Wednesday 27 February 2008

Visiting the inHaus in Duisburg

This morning we visited the inHaus innovation center in Duisburg (run by Fraunhofer, located on the University campus). The inHaus is a prototype of a smart environment and a pretty unique research, development and experimentation facility in Germany. We got a tour of the house and Torsten Stevens from Fraunhofer IMS showed us some current developments and several demos. Some of the demos reminded me of work we started in Lancaster, but never pushed forward beyond a research prototype, e.g. the load sensing experiments [1], [2].

The inHaus demonstrates impressively the technical feasibility of home automation and the potential of intelligent living spaces. However beyond that I strongly believe that intelligent environments have to move towards the user – embracing more the way people life their lives and providing support for user needs. Together with colleagues from Microsoft Research and Georgia Tech we organize the workshop Pervasive Computing at Home which is held as a part of Pervasive 2008 in Sydney that focuses on this topic.

Currently the market size for smart homes is still small. But looking at technological advances it is not hard to image that some technologies and services will soon move from “a luxury gadget” to “a common tool”. Perhaps wellness, ambient assistive living and home health care are initial areas. In this field we will jointly supervise a thesis project of one of our students over the next month.

Currently most products for smart homes are high quality, premium, high priced, and providing a long lifetime (typically 10 to 20 years). Looking what happened in other markets (e.g. navigation systems, now sold at 150€ retail prices including a GPS unit, maps, touch screen and video player) it seems to me there is definitely an interesting space for non-premium products in the domain of intelligent environments.

[1] Schmidt, A., Strohbach, M., Laerhoven, K. v., Friday, A., and Gellersen, H. 2002. Context Acquisition Based on Load Sensing. In Proceedings of the 4th international Conference on Ubiquitous Computing (Göteborg, Sweden, September 29 - October 01, 2002). G. Borriello and L. E. Holmquist, Eds. Lecture Notes In Computer Science, vol. 2498. Springer-Verlag, London, 333-350.

[2] Albrecht Schmidt, Martin Strohbach, Kristof Van Laerhoven, Hans-Werner Gellersen: Ubiquitous Interaction - Using Surfaces in Everyday Environments as Pointing Devices. User Interfaces for All 2002. Springer LNCS.