Harnessing the potential of home automation for the elderly

The Expert Guillaume Pianon. Aged 30, trained in land management at the University of Dijon, director of the GA2B cluster (Active Building Management Burgundy) since January 2013.

How can home automation help elderly people in their homes?
Several systems need to be combined. Of course, there are illuminated walkways to make it easier for people to move around during the night, gas or smoke detectors and personal alarms, but that’s not all. We’re using fall sensors that are actually cameras whose images are analysed by a neural network. It’s a type of device that’s already used in industry for pattern recognition. Here, it detects if someone is standing, sitting or lying down. What’s more, it learns to recognize pieces of furniture and will know where the sofa is even if it gets moved, for example. If the person sitting on it isn’t moving, nothing happens, but if they’re sitting on the floor or on anything else, it triggers an alert.Read more: a box that detects when someone has a fall

This isn’t a camera – it films by analyzing instead of by recording. An electronic circuit, designed like a neural network, detects if someone has a fall. It’s capable of learning and recognizing its environment – not just people’s faces and what position they’re in but also pieces of furniture and what they’re used for (people sit on a sofa, but not on a flower pot). © GA2B
Can elderly people easily get used to this type of technology?
Definitely. People don’t need to adapt to use any specific equipment. It just blends into the background in their domestic environment. Even the digital tablet, which is used as an interface for several functions, has been developed so that it can be easily used by the elderly, and it works very well. We’ll also be using the TV to share webcam images, for example, or to receive information (such as showing who’s at the door or giving residents a message). So the TV, a familiar device, is where people will see images of their family. The equipment is going to be tested live this year in around 15 homes. As part of this programme, which we’ve called Independence and Online Living, we’re also running a training course in conjunction with the Burgundy Home Automation project in Autun, for home helps and the technicians who’ll be installing the packs. It’s all about demystifying the technology for the home helps, and enabling the electricians to discover what the actual problems are in reality. Ultimately it’s a great way of integrating equipment in the homes of the ederly.

Using technology so that people can carry on living at home – not such an easy taskEnabling elderly people to stay living at home is largely about adopting a multidisciplinary approach. In fact, the “home automation pack” designed in Burgundy wasn’t developed by one company on its own, but rather by a cluster (GA2B) of around 60 businesses, including about 50 SMEs, four large manufacturers and also research laboratories and local collectives.
The aim is to “actively manage buildings”, which also involves optimizing thermal efficiency or air quality. The Independence and Online Living working group was set up two years ago and has successfully developed a range of solutions to several problems. It helps the elderly to avoid falls by using cameras that recognize their faces and what position they’re in. It also helps them to get around during the night by installing illuminated markers, and can detect smoke, CO2 or water – rather like an electronic spy connected to the TV or smartphone. The information is processed by a home automation hub, which can contact family or support services by phone, text message or email.

Home automation doesn’t seem to deliver what it promised. Why’s that?
Perhaps because it still doesn’t have a real purpose. It hasn’t been very successful when it’s involved expensive or high-end products or when it’s just been about being comfortable. Home automation needs to deliver everyday services. We’re now beginning to see different approaches because the number of online devices is increasing, starting with digital boxes and smartphones. We currently have five online devices at home, but it’s predicted that by 2020 we’ll have around 50. The development is inevitable.

The system can be set up using an interface on a tablet, even if the TV is the main device for sharing images. This tool can also track a person’s psychological state, using software developed on the basis of work done by specialists in geriatrics at the French Scientific Research Centre (CNRS). Every day, it asks users a few questions relating to activities (no more than three and different questions each time).Their answers will flag up any anxiety or depression, which will then trigger an alert.
To go further
Wattio, le hub numerique qui connecte la maison intelligente
Eva keeps an eye on older people
The webcam that lets you talk to your dog
Tomorrow’s retirement homes
Wimotics: taking home automation to the next level
Will intelligent objects take on a “life” of their own?
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