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From the ground up: Smarter homes, smarter living

When we first saw George Jetson fly his aerocar across our living room TVs, we could hardly imagine a lifestyle as futuristic as his. Vehicles and buildings intuitively responded to everything he and his family needed. Hungry? Magically, the kitchen produced dinner. Time to get ready for work? The closet offered wardrobe suggestions. House needs dusting? There’s a robot for that.

The wait for smart homes is over, thanks in part to researchers and entrepreneurs in North Texas. They’re bringing to our region a new age of in-home technology that can make our lives easier, safer and more efficient.

This science of improved construction materials has resulted in boards that perform longer and require less maintenance, air quality techniques that allow for ventilation with fresh air, and shingles with metallic flakes that reflect the sun to keep the home cooler. Then there’s the Spacely Space Sprockets gizmos: shower door handles that sterilize themselves; A/C systems that eliminate pollen with UV light; refrigerators that talk to you, take photos, keep an inventory and contact you when it’s time to go shopping; automated indoor herb-growers; and much more.

Integrating the Internet of Things (IoT) into home design can greatly improve quality of life. For those with disabilities, injuries or limitations related to aging, tech-enabled homes can also play a big part in maintaining personal independence.

In partnership with Christian Care Senior Living’s Lakewood Village Senior Living Community in Fort Worth, University of Texas at Arlington researchers have established a 900-square foot, two-bedroom apartment called UT Arlington’s Smart Care center. Integrated into this apartment are advanced sensors, wireless communication, and other technologies to connect devices and software that interpret data and alert healthcare providers.

The apartment is also designed to be a proving ground for the viability of other technology, including a special bathroom camera embedded in the mirror that can tell researchers about a person’s heart rate, facial expressions and skin color.

“Our dream is that these kind of products could be manufactured for retrofit into people’s homes,” said Kathryn Daniel, director of UT Arlington’s Adult and Gerontologic Nurse Practitioner Program. “Think of all the families who have aging parents and the children who support them. A lot of things happen because an older adult or parents don’t have insight on a problem, or, if they do, they might not want to disclose it because it threatens their independence. If there is a way to intervene beforehand, we can do so for the patient’s benefit.”

Read more about tech-enabled homes in the latest issue of NTX Magazine.

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