University builds lab to test smart home technology

  • June 5, 2023
  • Steve Rogerson
Colin McInnes and Patricia Shaw at the smart home construction site.

Aberystwyth University in Wales is to open a smart home laboratory to test quality-of-life technology for the elderly.

Autonomous wheelchairs and companion animals will be among the technology trialled at a smart home at the university, which is aiming to improve quality of life for the elderly or people with health conditions.

The laboratory will resemble an everyday home, with a living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms, but will also be equipped with sensors, robotic assistants and full connectivity.

Researchers will be able to test the likes of assisted living technology for those with mobility problems and voice activated devices. They aim to show how GPs and other healthcare professionals can carry out remote check-ups, and explore how robots and augmented reality can assist people within the home.

Among the devices that have already been built for the home are a smart wheelchair, an autonomous vacuum cleaner, a mobile robotic arm and a companion cat named Pixel.

The home will primarily be used by the Department of Computer Science and Department of Psychology, but the longer-term aim is to open the door to inter-disciplinary research, such as studies to look at energy management or air quality.

The 120m2 bungalow, which is being funded by the Welsh government and HEFCW (Higher Education Funding Council for Wales), will be on the university’s Penglais campus. Construction is due to be completed late this year.

“Technology is transforming how we deliver healthcare to everyone,” said Patricia Shaw, senior lecturer at the Department of Computer Science. “But with an ageing population and greater demands for social care, smart home technology will play a particularly critical role in improving quality of life and independence for the elderly. It can be particularly useful in rural communities such as west Wales as patients may need to travel long-distances to see specialists.”

She said the smart home lab would provide departments across the university with a space to co-create technologies and evaluate how they work in a real-life context.

“It will also provide a space for the whole social care ecosystem, spanning health and social care professional, public and private care providers, and the elderly themselves,” she said.

Colin McInnes, pro vice-chancellor, added: “Research into smart healthcare has been taking place at Aberystwyth University over a number of years. What this facility does is give researchers a real-life environment on campus to see how certain technologies work, where they can be improved and spark inspiration for further innovation. This facility is about improving people’s lives and ensuring that they have the tools on hand to have a high quality of life no matter what their age. We want to work with both public and private sector partners so we can truly deliver on fulfilling people’s needs.”