Smarter about Smart Homes

Jessica Rigden Robyn and Ruwani ILC NSWAs the recipient of a 2014 ILC Scholarship, Jessica Rigden recently returned from a study tour of Australia focused on smart home technology for people with disability and older Australians.

As an occupational therapist in the ILC Technology team, Jessica’s role is to provide specialised information and advice on high tech assistive technology such as alternative computer access, eye gaze technology, mounting and environmental control.

In order to greater support people’s goals of independence in the home, Jessica is interested in developing her knowledge and skills around smart home technology.

So what is ‘Smart Home’ technology?

“Smart Home” is the term used to define a home that has appliances, lighting, heating, air conditioning, TVs, computers, entertainment audio and video systems, security, and camera systems that are capable of communicating with one another and can be controlled remotely by a time schedule, from any room in the home, as well as remotely by phone or internet.

Smart home technology enables people with disability and older people to have more control, to be safer and to live more independently.

For example, a person who uses a wheelchair and therefore may not be able to switch the lights on or off due to the switch height can achieve this task via a smartphone; or an elderly person who has vision impairment could use a voice activated TV guide to change channels.

Jessica said smart home technology is becoming more affordable and latest advances could be used to help solve individual’s control and accessibility obstacles, in everyday life.

“With the advance of Z Wave and integrated Apple and Android technology, for example, smart home technology is becoming more affordable,” said Jessica.

“The ILC’s mission is to guide people’s choices to access assistive technology and services for independence and wellbeing, and home automation is an area that can make a big difference to an individual’s independence and ability to remain at home.”

As part of her study tour Jessica visited Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne and toured a range of smart home displays; organisations specialising in telecare solutions, telehealth services, computers and related technology; and a private residence. An outline of Jessica’s tour is provided below.

Jessica said she brought back a wealth of knowledge from the tour but provided the following summary of the key findings:

  • Smart home technology should be considered in the development of the home environment;
  • There are many new and emerging technologies and lots to learn and keep up to date with;
  • It’s important to start with a person’s goals first – simple systems may meet their needs;
  • Consideration needs to be given to access methods available for controlling the systems; and
  • Ongoing costs of troubleshooting, repairs and updating should be factored in.

In the near future, the ILC will be able to better support individuals wishing to set up smart home technology in their home.
If you would like more information about smart home technology, contact ILC Tech on (08) 9381 0600 or technology@ilc.com.au.

Jessica’s Smart Home Study Tour Outline

Brisbane

Tunstall

I received an overview of Tunstall’s product range of Telecare Solutions such as pendant alarms, environmental sensors and the Find-Me Carers Watch. I was able to sit in on the call centre to experience what happens when an emergency call is sent through.

I also received an overview of Tunstall’s Telehealth service which provides the opportunity for patients to monitor their vital signs in their own home using a Tablet computer. The results are sent to a central database where the nurse can scan the readings and check they are within healthy limits. This results in reduced hospitalisations and increased knowledge of the client about their condition.

LifeTec

LifeTec have worked with a home automation company to set up smart home technology in their display. I found out about the technology they have on display which includes Phillips Dynalite for lighting control and a voice activated bed. Their Smart Home Display has been built to the latest Australian standards in design for access and mobility. Since the display was open to the public in 2013 they have had a large number of older adults through that are preparing for the future. They are interested in the smart home technology and getting design ideas so they can be as independent as possible in their own home.

Sydney

Ability Technology

Ability Technology is a not-for–profit organisation which aims to increase the independence and productive potential of people with a disability, through the use of computer and related technology. They specialise in environmental (home) control technology, to enable people with a disability to control the phone, television, lights, doors, fans, heaters and other devices.

Ability Technology provided me with training in smart home technology and environmental control technology for people with disabilities. Ability Technology has supported a number of individuals to set up smart home technology in their own homes. They shared with me their experiences in working with the latest smart home technology, and important considerations in planning, coordinating and setting up this technology to support an individual’s goals of independence.

ILC NSW

ILC NSW have a display apartment which incorporates Clipsal C-Bus smart home technology, controlling lights, air-conditioning, televisions and kitchen benches. They shared with me the process of setting up their display and how clients are using the display in their planning.

Canberra

Sean Fitzgerald – C3 Solutions

Sean Fitzgerald is a member of the Assistive Technology Sector Reference Group of the NDIA and is a consumer of assistive technology. Sean has high-level quadriplegia. Sean discussed with me the smart home technology he uses in his house – he opens his front door with a switch at his head and controls the television and radio with his laptop using a combination of voice and head mouse. Sean shared his perspective on the future of smart home technology and the appeal of affordable mainstream technology now being available to people with disabilities such as the Belkin Wemo Switch.

Melbourne

Summer Foundation

The Summer Foundation has a demonstration housing project in Melbourne which incorporates smart home technology and accessible housing design to enable young adults with disability to live independently. Their experiences setting up the technology and troubleshooting for individual needs was shared.

Technical Solutions

Technical Solutions is a supplier of specialised environmental control technology. They shared with me the latest technology available as well solutions they have developed for a range of different clients needs.

Lyn Rowe Project house

Lyn Rowe lives with her parents and has recently had a new accessible house built for her incorporating accessible design, assistive equipment and smart home technology. Lyn was born without arms or legs and uses other parts of her body to control her environment. Lyn states that her favourite aspect of her house is being able to unlock and open the front door using a switch on her wheelchair which provides her with the freedom to access the community whenever she wants and to let in guests.

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