Smart Interior Spaces

A smart home has a certain promise to it, that is, an intellect, a brain. But before we apply that metaphor we need to understand the basic elements of a home (and only after that, what would make it smart). But even the idea of a home is already too constraining and not accurate in other kinds of spaces, such as the workplace, or public areas. And so we want to take up the idea and promise of smart interior spaces.

Smart spaces do not necessarily have to be electronic, as smarts can be in simple spatial layout and design. One great example is a door. Doors can swing, slide, or raise and lower. Doors in fact don't have to exist, as there are entranceways without them (though they still would act as a portal).

Note that a much more nuanced and psychologically (ecological psychologically) sound approach was done by Gibson around the nature of affordances. I spent a few semesters doing research in this area a decade ago. While the detail is quite worthy of study, the fundamental nature of an affordance is that it is a relationship between the animal and some thing (e.g., switch on a wall, door in a doorway).

Switches and Doors

Let us now take a simple thing such as a switch on a wall. It could be for any device, such as a lightswitch, but there is so much going on with a simple switch, including:

  • Conveying information (position of switch could indicate present state (on/off)
  • Allowing interaction of intentionality (that is, I press the switch to indicate my desire to turn on the light)
    • While obvious, this actually conveys two things: information (desire/intention) and actual switch activation (electric circuit)
  • Perhaps my wife wants to ask me to turn on the light, this is a voice command (and is a part of the built environment)
  • Perhaps lighting is needed at certain days and times (say, when people are in a given room and there is not enough daylight)
  • Upon power failure, a backup light source (or energy source) is needed, and that very light that might work in a variety of ways may not

And so switches, while we generally encounter them as fixed interfaces on walls, connected to electric circuits, they need not be, if we can break apart these various dimensions of interactivity.

  • The informational switch will keep state
  • The sensor switch will be able to detect a change of intention based on command or anticipation
  • The electric switch will connect or disconnect power from a device (or otherwise signal the device to change state)

In terms of monitoring a smart space, all information and the ability to interact (either program intentions or directly command) can be made available. And in terms of interacting in the smart space, there should be some way of not misreading intentions. For example, overhearing a conversation and reacting to key words not meant for that context, or detecting motion and opening a door that is not required to be opened.

Commands can include the medium of voice and gesture, as well as the current paradigm of direct tactile interaction (opening a door, turning on a light).

Sensors First

Interactions by the human in a built environment, in order to be smart, need to properly and effectively communicate. More reactive kinds of smartness should then begin with sensors. The ability to sense the environment and humans (and possibly animals) therewith. Sound, gesture, haptics, temperature, ambient light and time. These are the basics for interaction in the first place:

  • We turn on the light when we do not have enough of it
  • We open and close a door when entering / leaving one room for another
  • We turn on the heat or air conditioning when the temperature becomes uncomfortable

Deadly Smarts

Besides levels of human comfort, additional smarts would be welcome if a space knew how to, say, kill off the mosquitos and ants in an area. Nathan Myhrvold has the great idea of shooting mosquitos with lasers, which sounds quite lovely.

Heating and Cooling Smarts

Temperature control becomes more important as one's place of habitation increases in uncomfortable extremes. A smart house actually should, without any effort, be climactically efficient, offsetting the surroundings. This would include things like insulation, door and window optimization, effective use (or disuse) of solar radiation, and the like.

Beyond that, some kind of ideal climate should be provided when humans need active climate management (thermostatic sensors and HVAC interventions). Since most air conditioners (the key component in Thailand) are ridiculously stupid, some kind of separate power-on/power-off management should be in place.

First Principle - Dumb Smarts + Smart Smarts

Dumb smarts are those things that provide built-in intelligence. Things that last longer are dumb intelligence and those things that require less maintenance (and zero energy) to retain value. This means that the smartest homes should be the smartest dumb homes first, and then have communications and sensor intelligence (that requires technology and energy).

Integration with OpenHub

A great piece of software, capable of running on a Raspberry Pi, is OpenHub. Check out the video. I really liked seeing the energy harvesting switches, aka piezoelectricity, rather than batteries.

Piezoelectric Wireless Sensors and Switches

To be honest, there is no physical restraint on the creation of piezoelectric keyboards and computer mice, just sheer laziness in the laboratories of Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, and the like. EnOcean has great products including wireless/self-powered switches and sensors.


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