place, Colistra says.
Colistra is especially excited about what he and his students are doing with analyzing walking patterns. “We have developed a typical residential floor system that is able to collect data on heel strike,” he says.
The image above displays some of this heel strike data, which is a measure of how a person’s heel hits the floor. Essentially, Colistra and his team can detect if someone has a limp or muscle problems, or if they fall, all from technology that analyzes a person’s walking patterns.
“This data can also be used for more advanced gait analysis, which can identify and predict such conditions as diabetic neuropathy, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and other forms of dementia,” Colistra says.
Aboda Design Group, original photo on Houzz
Turning Health-Smart Homes Into Health-Smart Communities
Colistra says that as helpful and interesting as a smart home may be, there’s more to the concept.
“Imagine this being deployed at the scale of a neighborhood,” he says. “For example, imagine we can see that an elderly resident has only had four hours of sleep the last two days, they are becoming dehydrated, their eye-tracking indicates slowed reflexes and they are beginning to favor an arthritic hip. Now we overlay that with other data: It’s the end of the month and they have begun to ration their meds, or the humidity is high and the temperature is 29 degrees and there’s probably ice on the sidewalks.
If this technology was in 10,000 units, with predictive algorithms you may be able to determine some tiny percentage of those residents have a 99 percent chance of falling the next day. Say we determine it’s 25 people. Alerting those residents or their families or caregivers that they may need to take a little extra care would be incredibly powerful.”
Barc Architects Ltd, original photo on Houzz
What Else Could a Smart Home Detect?
Sensors identifying possible medical conditions or environmental risks to your health in the near future could have untold benefits for young and old people alike. Imagine what else a smart home could detect and protect us from.
Do you ever wonder whether the air you breathe in your house is safe? What if your house had sensors that could detect indoor air hazards commonly found in homes? What if your home could detect a gas leak or even an insect infestation?
With so many opportunities for future research from here, only time will tell what health benefits smart homes could have for us. However, it seems clear that Colistra and his students are onto something, and it will be interesting to see how this research moves smart home technology forward.
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