Housing and Technology
Advanced Residential Technology—the House That Learns
The instantaneous communication of information immediately begs questions of security and privacy. These issues are genuine and profound. Setting privacy issues aside, the benefits of nonintrusive continuous monitoring technologies are clear. Wearable, wireless, miniaturized computer technologies actuated by voice that permit sensor-detected organic changes or self-initiated body and vital-function scans allow the creation of a dramatic change in the dynamic of health care and extended independence. Clothing that is fit-mapped to the individual, containing an array of sensors that are tracked from home computing systems, will alter the long-term prognosis for extended independence among older adults.
Technology for monitoring the individual is already moving forward. Another step in the process is the elimination of hard-wired home electronics and the development of invisible technologies that not only monitor the individual but also control and regulate the home environment in response to individual needs. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems will become both smart and aware, sensing individual changes and conditioning air through antibacterial filters. Antibacterial impregnations of carpeting have been available for over thirty years. The next step will be wall, floor, and ceiling surface treatments that are antiallergenic and antibacterial.
Gardening is an important activity among older adults, but asthma and other allergic reactions to both lawn and garden flora, and also to chemical treatments of lawns and gardens, can inhibit continuous gardening as susceptibility to allergic conditions increases. There is the possibility of the development of genetically engineered lawn and garden products that eliminate both the sources of allergy and the need for chemical treatments.
The major change on the horizon for the home environment is the development of invisible products and technologies. The development of communications between the home and the homeowner, and also between product technologies, with no interface except awareness, gives rise to a fundamental change in the way everyone interacts with their built environment. An aware house has been built at the Georgia Institute of Technology. It is fitted with nonobtrusive electronic monitoring devices that allows the home, through its computer technology, to sense the behaviors and patterns of the daily lives of individual adults. There are imaging devices implanted in the walls and ceiling, as well as worn on a person's body, that can observe daily routines, and the performance of tasks, and even learn to read gestures. One important area of the research is an attempt to understand changes in memory through observation of individual task performance. Specific experimentation is underway that will have older adults performing household tasks such as food preparation while there are intrusions of other adults during the process. By interfering with the performance of tasks, the focus required through short-term memory can be monitored. This awareness may render clues about the early onset of short-term memory loss and early onset of dementia. Knowing the patterns of an individual and monitoring the changes that occur over time may give rise to the interventions necessary to offset confusion and withdrawal. The goal becomes provision of subtle and progressive supports, technological as well as through the intervention of others, that will sustain an individual's ability to remain in his or her own home for as long as possible.
Transfer of this level of technology to applications in the realm of housing production is likely several years, if not decades, off. This research, using nonobtrusive computer-controlled monitoring, has just begun. However, the implications for future home development are clear. The technology is currently available, and will improve over time, that will not only permit monitoring of the physiological status of an individual, but will also permit observation and knowledge of the psychological, cognitive, and behavioral health of an individual. These developments are specifically directed at understanding older adults and providing support to aging in place.
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