It’s hard to find a home space today that hasn’t been impacted by technology – from our private bedrooms and bathrooms to our public indoor and outdoor gathering areas. Which technologies have real benefits for our health, safety, functionality or comfort? Thousands of design and construction professionals will gather in Dallas for the CEDIA Expo at the end of this month to check out the latest offerings. Here’s a preview of what they’ll be looking for – and looking at.
Technology’s Wellness Potential
In his role as director of the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine’s Media and Innovation Lab, Dr. Azizi Seixas has been looking at smart home technology with an eye toward how it can make individuals and communities healthier. He’s tracking solutions that emphasize clinical care at home, he says. “These technologies include telehealth, advanced remote patient monitoring, devices that measure poor air quality and provide solutions to improve it,” he shares. He’s also tracking monitoring tools for older adults with cognitive impairment and dementia, he notes. “There is a device called IQ Air that measures and tracks air quality. They have indoor and outdoor sensors and an app that provides recommendations on how to improve air quality,” he notes. There will be numerous exhibitors focused on indoor air quality at the expo.
“I am also excited about the transformation of home appliances and fixtures as just mere tools to novel solutions that are conducive to health.” Kohler, LG, Samsung, Legrand and other brands will be exhibiting too.
Seixas observes that smart home technologies can help manage “chronic health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, dementia, detection of falls for older adults, Parkinson’s and asthma.” He points to one potentially life-saving example: “Fall detection is a key example as to where smart home technology can impact health. There are smart beds and fall detection systems can help to determine whether an older adult will fall through gait analysis and thus make their living environment a safe place to age in place.” Falls are a leading cause of hospitalization and morbidity for older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The doctor mentions additional aspects of smart home technology supporting health and well-being. “Homes are now incorporating a variety of devices that capture light, fixtures like smart blinds, smart bulbs, automatic blackout curtains, and windows that allow the right amount of light to regulate circadian rhythm and health for individuals.” He also points to smart water filtration and robotics, (including voice assistance through Siri, Alexa, Google and Pillo Health), which can also help with safety and independence at home, he adds.
Portland, Oregon-based Molly Switzer is one of the design pros frequently called upon by industry groups to check the pulse of tech-savvy designers. She was a source for the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s recent study on millennials and smart home technology, and has been a design tour guest at past CEDIA expos. Like Seixas, she’s interested in automated window coverings – including how they can enhance energy efficiency. As homes increase their demand for power, she sees this as a crucial conversation. “How new technologies are able to take the home off the grid not only during the sunny part of the day but also capturing that power and utilizing it at night” is part of a greater home management conversation, she points out.
One of the rooms Switzer is seeing enhanced with technology is the laundry or utility room. “More washer/dryer/specialty cleaning systems are able to send push notifications to homeowners when loads are finished, which allows those of us with mom brains to be reminded that the load of wash is ready to be moved over instead of forgetting it all day long.” (That’s great for reducing the chance of mildew and last minute stress too.)
“I try to talk to clients about convenience settings, things we certainly don’t know we need until we are introduced to them… then we wonder how in the world we ever lived without them!” Switzer declares. “My favorite example is in our home after 10 pm we have lights set to turn on at only 10% when they are activated. My midnight snack raid of the pantry will give me a low-level amount of light, plenty to do most tasks in the middle of the night without waking my body up more than necessary.”
These types of hacks are important to share, the designer comments, and notes that smart home management brands are providing designer guides to such solutions. “We shouldn’t be reinventing the wheel every time we help a client determine what might work best for their programming needs. These anticipatory actions that can be easily built into homes are what makes smart homes truly useful.”
Switzer sees smart home technology for working from home, security and home entertainment trending as a result of clients being more sensitive about their environments. “Covid has added a great level of importance for home entertainment – both indoors and outdoors – where clients really felt like they could enjoy entertainment again for the first time,” she shares.
Walt Zerbe, CEDIA’s senior director of technology and standards and host of the CEDIA Podcast, has seen a shift in the role of technology integrators from product specifiers to life solution providers. “I expect to see a lot of great ‘tools’ on the show floor this year but ultimately, the trend we need to focus on is using design thinking to craft systems that meet every member of the home’s needs – and as out of sight as possible.” He sees this embracing hyper-personalization and active assistive technologies as “ripe for a holistic look at how the integrator can provide well-being to its occupants.”
Zerbe also sees outdoor space being a major focus of new offerings. “This area was growing but, with many of us working from home for two years, has accelerated in use and desire to outfit.” This is especially relevant since it has been shown that gathering outdoors is less likely to be a Covid spreader than indoors.
“I expect to see major improvements in communication gear, platforms and systems such as beam-forming microphones, cameras that have much greater imaging quality, focus ranges and the like similar to a quality digital camera.” (These can all make communications with loved ones and health providers better.)
“Next, I’m thinking I’m going to see a lot more lighting and shading products, ones with variable color temperature, high CRI, and low voltage. This is both for indoors and outdoors. And yes, COVID has played a role in accelerating this,” Zerbe comments.
“I believe that one area that’s hugely missed is acoustics. There are trends currently to design rooms with lots of hard materials (stone, wood, steel, glass, etc.). The world is getting noisier,” he observes. “Quiet brings well-being; it can calm you, help you do yoga or meditate, think, work, relax. That’s one example that’s personal to me and at the top of my list. I also say this as our hearing is one sense you can’t turn off!” He anticipates seeing technology enhance noise reduction at the show.
He also predicts that exhibitors will lean into the new holistic approach integrators are adopting toward clients and designer/builder/architect relationships. “I expect some that will be expanding their offerings to move more towards this space.”
Contributors Zerbe, Switzer and Seixas will be sharing their smart home insights in an hour-long Clubhouse conversation tomorrow afternoon (September 7, 2022) at 4 pm Eastern/1 pm Pacific. You can join this WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS discussion here. If you’re unable to attend, you can catch the recording via Clubhouse Replays here or the Gold Notes design blog here next Wednesday.