Internet of things meets disability

Did you talk to your toilet today? Probably not, but if you read our latest blog post From smart to automated you will know that pretty soon you might. Technology, in particular home automation, is just one focus area for the new year. As the year draws to an end, we take a look ahead at what to expect within our three primary focus areas: Design, functionality and technology.

Toilets and entire bathrooms controlled by your voice or your eye movements. Bathroom lights turning on automatically if you leave your bed in the middle of the night. Insoles guiding your way by vibrating under your feet. Disability and mobility aids created with an equal focus on design and functionality. Entire apartment building designed for housing residents from cradle to grave.

Groundbreaking progress in design, functionality and technology is making entire homes and hospitals as well as individual disability and mobility aids more accessible and versatile.
Great progress is being made around the world within these three of our main focus areas of design, functionality and technology. Here is a sneak peak behind the scenes.

Design meets disability

Perceptions of the domestic bathrooms have changed quite dramatically over recent years. Not so long ago a room designated purely for functional activity, and the furnishing designed accordingly, the bathroom is now considered a space for relaxation and enjoyment. Those days when bathrooms, homes in general and disability and mobility aids in particular were created primarily focusing on functionality are long gone.

The general wealth of societies and their citizens increases demands for aesthetic solutions as well as improved safety. It also increases demands and opportunities for people with limited physical abilities to be able to care for themselves in the bathroom.

Functional does not mean ugly

For now, let us focus on the design issue. As other manufacturers, we experience ever increasing demands for aesthetic and well-designed products and solutions. To put it plainly: Just because something has to serve a particular purpose, it does not mean it should not look and feel good as well.

This constantly challenges our way of thinking, designing and creating products, and it forces us to up our game. Which is also fun. In our experience, products are now viewed and created based on the principles of furniture design as well as their assistive purpose. Design is no longer nice-to-have, it is considered need-to-have, which is something we have to accommodate. And we already do. Many of our bathroom products are no longer reserved for the elderly and people with disabilities, but are also being sold elsewhere for instance to wellness hotels and spas.

From functional to multifunctional

Functionality has always been a focus point, when it comes to bathroom products and furnishings for the elderly and disabled. It still is, but the buzz words nowadays are flexible and multifunctional. This goes for products as well as the entire buildings and complexes in which the bathroom iproducts are nstalled.

Nursing homes and hospitals, for instance, need disability aids, which can serve a broad range of different patients with different needs and abilities. This way of thinking is extending into private homes, where appliances and furnishing in bathrooms can serve several purposes within the same product. The holder for toilet paper also serving as an arm rest without necessarily looking like one. The surface of a toilet seat coated with bactericides and so forth.

Constructions from cradle to grave

Architects are adjusting to this multifunctional reality as well as acknowledging the fact that the world is getting older. People live longer than ever, and their demands for living independently and staying in their own home for longer are increasing. Combined with a general focus on sustainability, this is now prompting architects and developers to construct buildings designed to house their residents, basically, from cradle to grave.

This means, amongst other things, preparing constructions, walls and so forth for the continuous installment of assistive products as the lives and abilities of residents evolve. Multifunctional products for multifunctional Buildings.

Technology becomes automated

Although trends in design and functionality are rapidly evolving, they cannot compete with the evolutionary speed of our third focus area: Technology. Even private homes are becoming hi-tech, and before we have even adapted the concept of smart homes, this concept is surpassed by the concept of automated homes.

Automation holds immense potential for people with limited physical abilities to become even more self-serving, thus dramatically improving their quality of life. Once again, the future is already here. Thermostats can be controlled via smart phone apps or even adjust automatically to our habits, and shutters can adjust automatically, depending on how much sunlight is coming through the windows.

The guiding light

One of the aspects of technology currently in focus is light. Many homes and most offices already have motion sensors connected to room lighting for the primary purpose of saving energy. No real news there.

What is new, however, is using lighting to guide e.g. people suffering from dementia through everyday routines, such as remembering to wash their hands after going to the bathroom. This is obviously important for health reasons and some hospitals have even taken the issue a step further, experimenting with bathroom doors staying locked until the person in there has activated the faucet.

The Internet of Things

You may have heard of it and wondered: What exactly is this Internet of Things? Basically, it is the concept of devices being connected via WiFi to the Internet. Not only computers, tablets and smart phones, as we have long grown accustomed to, but other appliances as well. Your toilet, your electric appliances, even your shoes. In fact, the concept is that in the future, everything that can be connected will be connected. This holds tremendous potential for everybody’s daily lives, but in particular for the health care sector and for the elderly and disabled. Imagine, for instance, your toilet being able to guide you to a healthier diet based on, well … what you submit to it. Sounds far-fetched? Well, it is not, really. In fact, we wrote about it in our latest blog.

The Internet of Things, however, is not only about things connected to the internet. It is also about people. Think of GPS technology allowing staff to keep track of dementia sufferers for instance. Hospitals are also using GPS technology to keep track of the locations of orderlies, beds and so forth.

Walk this way

Another great example of Internet of Things technology is connected insoles developed at MIT Media Lab. The insoles are designed to work with a mobile device to help the user navigate in a city without looking at a smartphone for directions. The insoles do this by vibrating to let the wearer know where to go,and to make recommendations for specific locations based on the wearer’s learned behavior. A connected device such as these insoles could go a long way in assisting those with vision and hearing impairments finding their way around on their own.

One thing is for sure. We have only just seen the beginning of this. Smart phones and apps already allow us to control numerous appliances and aspects of living by the tap of a finger or with our voice. This holds great promise for the dignity and possibilities of people with limited physical abilities. At the end of the day that is what it is all about, what we strive to achieve, whether it is through design, functionality or technology: Empowering those with limited physical abilities and creating equal opportunities enjoy a high quality of life. In short, to keep living.