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August 26, 2016

Should smart homes not be designed especially for the elderly?

The house of the future is designed for audiences who adore gadgets, smart guys who love technology and young women of convenience. But should these techniques not be there to serve us, to improve the lives and facilitate? And which target group needs this the most? Precisely, the frail elderly in our society.

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When Kevin Gaunt, an interaction designer from Zurich, gets started, he does not have the average Millennial in mind, who sees his technical dreams com true, but he wondered what can smart homes and talking interfaces of the future do for our frail elderly.
 

Spies of the area

As part of his graduation project at the Umeå Institute of Design’s Interaction Design in Sweden Gaunt figured out a number of smart home bots focused on helping the elderly. "It sent me in the direction of a smart home with several "assistants" that focus on tasks such as shopping online, manage budgets, and to keep an eye out," says Gaunt.

Gaunt’s concept shows a smart home of the future with a box full of bots, which are each designed with simple symbols (a pile of coins for banking or a shopping bag for shopping online). He combines functionality with combating boredom for the elderly. He gives three examples of bots which could be made, simply by installing the corresponding modules in a central controller.

Surprise

The first robot is a surprise bot: it keep track of the household budget and when the user is a little down, the bot orders a surprise within budget aimed at making the user feel better. The second bot is a spy program that monitors the district and alerts when pesky neighbours come to the door. The third is the most poignant: a bot that mimics the behavior of a dead husband, playing their music, order their treats, and even tell some of their jokes.

Gaunt thinks these ideas reflect a more accurate picture of the smart home of the future. "Since these bots eventually try and sometimes fail in doing the right things, I tend to see our bond with this technology more as to having a pet, a collection of virtual Pokémon, if you will."

Although his bots are just concepts, designed to provoke a discussion about the question for whom serving technology is designed, Gaunt eventually hopes they will help to shift the dialogue about smart homes.

Change the trend

"Bots, AI and talking interfaces have recently become a huge trend in the design world. If new technologies appear, we tend to assume that they will be picked up by younger generations. But honestly? If chips and production costs are cheaper and technology become more widely represented in everyday life, this need not be true! "

In other words, maybe the house of the future will be made smart with the elderly in mind. Because really, we are only young a third of our lives. And after that? We are old and we need all the help we can get…

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