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Safe, Smart, Secure

By Adrienne J. Rewi

No longer a simple matter of installing an alarm system, the latest home security advances leverage existing technologies — even home entertainment systems — to add extra layers of protection, early warning systems and automated assistance within the home.

Researchers are focused on developing the requisite technologies to create home environments that can perceive and assist occupants, at the same time keeping them safe and secure, according to Professor Gregory Abowd, Founder, former Director and now Researcher of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Aware Home Research Initiative.

“We now have far greater sensoring capabilities that can distinguish humans from other objects,” Abowd says. “The key to speeding up the economic viability of these advances lies in gaining leverage off the technologies already in use. Then we’ll be able to move toward more general infrastructures that serve many different applications.”

Home Video Redefined

Some of these advances, however, have yet to hit the marketplace. “That’s maybe a decade away, although at a research level we’ve already had success with new sensoring technology, like near-field sensoring, which has the ability to identify tagged objects,” Abowd says. “The first commercial application of near-field sensing is already in use tracking factory goods inventories.”

Five years from now, you might also expect to see home security systems that can replay events that have occurred within the home — for homeowners only — complementing company-based monitoring services. The technology will serve as short- and long-term memory aids (especially for older adults) because the space will be able to track what homeowners have been doing, Abowd says. In addition, replaying events will aid in solving any security breaches. “You will be able to replay events on a screen to discover where you put those lost car keys or your misplaced wallet, or who has entered your home and how.”

It may seem a stretch to imagine “smart” floors complete with load-bearing sensors that can detect not only a human presence but determine who that human is and how that person spends time within the home, but there is every reason to believe that future advances may also be able to distinguish intruders from family members by their unique footfall.

New Directions

To help the elderly and Alzheimer’s and dementia patients retain their autonomy and live safely within their own homes, Paul Cuddihy, Project Leader, Advanced Computing Technologies, GE Global Research in Niskayuna, N.Y., works with General Electric’s Home Assurance Project.

“We’ve taken the monitoring sensors and door and window sensors off General Electric security products and put them inside a series of ‘test’ homes,” Cuddihy says. “Instead of having a simple burglar alarm, we have the ability to transmit data to an Internet site. Using a password, family caregivers can see the pattern of loved ones’ daily movements — whether they have risen from bed, woken at 3 a.m., or opened the refrigerator at an unlikely hour. The system sets up alerts if there has been no activity recorded over a set period.”

Cuddihy believes further advances on this sort of integrated technology are inevitable in ordinary homes as society becomes more connected and people want to watch over their homes from wherever they may be — even from the other side of the world.

“The need is out there, and constructing computerized products smart enough to track household occupants and events with the ability to make decisions without passing data outside the house is not a 20-year problem,” Cuddihy says. “Our work with the elderly has received a lot of positive feedback, and it’s only a matter of time before similar systems can be used by ordinary families to track the wider distribution of family members, to let working parents know when their children have arrived home from school, who might be knocking on their door, or who may be trying to break in, in their absence.”

Talk to Me

Products that “communicate” with each other and with homeowners are a major area of focus, especially products that automate not only security, but temperature, humidity, lighting, pool and spa temperatures, garden irrigation systems and ventilation, says Jay McLellan, President and Founding Partner of Home Automation Inc. and 2004 Vice Chair of the TechHome Division of the Consumer Electronics Association. The company’s award-winning OmniTouch, for instance, provides one-touch control over security, HVAC, lighting and other home functions via easy-to-read icons. It currently is in use in mid- to-high-end homes and is only slightly larger than a double-gang switch plate.

“It’s all about coordinating security, protection for family and belongings with other home activities for comfort, convenience and safety,” McLellan says. “Our customers are looking for one system to provide centralized control of a range of household activities including all-around security, as well as remote control by telephone or the Internet. They want to sleep soundly knowing their system is watching over doors and windows at night, or while they are away traveling, and they want to be able to check their homes from wherever are.”

Within the home itself, homeowners now can invest in clever technological advances such as motorized lift systems that remove valuable items like televisions, computers and entertainment systems from view. Auton Motorized Systems of Valencia, Calif., is the world’s first manufacturer of television lifts and concealment systems, providing products like the Plasma Lift, whereby a plasma television screen can pop down from the ceiling or up and down within a plain cabinet at the push of a button. The company’s IN-VIS-O-TRAK is a further advance, perfect for concealing television sets, safes and collectible displays behind a favorite painting. Pop-up computer systems operate on the same principle, concealing hard drives and screens within smart furniture designs, allowing homeowners peace of mind during their absence.

The Fantastic Future

Future state-of-the-art advances in integrated security systems include a voice-command kitchen that can prepare coffee as you like it and a home that can alert you to a low supply of essential groceries, order them and even connect you by cell phone when the delivery person knocks at your front door.

If that’s not futuristic enough, imagine iris scans instead of door keys, surveillance cameras that relay visitor images inside to home occupants and music that starts as you enter the house. Imagine e-mailing or calling your refrigerator to see if you need to buy eggs on the way home.

All that and more is either in the pipeline or in experimental application at Microsoft Corp.’s Home of the Future at its Redmond, Wash.-based campus. One of the more ambitious “smart” home research projects, Microsoft’s Home already demonstrates what might become the norm in home security and convenience within the next five to 10 years.

How much homeowners of the future will allow technology to infiltrate their daily existence and depersonalize their environment will be a matter of individual choice. People can become obsessive about security, so finding a middle ground without breaching privacy issues may be the biggest challenge. Not surprisingly, the idea of a highly automated “intelligent” house, where security is coupled with monitoring and executing everyday household events, gives some people the creeps. The answer may lie in considering a “sensitive” house rather than a “smart” house.

Color’s Consequences

Red stimulates the senses and raises blood pressure, blue calms the mind, and pink encourages a sense of peace and restfulness. With such a strong association, designers of commercial spaces must be especially cognizant of the impact of their color palate selections on an occupant’s state of mind.

Brown — the prime color among those inspiring a sense of security — remains quite popular, according to Dewey Sadka, ASID Industry Partner, CMG, author of The Dewey Color System: Choose Your Colors, Change Your Life. “Browns just keep coming back, and a new brown tone that rose to prominence in 2003 — dusty rose — is still extremely hot,” he says.

An indigo and brown mix, dusty rose is all about creating a secure plan for the future. Sadka says he has never seen a color “roar” like that. “Interestingly, it was not predicted by many of the trend-makers,” he says. “I think the world spoke without their input in this instance. You can walk into any mall in the U.S. and almost every window is about dusty rose. I’ve never seen anything like it. It first appeared in a few high-end stores in 2002, and then it just took off in 2003. I attribute that to people’s need to feel more secure — especially after events like 9/11 — and their concern for how they’re going to make their life work.”

Interestingly, says Sadka, teal still is the most requested color for patient and staff areas of hospitals despite the fact that it is no longer “in.”

“Teal is the most supportive color, according to my research, which has shown that our subconscious can use color to support us through the day and through various moods,” he explains. “Here in the United States, everyone is so factual. There’s no sense of respect for the subjective part of who we are, yet it is our subjective side that determines our thoughts, and our thoughts determine our future. Color can play a large, powerful role because of its ability to shift our moods and perceptions. That’s a powerful tool at both a personal and a commercial level.”

At the October 2001 conference of the Color Marketing Group in Dallas, Texas, more than 650 international color designers found inspiration for the 2004 Contract Color Directions Palette in nostalgia, environments and technology. Luminous and somewhat transparent colors will be popular in 2004 commercial interiors, says Contract Color Directions’ Co-Chair Kristen Fraidenburgh, American Silk Mills Corp., New York.

The economy also serves as a continuing influence. This year’s finishes were designed to give added depth and dimension, with lustrous metals to bring strength, value, longevity and integrity to commercial interiors. Fashion colors will use mid-tone hues to reflect a desire for comfort, security, solidity and spirituality.

Sadka says clear tones are in demand, but the palettes coming out still are brown tones. “Americans are accustomed to words and phrases like ‘freedom’ and ‘I love you,’ and they’re fond of comfort foods like mashed potatoes and hot apple pie. But comfort [security] colors are subliminally recognized and are equally as healing,” he says. “People are looking for honesty and truth and for ways to create a secure, grounded future. Designers are showing that that can be achieved through strategic use of color.”