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Short Term Scientific Mission to Sweden

Ilse Bierhoff

Within the Netherlands the main force behind the development of smart home technology came from electrical engineers. A possible integration between the electrical network and the ICT network within a home is becoming important in the Netherlands. In an annual survey done by the international company IDC, Sweden became the leading IT-country in the world in the year 2000. The reason is that the majority of the Swedish people are frequent users of information and communication technology, ICT. So in Sweden the approach to smart home technology is different but the overall goal, to offer all residents, regardless of their age, desire, need, a secure and comfortable living environment and high quality of life, is the same as in the Netherlands.

The goal of the STSM is to gain more insight into the ICT approach of smart home technology and specifically to define possibilities to increase the contribution that smart home technology to the life of elderly and disabled persons. With the collected information we are able to identify the gaps of attention and to write proposals to increase the contribution of smart home technology to the life of elderly and disabled persons. Visits to ‘real’ projects were complemented with visits to testing facilities to learn more about research activities and discuss the possibility for similar testing facilities in the Netherlands.

The host institution for the scientific mission was the Swedish Handicap Institute. The Swedish Handicap Institute is a national resource center on assistive technology and accessibility for persons with disabilities. They work for full participation and equality for persons with disabilities by ensuring access to high-quality assistive technology, an effective provision of assistive devices and an accessible community. The institute is run by the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, the Federation of Swedish County Councils and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities.

The home institution Smart Homes Corporation is an independent expert centre for smart houses and smart living. Smart Homes was established in 1998. The expert centre was first established to promote smart home technology, perform demonstration projects and further develop the field by experimentation and serving as a platform for cooperating companies. In 2000 also consulting housing associations, project developers and building companies about how to implement smart houses became part of the activities. Its activities are funded by projects (applied research, evaluation) for housing associations, care organisations, subsidies from regional and national government, grants and partnerships with industry.

The terms smart homes, intelligent homes, home networking have been used for more than a decade to introduce the concept of networking devices and equipment in the house. According to the Smart Homes Corporation the best definition of smart home technology is: the integration of technology and services through home networking for a better quality of living.

Residents consider their home to be a save and comfortable place to live in. Sometimes technology is seen as an intruder in their save environment, residents are afraid to loose control over their home. Some people even fear the use of technology in their home. So technology and the home environment are not naturally a perfect fit. With respect to smart home technology for elderly and disabled people another aspect is important. Some solutions are implemented to reduce to need to do things but it is also important to implement solutions that increase the participation of the resident in an activity.

Technology is not the solution to create a perfect home environment but has the ability to make a useful contribution. The environment as a whole, including for instance social contacts and situation of the home, is responsible for the overall satisfaction of the residents.

As mentioned before smart home technology is not an isolated case. The focus should be on the smart home environment instead of only on the used technology. Roughly the environment consists of three parts, 1) the residents, technical infrastructure and applications in a home, 2) a gateway and 3) an external network consisting of among other things service suppliers. Every part has it’s own, sometimes changing, preferences and limiting conditions but still they have to operate as a whole for a better quality of living. In the following paragraphs the smart home environment is viewed from different perspectives. There is a distinction between the following perspectives:

  • The interaction between the user and the smart home environment;
  • The available functionalities;
  • The necessary infrastructure for smart home technology.

Most houses that use smart home technology in the Netherlands fall into the category of homes which contains intelligent, communicating objects. The main reason is the fact that most houses were equipped with smart home technology at a time when the internet was only used as a communication and information network in the academic world, unknown and unavailable to most people in the Netherlands. Access to the internet is now widespread available. Another reason that they cannot be classified as connected homes is the absence of services beyond the home. Even when a broadband internet connection is available there is a lack of suppliers of the desired services. With a growing population of internet users this is about to change.

Within Sweden broadband is widespread available for several years now. Resulting is several services that are developed like for instance the booking of common facilities within an apartment building, energy measurement within apartments and the development of a national IT-infrastructure for Healthcare in Sweden. Within the Swedish Handicap Institute a programma called ”IT in Practice” started in the year 2000 and funded projects and pre-studies for a period of three years. The aim is of the project was to develop and apply IT for various categories of users (Spindler, 2001).

At the moment a large project on broadband within the Netherlands called ”Kenniswijk” just ended. Kenniswijk was an initiative of the Dutch General Directorate of Telecommunication and Post (DGTP) of the Ministry of Economics. Kenniswijk was an experimental environment in the Eindhoven region where consumers have access to innovative products and services in the sphere of computers, (mobile) communication and internet. The intention was that the developments within the Kenniswijk-area are, on average, two years ahead of the rest of the Netherlands in 2005, resulting in a "consumer market of the future" (http://www.kenniswijk.nl/site/en/home/). With regard to the development of services 6 learning points were defined during the Kenniswijk project (Kenniswijk, 2005):

  1. Develop a business model; It is important to define the target group, specify the service you want to deliver, how you want to organize the delivery of the service and the way you are going to make money. Make a realistic business model and not one based on very high expectations. For new services it could be necessary to develop a whole new business model;
  2. Define partnerships; When you develop a service with different parties involved it is eminent to define the responsibilities of the parties;
  3. User Requirements; Developers of services didn’t succeed in taking the users point of view when designing the user interface. Furthermore there were often way to many options and functionalities implemented. Users should be able to switch between a basic and an advanced mode in order to adjust to their preferences;
  4. Finances; Most services were set up on the bases of subsidy’s. However a service should be able to survive without the extra funding and shouldn’t depend on the funding.
  5. Technology; It is important the test the selected technology in a real setting as soon as possible. This is necessary to be sure that that service works as it is intended.
  6. Marketing; Innovations are hard to sell to the public. The advantage for public should be clear.

Within the Netherlands we are now at the same stage as Sweden was in the year 2000. But this is still on a local level and not nation wide. An example of a nation wired infrastructure in Sweden is Sjunet.

An evaluation of Sjunet resulted in the following benefits (Carelink):

  • Increased collaboration;
  • Increased access to higher knowledge/competence;
  • Increased use of advanced equipment;
  • Less physical transport;
  • Increased opportunities for external communication with health care;
  • Reduced costs for staff;
  • Increased access to medical information;
  • More effective education.

The newest initiatives in the Netherlands do not only focus on the exchange of information between care takers but only on the social aspect of communication. For instance the prevention of a social isolation.

The most important knowledge is gained while actually implementing technology in the home environment.

Overall conclusions from realized smart home projects:

  • No agreement on technical standards;
  • No agreement on flexible infrastructure;
  • Not enough skills in installation business;
  • Installers traditionally from electro technical mono discipline;
  • Consumer not aware of possibilities and opportunities;
  • Human – machine interaction permanently underestimated;
  • Basic control system relatively expensive.
  • Full networked and smart houses are still rare;
  • But current socio-economic and technological drivers will rise an enormous interest for home automation and electronic services within the next decades;
  • Wired or wireless is not the question: wireless will always demand new wire and a connected world will demand cable for external and internal infrastructure;
  • Major barriers for quick introduction are disagreement about internal infrastructure and failing awareness;
  • Ageing societies have big needs for home automation and electronic services, but kids introduce new electronic lifestyles.
  • Market is technology driven, little user involvement;
  • Technology is expensive;
  • Implementation is stuck in the pilot phase;
  • There is no dominant network, too many standards;
  • There is a gap between research and actual implementation;
  • There is a lack of spreading knowledge;
  • It’s important to develop solutions for existing homes;
  • Benefits are clear for disabled persons.
  • Entertainment good starting point on the market, people have an image of the possibilities;
  • Communication between all involved parties is essential;
  • Little practical solutions can have a major impact;
  • Simple user interface that is adjustable to specific user requirements
  • Technical solutions should be inspiring and supporting not making decisions for the user.

Until now the main reason to apply smart home technology was to provide the prior conditions for independent living for the elderly. Every day more people are realizing that smart home technology can facilitate comfort, communications, energy saving, and enhance both personal and building security for everyone. Hereby the focus should be on the smart home environment instead of only on the used technology.

An important aspect of the smart home environment is the fact that within the smart home all applications and services must be connected to create an environment that supports the residents in their daily life. In a connected home the residents have the possibility to define several scenarios. The definition of a scenario starts with a desired functionality, not with the technical solution. Furthermore a smart home should be ‘lifecycle-proof’. This is the case when the technical infrastructure can adjust to changing desires and wishes of the residents and to state of the art technology. To make this possible interoperability between different smart home technologies must be addressed at different levels such as terminal devices, content delivery and presentation across different platforms.

With regard to the building process in the Netherlands the use of smart home technology within the home environment is still a new aspect. To make sure that within this process enough attention is paid to the implementation of smart home the project team can be expanded with an independent member with knowledge about smart home technology and communication among the concerned party’s. The use of new technology calls for a different approach and therefore a new party.

Because the overall goal is to achieve a better quality of life it’s evident to make sure to meet the wishes and desires of the residents. Older persons and in many cases also older people with minimal pension, have been the "test" group for starting demonstration projects with home automation in the Netherlands for the past years. They had clearly outspoken needs and wishes. A general comment of very old residents in particular was that moving into a new house with different functions, such as switching the house "on/off", automatic lights and an intruder alarm was extra difficult. They would have preferred a gradual introduction of the new functions after they were accustomed to the house. Another aspect of importance is that most residents want to keep the control over their house. They want to overrule automatic functions or alarms. It is also a fear that the house is not accessible or usable if the electric power has been fallen out. Residents also try to create a fitting home environment by taking the matter into their own hands.

Overall it appeared that some applications were too difficult for the residents to understand. There are two main reasons for the fact the not all residents are able to operate some applications. The first one is that the concept behind the applications is unclear. The second reason concerns the number of actions the resident has to perform in order to operate the system. Confusing are also the exceptions to the standard way of operating.

Only when residents feel they receive enough information about the technology, the technology itself functions perfect and in case of a problem it is solved adequately the residents have a positive attitude towards the technology and are willing to invest time and effort in learning to use the technology. If a positive attitude is present residents actually make use of the technology and after a few months they are fully familiar with the technology.
The overall conclusion of the evaluation is that despite the aforementioned shortcomings there is an overall feeling of safety and security among the residents of the smart home projects. The subjective feeling of mastering one’s own life, without being dependent on the help of other persons, is an important aspect of smart home technology, to strengthen one’s self-respect and quality of life.

Real smart homes with all network islands and possible applications are limited to demonstration houses so far. Home automation has been implemented in thousands of houses world wide, but is still in its infancy. Several economic and socio-cultural factors will cause changes in society, which are favourable for a breakthrough of smart home technology. There are also important technical drivers, such as Internet, broadband and wireless solutions.

Other factors still account for the slow progress: costs, lack of standardisation and missing skills at installers. The Internet, broadband and wireless are keywords in an irreversible move to further introduction of smart home technology. The question is at which speed of progress. But it is absolutely certain that in the near future all houses will be connected to the electronic highway. It is not more than logic that these houses will be smart themselves by networking all devices and equipment in order to get maximal benefit and fun. The benefit and usefulness has been demonstrated in homes where older people live.

 



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