A Smart Home With Cyber Crumbs - Bradbury's Happylife Home?

In his 1951 short story collection The Illustrated Man, Ray Bradbury wrote about the Happylife Home:

"They walked down the hall of their soundproofed Happylife Home, which had cost them thirty thousand dollars installed, this house which clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good to them." (More)

Researchers today are also working on a smart home that takes care of us. At Accenture, they are working on the problems that will come with an aging population; by 2050 about 33% of the people in developed countries will be 60 or older. Ideally, the home environment itself would be able to both support occupants when they are in trouble, diagnose their medical problems and help them maintain a positive outlook.


(From Smart homes offer a helping hand)

Five main projects are underway at Accenture:

  • Persuasive mirrors
  • Connective tables
  • Shared scrap books
  • Interactive pictures
  • Activity monitoring
The persuasive mirror project is a great idea; it is able to manipulate the image of a person in real time to show the outcome of the day's activites. If the house knows that the person is sedentary, with many trips to the refrigerator and pantry, the person could be shown the logical result - morbid obesity. (Fans of the Bradbury story may recall that the inhabitants of the Happylife Home learned unpleasant things about themselves and their children as well!)

Information gathered by video monitors and activity sensors could be used by health care professionals to design care plans for the individuals without relying on verbal histories. The home itself could keep them connected with their families, showing pictures and emails from children and grandchildren to keep the residents more involved in their daily lives.

Vision problems are more common as we age; a smart home would be able to give us the help we need. One interesting project that seeks to use technology to help people with failing sight is the Cyber Crumbs project, developed by David Ross of the Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation Research and Development Center. People need to have good spatial orientation (a sense of where they are in the home) as well as good wayfinding abilities (the ability to follow a planned route to a particular destination). The ability to do this normally depends on good eyesight and good memory, as well as proprioceptive (the ability to sense your body and its parts) and vestibular (the ability to maintain balance) senses. All of these abilities decline with age.

Cyber Crumbs are like breadcrumbs left to find your way; they make use of special tags worn by the user, and readers that are able to sense the location of the user. The reader is then able to feed back this information verbally through headphones or speaker, helping the user orient themselves within the home. It can also provide guidance with typical routes through the home.

Extensive testing has been done with Cyber Crumbs implemented using specially designed badges created by Charmed Technology. The badges use infrared technology to communicate with readers throughout the home, and a speech synthesizer to provide feedback on position and movement. As the user moves through the home, the system gives location and directions for standard routes.

For more information, see Cyber Crumbs for Successful Aging with Vision Loss (pdf) and Smart homes offer a helping hand.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/26/2004)

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