Consumer research for older and disabled people

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The Internet of Things

Aidan Parr from UKATNews.com* has worked in assistive technology for over 18 years recently as a researcher and consultant with experience of computer access, communication aids, telecare, learning disabilities, dyslexia and accessibility.  UKATNews.com is a news source about assistive technology in the UK. He's passionate that carers, professionals and older and disabled individuals should be able to obtain the information they need to decide for themselves how technology might support their independence and quality of life.

You’re probably reading this article on a desktop computer, tablet or smartphone. All these devices use the internet to provide and exchange information with you, whether you’re looking at the news, finding a recipe, booking your holidays or completing your tax return.  The internet is increasingly present in everything we do, every day.

Now, this exchange of information could include messages and updates from your fridge, cooker or central heating controller - welcome to the 'Internet of Things'.

Sensors built into new fridge-freezers can detect humidity and odours, or scan bar codes as you put food away and warn you when items are close to their ‘use by’ date. More sophisticated integration could automatically order food for you through your Amazon account or with large supermarkets and book a convenient delivery time. Some fridges have built-in cameras which allow you to check the contents when you’re away from home. They might also provide useful evidence about who raids the fridge late at night.

See Rica’s latest research report: Smart Appliances and the Internet of Things: trends and impact for disabled and older consumers (May 2016).

Because sensors have become so cheap they will increasingly be part of other 'Things' within your home, such as your cooker, television, central heating or home security - and they will all be able to contact you or the manufacturer if things go wrong, using the internet.

Increasingly sophisticated central heating systems can already keep track of temperatures anywhere in your home at any time of day and can email or text you if a room is too warm or the heating is left on when you’re out. You’ll be able to lower the temperature or change the time when the heating comes on from your smartphone, tablet or computer, wherever you might be. One example of a smart thermostat is the British Gas Hive Active Heating 2 control, which incorporates many suggestions made by the RicaWatch panel.

This could potentially be a golden age of service for people who are busy with careers or juggling a job with caring for children. The Internet of Things could support older or disabled people to manage their home with the minimum of help by sending warnings or requests for support to family members or other carers. All we need now is for designers, manufacturers and app developers to get smart, making sure future products are inclusive and accessible to everyone.

See also:

Inclusive Design: manufacturing, design and retail expert views  May 2016

Inclusive design resources 2016

Promoting inclusive design - our work with Thomas Pocklington Trust

* The UKATNews.com website closed on 14 March, 2017. Aidan still works to investigate and promote assistive technology. Follow Aidan on Twitter at @ukatnews