Channel 4 Learning

Science in Focus Special:
Smart Living @ Home With Technology
Smart Living @ Home With Technology
Programme Outline
Contact 4Learning
Print Version
Please use the menu on the left to navigate through this resource

Programme Outline

Opening titles

Introduction to The Faraday Lecture – do people want 'smart technology' in their homes and would it work?

Clair Williams and Nick Barker try to survive a day in the Smart Home.

The story begins with clearing up from a party the day after the night before. Clair describes the range of electrical gadgets that are available today to help with the household chores that we all take for granted.

Nick invites three volunteers from the audience to demonstrate three different devices, all supposed to do the same job – a manual carpet sweeper, an electric vacuum cleaner and a robot cleaner (a new generation of vacuum cleaners).

The differences between the carpet sweeper and the vacuum cleaners are explained – namely, the use of electrical energy. Technology adapts and improves and changes take place during our lifetime. All of us will experience these changes in the home and this Faraday Lecture examines the possible home of the future.

Orange telecommunications experimented with 'smart living' by buying an old farmhouse and installing the latest technology and innovations to create a 'Smart House'. A Smart House is one in which all the systems – the heating, the lighting, the alarm, the computer, the phone, the fridge, the TV – are all linked together, in a communication network, and controlled by micro-controllers (by computers). Orange then invited families of children to live there and record their conclusions.

Clair and Nick visit the house to look at the innovations.

'The Orange at Home Project' was set up as a consumer research project to monitor how families use the innovations in technology.

Smart devices in the kitchen – a web tablet that manages the use of food available for preparing a meal – recipes; ordering ingredients; arranging delivery; then monitoring patterns of usage, leading to automatic ordering of commodities.

Each member of the family would have their own tablet (which operates from radio signals so there are no trailing wires). The tablet can be used anywhere and for a wide variety of activities from watching a favourite television programme to doing homework online. An interactive whiteboard is also available on the network. This means that work undertaken could be sent directly to a teacher or, if there is a problem, the whiteboard could be used to help as a teaching/learning tool.

This experiment led Orange to question which of the technologies were or were not practical – the remote control of lighting was disliked; but people did like access to multimedia (music, films, 24-hour news) and access to online services that could in the future include direct access to health advice via the television.

The Midlands television company 'Telewest' have been experimenting with 50,000 homes in which people have contact with NHS Direct.

In the Smart House another sort of health service may be available through the mobile phone. A person's health details can be held on a computer at a district health centre. As the person exercises their performance is sent to the health centre via the mobile network. The health centre can send messages back giving advice on how to improve performance. The Smart House will also have a 'Smart Bathroom' in which there will be sensors to monitor an individual's blood pressure, pulse and a 'Smart Loo' that will analyse its contents and alert the health centre if there are any problems.

The Smart House is not just a programmed system. It is a learning system that will respond to patterns of behaviour. Aibo is a robot dog that is designed to learn. He has to be trained how to behave.

The Smart House can also learn – it can learn the owner's likes and dislikes and behave accordingly, eg the temperature of the bathwater, what music is liked and what is needed in the fridge. To do these things a 'Control System' is required. The basic principle is simple – input, process, output, feedback. The workings of a central heating system provide a good example. The Smart House requires a more complex connecting structure in which all the various gadgets communicate with each other. The lighting circuit will have a special circuit called a 'Control Bus' that carries the electric current for all of the devices. Two circuits run round the house with all the power in them to control all the appliances through sensors, switches and thermostats. All the systems – heating, lighting, alarm, computer, telephone, fridge and TV are linked together in a communications network that is controlled by 'micro-controllers'.

Voice Recognition and Activation is already now advanced enough to handle the kind of commands we might use in the home – Aibo, the robot dog, is used to demonstrate this technology and voice recognition has been introduced into Orange's experimental home.

How are the signals and codes for these systems sent around the home? There are several types of technology mostly associated with the electromagnetic spectrum. 'Infrared frequencies' are explained and demonstrated.

'Visible light frequencies' – using fibre optic technology which is described and explained. Unfortunately, at the moment, fibre optic technology is expensive to install. 'Radio waves' are another part of the electromagnetic spectrum, but with a much lower frequency than light. Their major advantage is that radio waves can travel through walls and as a result there is no need for wiring. Existing electric wiring can be used to send small amounts of information. The presenters also address the problem of a cut in the power supply – solar panels on the roof act as an alternative source of generating electricity. The workings of solar panels are explained.

The Electric car. A back-up gas heating system for use in the winter when less sun is available. There are signs that housing associations and big builders are beginning to take an interest. The Beddington Zero Energy Development (BedZED) in Sutton, South London is an estate of houses that has been designed to use less energy and water to conserve heat. It will even generate its own electricity.

The implications of Smart Home technology for helping elderly people are examined. An example is shown that has been implemented by a housing department in Glasgow. As an experiment, a council house has been developed as a Smart Home for an old person. A switch on the TV remote control box can be used to identify a visitor on the television screen. Another switch will open the door. At night a sensor on the doorbell switches on an outside light as a security measure. The windows can be activated by linking them to a temperature sensor in the room. In the kitchen there is a steam/smoke detector, a gas detector and a water detector for leaks or floods. At night the lights will come on automatically if the person needs to get out of bed. There are also spoken messages to remind the person that it is still night-time, as well as sensors alerting a carer or a call centre if an accident occurs. In the future, a robot such as Aibo may be able to take over some of the functions of the carer. The bathroom also contains a 'Smart Loo'.

Research suggests that there is still much work to do in sorting out the useful technology from the short-term gimmicks. Designing and developing the homes of the future presents new challenges. We need to understand how people will interact with new technologies. Scientists, designers, inventors and engineers will have to work together to understand the relationship between the physical science of how things work and the social science of exploring what people want (and how they can make best use of the opportunities available).