The home has been the centre of private life for generations, a place that one would rarely change. The feeling of being “at home” is strongly linked with relaxation and security. This human desire for self-determination and independence increasingly places the dwelling in the focus of technical improvement interests, particularly in an aging society in which older people want to stay at home as long as possible. Given the present state of the art, it’s now high time to go beyond “barrier-free” and “wheelchair-friendly” buildings and address the need for technical assistance in residential construction, such as emergency call systems in case of fall, support for forgetfulness, energy efficiency and other cost-saving efficiency solutions, reduction of burglary potential and optimization of lighting, volume, temperature and air quality.
In the adaptive homes of the near future, our citizens should not only lead more modern, secure and energy-efficient lives, feeling more comfortable and enjoying a higher quality of life, they should also have it generally easier and save time in their daily activities. Starting with individuals as the smallest unit in the focus of attention, the continuum of life optimization should then go beyond the optimized and assisting home to the building, and then district up to the whole place of residence and beyond. On this basis, service optimization and the realization of technical assistance can be simplified significantly in many areas, be it through the town’s garbage collection system or energy supply, the public transport or the delivery service, or the provision of care or medical treatment among others. This will enable our municipalities and cities to successfully master the challenges of the demographic shifts and the scarcity of resources, from energy to social care.
Digitalization in all areas with cross-domain and cross-vendor interoperability helps to make this scenario conceivable and possible. This plan will be best achieved by relying on open platforms as already recognized in different position papers at different levels, from the “staff working document” of the European Commission “Advancing the Internet of Things in Europe” (1) to the strategy paper of the federal state of Hesse in Germany “The Digital Hesse”. For homes, it is essential to make use of open platforms that support the paradigm of Edge Computing so that devices of all kinds can basically communicate the raw data to the internal platform within the home. This not only protects the privacy, but at the same time it allows for an individual adaptation of the easily expandable home system to the changing wishes of the residents. Such an open platform should create a secure, service-oriented environment for the seamless integration of any solution in accordance with individual needs. The resulted environment will be open to all solution providers with their creative ideas and innovations, thus enabling a considerable potential for economic growth.
In fact, the process of digitalization is already penetrating the residential construction. Soon reference implementations will arise that will become cheaper and cheaper in the course of time, with easier deployment, operation and maintenance, causing this process to accelerate more and more and expand rapidly. Millions of existing buildings and new constructions will follow suit. In this process, an enormous market potential will lead to a rapidly increasing demand.
However, the few solutions available nowadays on the market are currently unsettling curious customers and early adopters, jeopardizing the confidence in modern forms of living for various reasons, such as (I) trifling with privacy, error-proneness and false alarms, (II) closed systems, causing vendor lock-in and higher expenses for any extension, (III) relying on devices that are not ready for the mass market but can be utilized only by professional hobbyists, and (IV) sometimes even false promises (e.g., an approach with only one motion detector and a door contact switch cannot possibly be able to calculate all situations of inactivity, leaving the home, leaving the bed, and a fall).
One of the most serious concerns with digitalization is that today the security of such complex systems is often underestimated, even though the systems continuously record and process data, including private data. For many solutions, the disclosure of personal data is even a prerequisite to start using them. This is because many companies see a potential for data-driven business models; therefore, to a large extent they offer their own solutions even free of charge in order to collect user data - a procedure that leaves user privacy exposed, as was the case when private correspondence moved to email. But, precisely the sacredness of the home privacy is one of the basic rights of citizens, as laid down, for example, in Article 13 of the German constitution. It is subject to special protection; whether own property or rented, a small flat or a villa, the dwelling is an elementary part of the privacy that must be protected. In the digital era, this translates into the preservation of the control over the interpretation of one’s own data. It is key for the privacy of home that no data leaves the home without having previously been authorized as sharable information. That is, the user must be able to decide who will be allowed to access which information (and not raw data), for which purpose and at which points in time.
Another issue is the limited number of true implementations of the concept of reactive living environments which, outside of research laboratories, are able to analyze the situation of the inhabitants in real life and automatically perform the necessary actions. The solutions for “smart homes” available on the market often reduce the promise of intelligent living environments to the small aspect of device control through “apps”.
Furthermore, the existing solutions are often closed systems. In the era of rapid technological developments, however, it is essential for systems to be intrinsically flexible for future applications. Such intrinsic flexibility necessitates openly expandable solutions based on open platforms. There are, however, only very few established open platforms, which can be expanded by any company with new solutions.
One of the first open platforms in the field of intelligent living environments with a very high degree of technology maturity is certainly the open source platform universAAL, which has recently adopted its new identity as “universAAL IoT”. It has been born within the EU FP7 project universAAL after consolidating results from initial work in the EU FP5 and FP6 projects, such as AMIGO, GENESIS, MPOWER, and especially PERSONA. The open source software platform that resulted from the universAAL project was then thoroughly evaluated within the EU project ReAAL with 31 different solutions and over 5000 users in 13 pilot sites from eight EU countries in real environments. During ReAAL, large parts of universAAL IoT passed the real-life tests successfully.
One of the 13 pilot sites in ReAAL was the construction project “Wohn- und Quartierzentrum (WoQuaZ)” in Germany, near Frankfurt. In WoQuaZ, the universAAL-based system has been running nonstop for two years now, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There, a necessarily brand-independent and compellingly multi-vendor concept was implemented on the basis of universAAL IoT, with a wide range of economic synergies and no need to transfer private data into the Cloud. WoQuaZ apartments take care of their residents solely based on local data processing and storage. Due to the comprehensive spectrum fully based on Edge Computing, the functions implemented in WoQuaZ represent a novelty in rule-based passive assistance systems. These include, for example:
- Recognition of possible emergencies – such as falls, inactivity, protracted stay in bathroom, prolonged shower-taking and no return to bed during the night – with an individually adaptable alarm system via the apartment telephone (mostly involving trusted neighbors, relatives and house management) in order to reach faster reaction time and reduce service costs.
- Linking the smoke alarm to the alarm system and automatically adjusting the flat state (e.g., power off, blinds up, door open)
- Automatic ventilation depending on humidity and CO2 levels.
- Automatic adaptation of the flat state in the case of short-term or long-term absence (for example, water, electricity and dangerous appliances are switched off and re-activated automatically on entering).
- Situation-aware adaptation of the energy consumption (e.g. shutting off the heating when the window is open, turning off the light in unused rooms, or shutting down the blinds when absent in order to reduce cooling costs in the summer).
- Measurement of some vital parameters, such as pulse and blood pressure - integrated into the alarm system
The implementation also includes social components: The above-mentioned technological solutions for independent living in private flats form synergies with several service and care providers and various care forms, such as a sheltered shared flat for people with dementia and a day-care facility for the older adults from the neighbourhood. The result is an affordable, technologically assisted living at the highest level with only a minimal, all-inclusive increase in operating charges, without billing every single added-value separately. WoQuaZ is thus a signpost to future living in which disabilities are relieved comprehensively in a multidimensional way. Therefore, it is not surprising that the strategy paper of the federal state of Hesse in Germany “The Digital Hesse” presents WoQuaZ as a high-innovative best-practice example, on the one side, and universAAL as a role model of integration platform, on the other side.
Within ACTIVAGE, the WoQuaZ partnership is copying the developed solution to other buildings in Germany with the goal of improving the replicability of the existing reference implementation while demonstrating the ability to achieve a seamless change of vendors in the new sites. In parallel, certain enhancements, such as connection to the online systems of external service providers are planned to be tested in all of the included sites in order to go beyond the existing phone-based alarming system.
On the other side, with the vision to “liberate the Internet of Things”, the open source community of universAAL IoT is now following a concrete market launch strategy together with some of the early adopters based on the idea of an international non-profit association that guarantees the sustainability of the maintenance and further development of universAAL to the benefit of an open innovation ecosystem.
(1) Based on such strategy papers, several H2020 calls, including IoT-01-2016 from which ACTIVAGE is born, recommend to reuse existing open platforms towards open innovation ecosystems.