Smarter Homes for Home Healthcare

Mr Coffee

Mr Coffee programmable coffee pot

Smart home technologies can anticipate needs and make tasks easier or automatic. They’re not just about high-end new homes, proprietary technologies, and professional installation. They’re about comfort, convenience, entertainment, energy management, communications, pet care, surveillance, and security & health monitoring. And you can often install them yourself, starting with the simplest of applications.

Your Coffeepot – I bet, if you look around, you’ll find that you already have some home automation products. It’s really not scary. The purpose of this article is to get you thinking how these products can help with home healthcare.

I was still working at IBM as a market strategist when our family moved from Dallas to Austin. I was trying to convince IBM that it had an IBM-scale opportunity in home automation, and I was studying that market. So when I built our new home, I used it as an experiment. I figured if my technophobic wife warmed to the benefits, then others would too. She did, mostly, and I learned a lot.

The local paper wrote a two-page article about my house, Home Automation Station, but that was 1997, and I retired two years later to become a Digital Home consultant.

We’re empty-nested now and downsized to a one-story home a few years ago. The big home became too much work, and we no longer needed the space. Besides, we worried about having all bedrooms upstairs. If something happened to us, how would we get up and down the spiral staircase? An elevator or stair lift would be one option, but moving was another.

Fish Mate

Fish Mate automatic feeder

I learned more about home automation in the smaller home. One lesson is that less technology is needed in a smaller home. Even going to bed is easier. One glance tells me if the doors are locked and lights are still on. So, even though I installed structured wiring for the flexibility of expanding later, I never did integrate my security system with the lighting and HVAC systems like in the bigger house. But I still use some smart technologies, just fewer of them. Here are some examples.

My Fish Feeder – Cats and Fish easily fend for themselves when you travel. My automatic fish feeder drops food in as specific times, but I didn’t want it to get sucked into the bottom filter, so I plugged the pump into a module that turns it off at feeding time.

KeypadLink dimmer – Conveniently placed, this smart light switch sends control signals to five different devices or groups of devices. With one button, it turns on six different lights in the living room at once and allows for dimming. The lights rely on X10 lamp modules even though the switch uses INSTEON since the network protocols are compatible with each other. None of this needs special wiring since it uses the existing A/C powerline.

X10 wireless remote control – Wireless is another way to communicate. We keep a wireless remote on each bedside table. One button turns on or off all lights in the home, ant other buttons control 14 other devices or groups of devices, again with no wiring. Wireless remotes would are convenient for anyone with mobility problems. They might reside by a favorite chair or be mounted on a wheelchair.

INSTEON KeypadLink dimmer

INSTEON KeypadLink dimmer

Wireless Sensors – Wireless motion sensors (below left) are passive devices that can monitor the environment and control things automatically. If someone with Alzheimer’s wakes up at night and can’t remember where

the light switch is, they could trip in the dark. So a motion sensor could turn the lights on automatically, gradually raising the brightness to avoid the strong glare, and then dimming the lights off later.

The magnetic contact sensors (below right) normally associated with home security systems can be attached to refrigerator or cabinet doors to record when someone gets something to eat or takes their medicine. Similar sensors for beds can monitor breathing, pulse, and restfulness, and monitoring the trends from such sensor data can alert caregivers to potential problems before a health event happens.

Energy Management – Programmable thermostats (below center) are one way of saving energy by automatically setting back the temperature at bedtime or when away from the home. My older home tied the thermostats in with the security system and lights. When I left the house and armed the security, lights and temperature adjusted automatically, and when I returned and disarmed the system, they returned to normal.

Programming – When even more automation is desired, you can program devices based on a set of rules. I use X10’s ActiveHome PC software (below) to automate routine tasks, such as turning the front lights on at dusk and off hours later.

X10 wireless remote

X10 wireless remote

Learning Agents – A truly smart home or device, like a home robot, relies on sensors for an awareness of the environment and adjusts behavior automatically, often anticipating needs. With cameras, a house can “see,” sense motion, distinguish night and day, and recognize faces and gestures. With a microphone array, it can respond to spoken commands or a glass break or fall. A truly “smart” home might have all five senses. More on this and home robots will come in future articles.

Useful Links: – a popular online store with a huge catalog of gadgets for the digital home – an electronic magazine for home automation enthusiasts (I used to write a wireless column for them.)

iPad control for Quadriplegic – a CEPro story about a civil engineer who was involved in a construction accident and now gets around in a powered wheelchair. He controls his home with an iPad and Savant home automation system.


Motion Sensor

INSTEON wireless motion sensor

Contact Sensor

INSTEON TriggerLinc wireless contact sensor

Honeywell programmable thermostat

Honeywell programmable thermostat

X10 ActiveHome
X10 ActiveHome PC software