Proof-of-concept for nextgen smart home capable of ‘listening’ to and evaluating its inhabitants.

A smart home is a home automation system capable of controlling 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 states 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 smart homes are made up of connected electricals such as appliances, entertainment systems, security cameras, lighting, and temperature-controlled systems accessed remotely by computer or smart-phone apps via the internet.  This technology of interconnecting devices utilized in commercial, industrial or governmental buildings, and someday even entire communities via smart cities, is referred to as the IoT.  With the potential for the home of the future to possess the capability to adjust to its inhabitants’ activity with only a few small, hidden sensors in the walls and floor, without the need for invasive cameras.  The current study provides a proof-of-concept for a building 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 explains there’s a 60 Hz electrical field surrounding people known to short out in places as the level of conduction is so great.  Results show a person’s presence and breathing can be determined, even when there were no vibrations associated with sound, by measuring the disturbances in this field.

The team states they have used as few as four small sensors in the walls and under the floor of a room, with the system unable to identify individuals although it could be calibrated to recognize the different gaits of people.  They go on to add 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 surmises they have provided a proof-of-concept for nextgen smart homes reading changes in vibrations, sound, and personal electrical fields to improve energy consumption and monitor the occupants’ movements. For the future, the researchers state the sensors could be tweaked to track and measure a building’s structural integrity and safety based on human occupancy, critical in an earthquake or hurricane.

Source: Case Western Reserve University

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