Imagine a house that knows where you are at any given moment. One that can pass messages between family members, streamline the tedious process of uploading and preparing home movies and photo collections, and tell you how much energy you're consuming -- maybe actually saving you a bit on the power bill. What if it could tell you what the weather's like outside, call an ambulance if you get hurt, remind you if you forget to take your medicine or help you find that darn remote?
Sound too good to be true? These are just some of the features homes of the future might have. Different technologies that could be used include RFID tags, wearable computing devices, home networking systems, gesture technology and LCD touch panels. Homes could be flawlessly integrated, embedded with technology and capable of operating independently of direct human orders, while at the same time providing exactly what we want, an idea known as ubiquitous computing.
Nowadays, many people are waiting until later in life to start families. Frequently, they have young children right around the time mom and dad start to run out of steam and look for other living options. This kind of monkey in the middle is often referred to as part of the sandwich generation, meaning they're responsible for the care of young and old family members at the same time. Oh, and they're usually working full-time too. Add to this the fact that their children and/or parents might have one of any number of chronic conditions, from diabetes to dementia and autism to Alzheimer's; dealing with it all can get a little tough.
And they're just one example of a family type who could make good use of the wonder-house mentioned above. Elderly people who desire to stay living in their own homes -- called aging in place -- could benefit from many of those same features.
All of these possible functions of a house -- a house aware of its residents, their activities, and their needs -- have been the basis of studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. A residential laboratory allows its researchers to examine how people use technology in the home and how technology -- both current and future -- can be shaped to cater better to the user and enhance the whole experience.
On the next page, let's take a look at where the idea for the Aware Home originated from and where researchers hope the project will lead.