Building a smarter future

When the current college-age generation thinks of a ‘smart house,’ the Disney movie “Smart House” might come to mind. However, Washington State University’s Center for Advanced Studies in Adaptive Systems (CASAS) research is turning the idea of a smart house into a reality. 

A “smart home” was developed as a new way to care for elderly inhabitants within a household by utilizing sensors and mathematical algorithms. The sensors look similar to regular home fire detectors, usually located on the ceilings. These sensors monitor the mannerisms and behavioral patterns of individuals. The software then recognizes the residents’ actions and identifies how best to assist them.

The smart house aims to help the aging population by providing resources to individuals so that they can live more independently. 

A few of the in-home appliances includes motion-activated faucets and software that can read computer screens aloud and move bathtub transfer chairs.

Diane Cook, director of the CASAS Artificial Intelligence (AI) Laboratory, said her ultimate vision for the research project is to detect changes in occupant behavior that may indicate a change in physical ability. If the smart house technology could adjust to such impairments and provide warnings to family members in case of emergencies, allowing elderly with physical and mental disabilities to live by themselves will be a safer than before.

“There will not be enough caregivers for people with diseases like Alzheimer’s,” said Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, one of the head researchers for the project. Schmitter-Edgecombe leads the project alongside Cook. “A smart house provides an innovative way to keep people living independently at home.”

The smart home technology is capable of assisting older people with memory loss by performing actions such as setting daily reminders for medications.

To rig a 2,000 square foot apartment at a retirement home with the wireless sensors and software costs about $2,000.

Christa Simon, a graduate student in psychology working on the project, moved into a house that was monitored by WSU smart home researchers.

“I get to live in my research, which helps,” Simon said. “It made me more aware of what I was doing because there were sensors all over, but it has not changed my day-to-day routine.” 

Cook said this technology could revolutionize care for the elderly and will eventually become commonly used as a household appliance.

Researchers said that the next step will be to study how people react when the smart house prompts them to perform an activity.