Smart Living: more independence thanks to voice control
Smart Living: more independence thanks to voice control
The way we live is becoming increasingly more modern and connected. And while some people are skeptical about smart technology, other target groups welcome the great new opportunities it affords. Control units allow people with disabilities and older adults to control and monitor their connected home devices, which allows them to continue living a self-determined life at home.
The three magic words in this setting are Ambient Assisted Living. These assistive solutions are user-tailored and promise self-determination and independence. Environmental control units are one of the many solutions in this setting.
Smart living: With voice control, many situations can be simplified for older people or people with disabilities at home.
Voice control helps when all else fails
It is easiest to compare these systems with familiar smart home solutions such as Google Home Assistant or Amazon Alexa. A wake word is programmed on the device, which might be "Alexa" (to stay with the example). Users use this prompt to wake the respective device. "The unit identifies the command if you state the device name – television, lamp, or TV – followed by additional commands to prompt further actions," explains Alexander Mehler, Managing Director of Sybility. His company makes the Pilot X device, which enables the operation of home devices via voice control.
The Humanelektronik Company also manufactures environmental control units. Sales manager Michael Mohr explains an added benefit of Humanelektronik’s product 2Speak: "The voice commands are fully programmable, making the system adaptable to meet the needs and cognitive abilities of the user." The systems are ideal for older adults and people with disabilities. If users are no longer able to manually operate the devices, they can simply use their voice. "Most users may still have residual functional capacity in their finger or hand but are limited to where they can no longer operate traditional touchscreen remote controls and thus have to rely on voice control," Mehler clarifies.
The new Pilot X is currently being redeveloped so that in future the last buttons will also be omitted and the device will only be operable by voice.
Alert technology and secure connections
But why do you need special environmental control technology? Why not just use the Google Assistant? "Unlike consumer devices, environmental control units remain active until they are asked to return to sleep mode with a user-defined command. Or the device automatically returns to sleep mode after a predetermined time. Meanwhile, Alexa and similar devices automatically turn off after each command," says Mehler. However, an environmental control unit must be able to do more than just "turn lights on and off" as is the case with Alexa. For example, the control unit must continue to listen as users turn the TV volume up or down. This process is gradual and takes several precise commands: "Make it louder... louder... louder".
And how exactly does this process work? Manufacturers are utilizing the existing technical capabilities of household appliances. When it comes to televisions and DVD players, the devices use infrared communication, which is the main technology that is also used in home remote controls. The systems also work with radio frequency technology, resulting in a myriad of possibilities: "There are a variety of receiver modules for light switches, roller blinds, and door openers…, " Mehler explains.
Infrared and radio frequency technologies also ensure the safety and security of the environmental control unit: the 2Speak unit offers network independent operation without an internet connection. "That means nobody can access the system unless he/she sits in front of it with a computer and a cable connection," Mohr explains. The same applies to Pilot X from Sybility: "In theory, a person could operate the TV if they stood outside the window with a copy remote and intercepted the signal," Mehler notes. However, it is highly unlikely that this is interesting to hackers.
The 2Speak is also a voice control for impaired persons. It also works reliably when the person speaking is hoarse or speaks softly.
Innovative technology also makes life easier for family members
Makers of environmental control units keep up with changing technology trends and integrate new technologies into their equipment. For the first time, the functions of the Pilot X can now also be accessed via wireless connection aside from using radio frequency or infrared technology. Mehler notes that this also makes it easier for family members of users to set up the system: It simplifies the configuration since there is no need for cables with the Pilot X and all functions can now also be conveniently adjusted using a tablet or smartphone. It also offers new ways of operation: This permits smart lighting control – now no longer using radio frequency but Wi-Fi -enabled lights. "The idea is to make better use of existing systems and put an end to being limited to specific structures," says Mehler.
Environmental control units create new opportunities for people with disabilities despite any physical limitations. Thanks to voice control, users can autonomously handle activities of daily living that may seem trivial to some but mean (re-)gaining independence and self-determination and a vast improvement in their quality of life.
Kyra Molinari (Translated by Elena O'Meara) REHACARE.com