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Category Archives: Smart home technologies
These are controls that can make a user immediate environment easier to access. This can be anything from opening a window, turning on and off the lights, controlling the TV or answering the telephone.
It is easy for someone to assume that their wheelchair can only be used for driving. However, wheelchair manufacturers have developed their products in recent years and considered the needs of the user such as the need to also interact with their mobile phone, PC or even a TV. As well as the basic chair functions such as driving or controlling the actuators these electronic systems can also enable control of a computer or portable devices and so the integration of environmental controls is possible on most power wheelchairs. The same controls that the user drives the power wheelchair with, typically a joystick, can also be used to control an appliance within their environment. Another benefit of integrating control of other devices within the wheelchair joystick is that it may help to ensure the user maintains a good posture while operating other devices.
For example for chairs with R-net controls you can replace the old joystick with a CJSM2 –BT as seen in the picture here. This R-net Joystick Module has Infra-Red (IR) capabilities included. IR technology is widely used to remotely control household devices such as TVs, DVD players, and multi-media systems, as well as some home-automation equipment. Individual IR commands can be learned from an appliance’s remote handset and stored in the CJSM2. Also Integrated Bluetooth technology is an option, to enable control of computers, Android tablets, iPads, iPhones and other smart devices from a powered wheelchair. To switch between the devices, the user simply navigates the menu and selects the device they wish to control. The R-net’s CJSM2 can easily replace the existing rnet joystick module, with no system re-configuration or programming required.
Although not all power wheelchairs can be fitted with Bluetooth mouse-enabled joysticks, there are some good alternatives that may still work. The BJoy ring is a sensor that can be fitted to most wheelchair joysticks where deflections of the joystick can be translated to mouse movements picked up on a Bluetooth mouse receiver placed on a tablet or PC.
The good: Users can do many daily tasks using one device
The not so good: This capability is only available on high spec wheelchair systems.
The verdict: Using a wheelchair joystick that is Bluetooth enabled will ensure the user maintains a good posture while operating their other devices.
Automatic window openers were design to meet the need of inaccessible windows that are out of reach such as skylights on roofs. Using a wireless remote to activate the window opener we can open and close the window at ease. For people with a mobility restriction window openers can give independence to control ventilation in their living space. The ACK4 Window Opener is suitable for aluminium and timber windows. It has an anti-crush control board to prevent trapped fingers. To control the window, you can either use a wall switch, an infrared remote control or a 433 Mhz radio control transmitter. The window actuator with remote costs about £240.
Using a Broadlink RM Pro could make a window opener become part of your smart home setup and hence then possibly voice controlled.
Motorised blinds and curtains have been around for many years, providing easy access to control blinds and curtain rails. Control of these motorised devices was usually with the use of a radio remote control, which made such devices particularly of interest for people with mobility issues. Internet of Things (IoT) has now extended its internet connectivity to these everyday objects. Embedded with technology, these devices can communicate and interact over the internet, and they can be remotely monitored and controlled.
An example of this is Somfy motorization systems. These systems consist of a range of motorised blinds, curtains and roller shutters. The Somfy myLink™ is a device that turns your smartphone or tablet into a remote control for motorized products featuring Somfy Radio Technology. For voice control, Alexa now works with myLink!
Purchasing new blinds or curtains rails could work out to be quite expensive, and possible wasteful if you already have good blinds in place, however, there are a number of options available to retrofit existing blinds to also consider. They are able to transform your standard home blinds into smart electric blinds and do so at an affordable price. Like the Somfy blinds, they also provide a way to raise, lower and choose an intermediate position of the blind.
The Brunt Blind Engine can motorize your existing blinds and connect to your smartphone, allowing remote control and scheduling of your blinds anywhere, anytime.
It is designed to be compatible with most roll-type blinds available on the market,
allowing blinds of all different shapes and sizes to be successfully fitted.
The Blind Engine comes with two different gears designed to accommodate string cords and ball chains. With the Brunt App, you can raise and lower multiple blinds at the same time. (No extra monthly charge for the Brunt application)
You can use the Brunt Blind Engine with various voice recognition speakers. Cost online $129
AXIS Gear is an affordable and easy way to motorize your window shades. Gear is a smart device that lets you easily control and schedule when your shades open and close. Axis say the install and setup of Gear takes minutes and guarantees to fit your shades or your money back.
Included are a solar panel and backup AA batteries. The App allows the creation of schedules and smart home integration.
The SOMA Smart Shades is designed to fit your existing shades and curtains with a continuous-cord. Continuous-cord shades have one looped string or beaded chain that allows you to raise and lower the bottom of the shades. Attach the device to your shades or blinds with a beaded chain or string, download the mobile app, follow the instructions and you’re ready to go. Automated schedules can be created and it is possible to control multiple windows from one mobile app. It is Android & iOS supported. Smart Shades are solar powered with a built-in lithium battery. By installing the SOMA Connect, you can control your shades with your voice, as it works with Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit.
Most smart locks are installed on mechanical locks such as deadbolts. They typically upgrade the ordinary lock. Recently, there have been a number of smart locks that have appeared on the market that provide the convenience of being able to lock and unlock your door from anywhere, or passing on to people you trust a passcode to open the door.
Smart locks, like the traditional locks, need two main parts to work: the lock and the key. In the case of these electronic locks, the key is a smartphone or a special key fob configured explicitly for this purpose which wirelessly performs the authentication needed to automatically unlock the door. With some smart locks, the physical key may still be used in case the batteries of the lock have run too low. Generally, the smart door locks operate with 4 AA batteries, so no hard wiring is required.
Most smart locks will feature access by entering a code, instead of fumbling for keys. It is easy to share access with trusted friends/family. They are battery-operated and so should still accept access codes on the touchscreen during home power outages. They all claim to be easy to install with just a screwdriver (providing holes for the lock are already installed in the door).
Smart Lock manufacturers generally have their own app to set up and control the door locks but can often be controlled by other smartphone apps such as Samsung Smartthings or will work with Apple HomeKit, which is software on Apple iOS devices that lets users configure and control smart-home appliances.
Some locks you can use hands-free voice control with Amazon Alexa-enabled devices or Google Assistant-enabled devices. This includes verbally locking or checking the status of the front door. This may require the addition of a wifi adaptor for the lock.
Smart locks can be used with a smart doorbell to allow the user to see or communicate with someone at a door before unlocking. These are now mainstream products, available in computer and online stores. These types of products can help support independent living for people with disabilities.
Below is a range of the newer smart door locks.
Nest x Yale Lock
With Yale known for their secure locks and Nest known for their connected home, they have come together to make a key‑free deadbolt that connects to the Nest app. As with many smart locks you can lock and unlock your door from anywhere or give people you trust a passcode, instead of a key.
When the Nest/Yale Lock is connected to the Nest app, you can unlock your door from your phone or create passcodes for family and guests. Even set times when passcodes expire. You can get alerts whenever someone unlocks and locks the door. And when Nest knows you’re away, your door can lock automatically.
Yale Real Living® Touchscreen Deadbolt
The absence of the cylinder provides a “clean” appearance and means that lock picking is virtually impossible. It completely eliminates the need to manage keys
In the event the batteries die – a 9V battery provides enough power to enter the code and gain access to the lock.
The touchscreen keypad illuminates for night time access.
It is available in ZigBee® or Z-Wave® configurations
As with all the smart locks, the Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt claims to be easily installed with just a screwdriver. It has a pre-set, unique 6 digit programming code, and a capacity for 30 access code (4-8 digits)
What makes it different from the other smart locks is that it features a built-in alarm to sense potential door attacks.
It works with Apple HomeKit. With the Schlage Sense Wi-Fi Adapter plugged into an outlet within the home and connected to the home Wi-Fi, you can lock/unlock from anywhere using an iPhone or Android smartphone.
You can use your lock hands-free, through voice control with Amazon Alexa-enabled devices like Amazon Echo and Dot if you pair your Schlage Sense WiFi Adapter with your Schlage Sense lock. Learn more about Alexa features here and similar to Alexa, you’ll be able to use hands-free voice control with Google Assistant-enabled devices like Google Home.
This electronic lock features a battery-operated keypad or touchscreen, eliminating the need for keys. Enter your home with a unique access code or lock your door with the touch of a button.
Kwikset’s SmartCode electronic locks offer an easy-to-install touchscreen and touchpad for a keyless entry that fits on any standard door. Z-wave and ZigBee options available. The touchpad with buttons may have the advantage that it consists of raised buttons for someone with a visual impairment. The back-lit keypad provides increased visibility.
The SmartCode touchpad smart lock with Home Connect technology enables the lock to wirelessly communicate with other devices in the home. The lock allows the user (through a third-party smart home controller) to remotely check the door lock status, lock or unlock the door and receive notifications via email or text. SmartCode is easy to install, program and use, and operates on 4 AA batteries. It also features SmartKey Security as the back-up keyway.
Video doorbells bring both convenience and security to your home by streaming a live view of the doorstep to your smartphone, whether you are on the other side of the door or the other side of the world. For someone with a disability, these could be quite useful products as they let you check who is there before answering. Your smartphone is notified the moment motion is detected or the doorbell is pressed. You can speak to visitors through the doorbell’s microphone and speaker.
Used in combination with a smart lock they could replace older technologies such as a video door intercom for door entry. There are now a number of smart video doorbells products available, as can be seen below.
Ring video doorbell
Nest video doorbell
Blink Video Doorbell
The good: You wont miss another call on the door whether you are on the other side of the door, or the other side of the world.
The not so good: If your home Wi-Fi stops working so does your doorbell.
The verdict: Promotes living independently for people with disabilities by providing a secure door entry system.
One of the dangers for people with disabilities living independently are the risks associated with cooking which can result in a fire. However, there are a number of devices we can use to reduce or even eliminate this danger in cooking. These devices can promote independent living when using the cooker is risky due to old age, memory disorders, disability, or learning difficulties. These devices aim to protect the area of a home most at risk of catching fire, the kitchen.
lnnohome Stove Guard
The lnnohome Stove Guard is a cooker safety device that monitors the hob use and registers when the user is not present. If the cooker has been left on the Timer turns it off. The Stove Guard will also identify a dangerously high temperature or steep temperature rise, and recognizes the alarm signals of fire, gas and carbon monoxide alarms. An Automatic Safety Lock ‘locks’ the cooker so that it cannot be turned on accidentally.
Stove Guard SGK510
lnnohome Stove Alarm
The Stove Alarm is a more affordable solution than the Stove Guard that will improve the kitchen’s fire safety significantly. The Intelligent Heat Sensor, attached underneath the cooker hood, signals an alarm, that alerts the user to a hazardous situation happening on the cooker before it produces toxic gases or starts a fire. The alarm also sounds if it is removed from its location.
What is your vision of a sensory room? A room with a soft mat, bean bags, bubble tubes, fibre optic lighting? Switch everything on when someone wants to use the room?
Wouldn’t you like to see a little more thought as to how to control the room’s special lighting, music, and objects so that it can be more immersive? How about a projection of a motorbike on the wall while you feel the vibrations in your cushion? Or a picture of an animal while you hear its name, or its sound? Or even a projection of a beach in a blue-coloured lit environment while you feel a breeze? Well, next-generation sensory rooms are here.
The SHX system developed by BJ Live allows all resources and solutions present in the room to act in coordination to create integral stimulation environments. A single control system allows integration of all the interactive and multimedia element of the room.
The SHX system supports 2 projections as well as 4 vibroacoustic elements in the room. There is a range of scenes provided by the SHX control software, combinations of videos, images, noise, lighting, vibration or effects that can be customised to the user.
The good: The system allows you to control the level of stimulation and the method of interaction to adapt the space for each user.
The not so good: Needs time to set up a sensory room installation.
The verdict: With a range of scenes provided by the SHX control software, combinations of videos, images, noise, lighting, vibration or effects can be customised for any user child or adult.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has brought about a fundamental change in the way we use technology. There are many potential benefits of the IoT for people with disabilities.
For example, someone who is blind or has a mobility-related disability can monitor and control their home heating thermostat through an accessible smartphone interface, or they can have their door automatically unlock when they approach it.
Managing intruder alarms has typically been quite inaccessible as they tend to be installed in inaccessible areas and have inaccessible touch panels. A Dublin-based company, Action24 has bucked this trend by designing an intruder alarm which can be accessed via an app installed on their Tablet or Smartphone.
The main part of the intruder alarm is the HomeTouch™ panel which controls all devices. Once the panel has been installed, further devices can be included such as IP CCTV cameras, smoke detectors and wireless carbon monoxide detectors for enhanced protection of your home. Any activations will be reacted upon in Action24’s monitoring centre and the devices are viewable also on the Action24 app.
It is also possible to integrate the control of your lights or other electrical devices from your Action24 App. You can pair a Z-wave plug with the panel and you will be able to control the lamp or other electronic device connected to the Z-wave plug. The connected devices will then appear on your App and are controllable at all times, whether you are at home or away. A very useful option when you’re on holidays!
How much does it cost?
€500 for the panel, €200 for the smoke detector and wireless carbon monoxide detector, €100 for IP camera, €35/month for monitoring.
How do you control alarm and home devices?
Active24 have partnered with alarm.com to bring together home security and automation app for your home. Their App is available for iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and any Android device.
What is monitoring?
Monitoring is done by trained operators in a 24/7 Alarm Receiving Centre. Nominated keyholders/emergency services will receive a call from operators when activations occur. The monitoring fee is a requirement for this company.
The good: It’s an intruder alarm that’s accessible.
The not so good: A bit expensive if you are looking for the full array of additional features and extras.
The verdict: A good option for anyone who wants security and smart home control from the one app.
Alternatives: Considering the relatively high cost of this system and the monthly cost of monitoring it may be beyond the budget for some users. Monitoring will definitely enhance the security of your home or premises, however, there are other alternatives that avoid the monitoring fees.
An alternative without a monitoring fee is to use a Z-Wave controller such as the VeraPlus advanced home controller for €190. You can have similar Z-Wave window €50 and motion €60 sensors and cameras, carbon monoxide (CO) €85 and smoke detectors €70 which can be configured when activated to sound a siren or send a customized Text message to three mobile numbers using a SMS Controlled Switch €145. You also have the options to control heating systems and lighting. The full control of the alarm and smart home devices in a similar way as the Activate24 is available via an app.
You know a particular technology is fast approaching mainstream when every manufacturer seems to be developing add-ons to make their products work with it.
From Samsung’s SmartThings to August Smart Home Locks, 3rd-party developed skills are voice experiences that add to the capabilities of any Alexa-enabled device (such as the Echo). For example “Alexa, set the Living Room lights to warm white” or “Alexa, lock the front door.” These skills are available for free download. Skills are continuously being added to increase the capabilities available to the user.
he Amazon Echo is a smart speaker developed by Amazon. It is tall cylinder speaker with a built-in microphone. The device connects to the voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant service Alexa, which answers to the name “Alexa”. The device is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic, and other real-time information
However, it can also control many smart devices using itself as a home automation hub.
The videos below give an example of using your voice with smart home products. https://youtu.be/V7WfxI3ecVI https://youtu.be/pH8fg1noIj0
The good: As far as price goes, the Amazon Echo comes in various forms, the
Amazon Echo Dot costs £44.99 which seems affordable. All the Amazon skills that add to the capabilities of any Alexa-enabled device are free.
The not so good: Requires internet connection to work. If your internet goes down then your ability to control the devices around you also does too.
The verdict: A good way to dip your toe in the Internet of Things waters, more capabilities on the way.
Today May 18th is Global Accessibility Awareness Day and to mark the occasion Apple have produced a series of 7 videos (also available with audio description) highlighting how their products are being used in innovative ways by people with disabilities. All the videos are available in a playlist here and I guarantee you, if you haven’t seen them and you are interested in accessibility and AT, it’ll be the best 15 minutes you have spent today! Okay the cynical among you will point out this is self promotion by Apple, a marketing exercise. Certainly on one level of course it is, they are a company and like any company their very existence depends on generating profit for their shareholders. These videos promote more than Apple however, they promote independence, creativity and inclusion through technology. Viewed in this light these videos will illustrate to people with disabilities how far technology has moved on in recent years and make them aware of the potential benefits to their own lives. Hopefully the knock on effect of this increased awareness will be increased demand. Demand these technologies people, it’s your right!
As far as a favorite video from this series goes, everyone will have their own. In terms of the technology on show, to me Todd “The Quadfather” below was possibly the most interesting.
This video showcases Apple’s HomeKit range of associated products and how they can be integrated with Siri.
My overall favorite video however is Patrick, musician, DJ and cooking enthusiast. Patrick’s video is an ode to independence and creativity. The technologies he illustrates are Logic Pro (Digital Audio Workstation software) with VoiceOver (Apple’s inbuilt screen-reader) and the object recognizer app TapTapSee which although has been around for several years now, is still an amazing use of technology. It’s Patrick’s personality that makes the video though, this guy is going places, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had his own prime time TV show this time next year.