The smart house at the tip of your fingers


Institutional Communication Service

1 February 2016

Rami Baddour, Faculty of informatics

The world we live in is increasingly surrounded by the so-called embedded systems. They are electronic systems that work with a microprocessor, specifically programmed to elaborate, generate or visualise information and data, or to control other devices, while interacting with one or more users.

At this moment, an estimated 14 billion of embedded systems are active and connected on earth, to run cars, nuclear power plants and hospitals, but also refrigerators, heating systems, televisions and shutters. Their use inside houses is expanding greatly and is giving a boost the field of domotics, a word that comes from the latin domus (home) and robotics. It describes the interdisciplinary science that deals with the study of technologies aiming at improving the quality of life in man-made environments.

Also thanks to the widespread dissemination of such intelligent systems in many context and inside our homes, the global number of embedded systems connected in the year 2020 will rise up to 30 billion, making our lives increasingly dependent on this field of informatics.

In a counterintuitive way, this great technological progress increases, instead of decreasing, the range and number of challenges that we face, and that we will be facing in the future. Having a direct impact our physicality, embedded systems require greater attention to safety, efficiency and energy autonomy, memory and most of all to miniaturisation. Technological challenges require huge research efforts, but also social challenges aimed at raising public awareness, which is on one hand unaware of the relevance of these systems, and on the other hand, less incline in acknowledging the real underlying fragility of the technological world that surrounds us.

To address both challenges, motivate the future workforce and raise public awareness, the Institute ALaRI of USI Faculty of Informatics has promoted a very tangible project, based on a model of miniature smart house: a real two stories smart house of one square meter, equipped with the most popular demotics. The model, presented at the USI Pavilion at CeBIT 2016 in Hannover, is part of an initial cooperation with the Liceo Lugano Due (Lugano High School) in the framework of a graduation project. High school students cooperated initially with researchers of the Faculty in building the model and placing the hardware (sensors, movement recognition devices, and smart components) in the apartment. A wearable device (a glove) with different sensors connected in Wi-Fi mode to control the hardware, also known as WSN (Wireless Sensor Network), was later configured. This way for example it is possible to open the garage door with one finger, adjust the thermostat with a wrist movement, and turn on the TV by shaking the palm of the hand. Programming and using these relatively simple functions are useful activities to train students and researchers to keep questioning things and keep searching for safer and more efficient solutions.

We believe that even those who are not directly involved in the potential of these systems, should start thinking about their relationship with technology and a more responsible use of the latter.