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No place like home

A dozen European partners have figured out how the smart homes of the future will look.

17 September 2012

A home where a digital person on a screen welcomes you in, plays your favourite music and switches the lights on and off at your command sounds like the stuff of a science fiction movie. But two-year EUREKA-supported project Genio developed exactly such an intelligent home system.

‘Many of the technologies for the home of the future already existed - the step missing was to bring it all together,’ said Rafael del Hoyo Alonso, who works in research, development and technological services at the Aragon Technological Institute (ITA) in north-east Spain.

The Spanish institute teamed with an impressive number of partners throughout Europe, all with different specialisations, to develop their system and can now showcase it at the institute’s demonstration centre. Putting a SIM card into the system or logging in with a secure ID enables Genio to detect who has arrived home. As del Hoyo stands in front of the screen, an animation version of a man’s face appears. ‘Welcome to Genio, Paul,’ says the bald, stern -looking avatar. Female colleagues are greeted by Michelle, an avatar with a short, funky red haircut. A gingerbread man interracts with children in this virtual home.

‘The idea was to make the system as human as possible,’ explained Carolina Benito, of ITA’s multimedia technologies division, who co-ordinated Genio. The intelligent home can set exactly the right mood music the person being at home or block unappropriate video content for children from the Internet or TV.

It’s more than entertainment
The EUREKA project partners also wanted the system to offer more than just personalised entertainment. Homeowners can activate and de-activate home alarms remotely via their smart phones, receive warnings about intruders or people trying to hack the Genio system. They can also monitor energy use through devices attached to electrical plugs. That allows them to check they have turned off an oven when they are at work. They can also preset limits on electricity use but, rather than just abruptly switching off appliances once a limit is exceeded, the avatar says: ‘You are using too much energy,’ and if it’s late, it might cheekily suggest: ‘You should go to bed!’

The system works through the WiFi system and synchs music and video content on smart phones and computers, using a catalogue system, so it is possible to take all the content to the car, a friend’s house or the office.

The project was a huge challenge given the number of partners involved and some partners dropped out early on after failing to secure funding. Those who stayed the distance, however, have seen their efforts rewarded. Some are already launching commercialising products based on what they developed in Genio. Turkey’s Vestel Electronics, for instance, is selling smart TVs and Spain’s Telefonica is letting customers share videos with friends based on methods used in Genio.

Del Hoyo thinks we could soon take having an avatar in our homes for granted: ‘Perhaps within five years a lot of us could be living in homes like this.’