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Ensuring universal access in digital homes makes for an easier life

12 May 2009 Eureka

Incompatible standards

“The main problem now lies in the overabundant and overwhelming variety of incompatible standards and technologies in home automation, communications and multimedia systems,” explains project leader Tommi Aihkisalo of Finnish research institute VTT. “There are dozens of home control and automation networks and protocols available and even more in the field of multimedia and communications. All these technologies are competing with each other and are incompatible – lacking intercommunications abilities.”

The project outline was drafted by a Greek partner unable to participate due to lack of funding. The lead was taken over by VTT. An enthusiastic and highly competent consortium of industrial and academic partners from three countries then carried out the project. Their experience ranged from development of networking equipment to service provisioning, software/protocol development and network operations.

Homogeneous access

To ensure it met real world needs, ANSO studied and evaluated market and end-user needs through a public survey and interviews with technical experts. It quickly realised the variety of standards would have to continue to coexist. That is why the main contribution of the project has been a unified middleware solution for interoperability – middleware enables incompatible hardware and software systems to communicate and interact.

All the novel applications enabled by the developed platform and related technologies combine home automation, telecommunications and networked multimedia. The main benefit is the interoperability of these different technology domains, with the provision of homogeneous access. Major applications include: home gateways allowing home-automation applications such as security, remote control and management; assisted living for disabled or elderly people; home networking; communications applications; and multimedia applications and devices such as video-on-demand, set-top boxes and context-aware Internet applications.

Home robot

“Many of the applications developed are geared towards enabling an aging population to stay healthy and active for longer in their own homes,” adds Aihkisalo. A particularly interesting application investigated was an automatic home-assistance system involving a robotic companion for disabled or elderly occupants.

Synthetic Autonomous Majorduomo (SAM) is a companion robot designed for assistance and service functions. It is composed of a mobile platform on top of which is mounted a manipulator arm. A laser range-finder sensor provides autonomous navigation and security functionalities. The arm holds a gripper for object manipulation; low-cost cameras are set on the gripper to give video feedback to the operator. These cameras also used to enable a visual grasping function.

The robot companion is able to interact with the home environment using the middleware developed in ANSO; it controls and communicates with the environment to help it in its tasks – such as controlling home lights to improve illumination for its imaging systems. Using patented technologies, the user is easily able to designate what he/she wants the robot to fetch just by clicking the object in the image.

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