High-Tech Homes in the Wild

For years, technology companies and writers have gone into frenzies, describing how a fully sensor-enabled environment can save lives and help people. Also for years, the scenarios they posit have remained hypothetical. Finally, driven by improvements in sensor technology, communications, batteries and power sources, and networking, some of these futuristic applications are out in the wild. And some of them are even living up to the hype.

Here's a case in point: one of the most popular illustrations of How Sensors Can Help You is the instrumented house, allowing your appliances to call for maintenance before you're even aware that there's a problem or monitoring your health so doctors or concerned relatives can make sure you're healthy and problem-free.

A Smarter Apartment
A recent story in the Norwich Chronicle in the UK describes an older couple, living in an instrumented apartment, who had a leaky gas stove. Luckily, a sensor picked up the gas leak, communicated the fact back to a control center, and maintenance staff from the local gas company showed up within half an hour to fix the leak. The monitoring service is one of the options offered by the Housing Trust in charge of the assisted-living apartments.

I Get It!
Our population is aging. Because we're living longer and want to maintain our independence for as long as we can, this kind of monitoring and assistance is becoming increasingly important. That's partly why those high-flying descriptions of sensors in the home are so attractive; it's a very accessible what-if. We all know people who could benefit from the kinds of monitoring described in such loving terms.

As the manager of the monitoring service in Norwich says, "This highlights the importance of assistive technology—allowing people who are elderly or disabled to live independently while feeling safe in their own homes." Sounds about right to me.

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