Page last updated at 10:22 GMT, Monday, 15 February 2010

EU smart-home concept shown off

By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News


How everything in your house could be controlled by one device

"Smart-home" technology that allows people to control household appliances via their mobile phone or other gadgets is being shown off in Germany.

The EU-funded i2home project is aimed at giving greater independence and freedom to older and disabled people.

It uses so-called "middleware" to allow heating, air conditioning, lighting, and other gadgets to be controlled by a user's chosen interface.

It is the result of research between EU industry, universities and user groups.

"The users of the technology have been the driving force in the project - all technical solutions are based on a thorough investigation of the users' needs and desires," said project coordinator, Jan Alexandersson.

Kitchen concept

The researchers worked with various groups in order to match the technology to their needs, including Alzheimer's patients, blind and partially-sighted people and young people with cognitive impairments.

The research has now officially come to an end. But the project team, and some of the users, are still evaluating the work and demonstrating how the technology can be used in the German town of Saarbrücken.

There, the technology has been installed in a mocked-up kitchen.

Image of someone using an i2home interface
The smart home technology uses a variety of interfaces

"Finally, something that works," said Ginger Classen, a blind, German accessibility expert.

"If this technology is adopted by many manufacturers, I could finally go appliance shopping like sighted people in a normal store, having the choice to buy cool and stylish products."

This platform requires all appliances in the home to be networked together.

The middleware sits between the home appliances and a controlling device, such as a mobile phone, and allows them to communicate. i2home has also created a variety of interfaces for control devices.

So far the group has tested touch screens, mobile phones running the Windows Mobile and Android platforms, speech input and output devices and an ordinary domestic TV set with a simplified remote control to run the UCH.

The researches say that i2home demonstrates that technology - that has traditionally been regarded as too complex for many mainstream users - can be made usable and enjoyable for older and disabled people.

In addition, because the middleware has been built to open standards, it means that anyone can use the underlying code to build their own user interface for a device to control networked appliances.

By the start of 2010, there were more already than 100 organisations and companies in Europe using or working with i2home technology, according to Mr Alexandersson.

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