Scientists, including one of Indian origin, are developing a system that could make future ‘smart’ homes adjust to your activity with only a few small, hidden sensors in the walls and floor.
Researchers from Case Western Reserve University in the US are experimenting with the system that could read the vibrations, sounds and even the specific gait, or other movements associated with people and animals in a building.
The system can also detect any subtle changes in the existing ambient electrical field, according to the research presented at the IEEE Sensors conference in New Delhi.
While still a decade or so away, the home of the future could be a building that adjusts to your activity with only a few small, hidden sensors in the walls and floor and without the need for invasive cameras, researchers said.
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“We are trying to make a building that is able to ‘listen’ to the humans inside,” said Ming-Chun Huang, an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University.
“We are using principles similar to those of the human ear, where vibrations are picked up and our algorithms decipher them to determine your specific movements. That’s why we call it the ‘Internet of Ears,’” Huang said.
“There is actually a constant 60 Hz electrical field all around us, and because people are somewhat conductive, they short out the field just a little,” said Soumyajit Mandal, an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University.
“So, by measuring the disturbance in that field, we are able to determine their presence, or even their breathing, even when there are no vibrations associated with sound,” said Mandal.
The researchers have tested the technology in the Smart Living Lab at Ohio Living Breckenridge Village, a senior-living community in the US.
Mandal said they have used as few as four small sensors in the walls and floor of a room.
As for privacy concerns, Mandal said the system would not be able to identify individuals, although it could be calibrated to recognise the different gaits of people.
The researchers expect the system could provide many benefits.
“The first advantage will be energy efficiency for buildings, especially in lighting and heating, as the systems adjust to how humans are moving from one room to another, allocating energy more efficiently,” Huang said.
Another benefit could be the ability to track and measure a building’s structural integrity and safety, based on human occupancy—which would be critical in an earthquake or hurricane, for example, Huang said.
“This hasn’t really been explored as far as we’ve seen, but we know that humans create a dynamic load on buildings, especially in older buildings,” Huang said.