Proof-of-concept for nextgen smart home which ‘listens’ to and evaluates its inhabitants.

A smart home is a home automation system, or domotics, which can control lighting, climate, entertainment systems, and appliances; it may also include home security such as access control and alarm systems.  When connected to the Internet smart home devices are an important constituent of the Internet of Things or IOT.  Now, a study from researchers at Case Western Reserve University develops a proof-of-concept for the next generation of smart homes they have dubbed the ‘Internet of Ears’.  The team state their new suite of sensors would read the vibrations, sounds, movements and even the specific gait, associated with people and animals in the building, as well as any subtle changes in the existing ambient electrical field.  The study was presented at the IEEE Sensors conference in New Delhi, India.

Previous  studies show that smart home features appliances, entertainment systems, security cameras and lighting, heating and cooling systems which are connected to each other and the Internet. They can be accessed and controlled remotely by computer or smart-phone apps.  This technology of interconnecting devices, commercial, industrial or governmental buildings, and someday even entire communities via smart cities, is referred to as the IoT.  While still maybe a decade or so away, the home of the future could be a building which adjusts to its inhabitants activity with only a few small, hidden sensors in the walls and floor and without the need for invasive cameras.  The current study provides a proof-of-concept for a building which is able to listen to the humans inside.

The current study uses principles similar to those of the human ear, whereby vibrations are picked up and deciphered via an algorithm to pinpoint a person’s specific movements, dubbed the Internet of Ears.  The sensors focus on vibrations and changes in the existing electrical field caused by the presence of humans or pets.  The group explain that there’s a 60 Hz electrical field which surrounds people, and because they are conductive, they short out the field in places.  Results show a person’s presence and breathing can be determined, even when there were no vibrations associated with sound, all by measuring the disturbance in this field.

The team state that they have used as few as four small sensors in the walls and floor of a room, and as for privacy concerns, the system wasn’t able to identify individuals, although it could be calibrated to recognize the different gaits of people.  They go on to add that advantages will be energy efficiency for buildings, especially in lighting and heating, as the systems adjust to how humans are moving from one room to another, allocating energy more efficiently.

The team surmise they have provided a proof-of-concept for nextgen smart homes which use changes in vibrations, sound and electrical field to improve energy consumption, and monitor the occupants’ movements. For the future, the researchers state that the sensors could be developed to track and measure a building’s structural integrity and safety, based on human occupancy, which would be critical in an earthquake or hurricane.

Source: Case Western Reserve University


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