Independent living in smart homes

Rachel Tindall, content writer at CEDIA, talks to Alan Matthews, owner of Automated Spaces about how he is helping to change the landscape for independent living in smart homes.

Alan Matthews is a nice guy. He’s one of those people you could stop and have a conversation with even if you didn’t know him. What may be less obvious is that he’s making huge strides in accessibility for the home technology industry.

Matthews owns the integration business Automated Spaces, which focusses on smart home technology and home cinemas. Only recently has independent living technology become a focus.

Alan Matthews

How it happened

In early 2022, Matthews was attending a CEDIA Tech Summit event in London. At the event, Matt Nimmons, managing director of CEDIA EMEA, gave an update on the Policy Connect – Smarter Homes for Independent Living Report. Aneta Armova-Levin and a group of CEDIA volunteers had been providing guidance and offering expertise for the report for quite some time and it was finally ready for the public. 

Having been a CEDIA member for five years already, CEDIA’s involvement in the new guidance interested him. He downloaded a copy of the report, and it sat unread for weeks. When he made the time to read it, he explains that “the implications of what was in the report suddenly started to dawn on me”. In particular, the second recommendation stood out because it advised updates for the types of technologies government-provided disabled facilities grant (DFG) could pay for.

This hit home for Matthews because just two years earlier, a client asked if there were available grants for their project. At that point, he’d investigated assisted or independent living technology, including the DFG fund. “When we looked at it previously, it didn’t quite translate to smart home technologies,” he recalls.

So, when he saw that the Policy Connect report offered new advice about what the DFG funds could be used for, he knew it was a big deal. “If the disabled facilities grant has now changed, then the delivery guidance for local authorities has also changed.” Suddenly, the DFG could be used for many elements traditional smart home installers were already using in projects.

Some of the most important changes Matthews noticed in the DFG guidance included:

  • Controlling sources of power, light, and heat
    • Smart Lighting that can switch lights on and off remotely
    • Smart thermostats that can be remotely controlled via smartphone or other devices
    • Smart hubs to allow people to control devices using a voice activation app on their phones
    • Remotely controlled power sockets to switch things on and off
    • Automated light switches that can be activated using voice commands, a smartphone app, or via sensor triggered by movement or a timer
  • Improving digital connectivity within a dwelling to support assistive technologies
    • Wireless routers
    • Wi-Fi extenders
    • Cabling

The bigger picture impact

After this momentous realisation, Matthews began speaking to local councils and home improvement agencies (HIAs). They had also just become aware of the DFG updates.

Before the Policy Connect Report recommendations, Matthews explains that the HIAs were limited in what they could recommend. “Now with the updated guidance, all of a sudden, they have many more options that can be delivered into the home and provide benefits for people.”

Since the initial conversations, the HIAs have been talking to architects about these updates as well. The good news travelled quickly: “It's really positive and encouraging that we're seeing the central government update has already trickled down to local government,” assures Matthews. 

To really help these community partners understand how the technology could be used in a home, Matthews arranged a series of visits to Automated Spaces’ smart home show house. As he says, “It's a real house, kitted out with all of the technology inside” that allowed him to “demonstrate a lot of the use case scenarios around independent living technology”. Seeing how the technology functions in a realistic home setting “brings it to life”. It’s then easier for people to understand how they might use it in their own homes.

Matthews has been in the smart home technology space for years and feels strongly about the possibilities of what the industry has to offer. “We can bring new ideas about automation solutions to the table, which could have significant positive impact on people's lives. I think integrators could really help push the traditional solutions forward.”

On the cusp of something big

Matthews believes the new advice for the DFG funds has given the home integration sector a chance to step up and help. He says: “There's a lot in the standard portfolio of solutions, of a smart home integrator, that can easily translate and provide benefit. It's just a case of helping the care sector understand a bit more about what smart home technology can offer in terms of independent living.”

Many people think of smart homes as a luxury, or something unaffordable and out of reach. But the new guidelines allow for more support for independent living technologies than ever before. Suddenly, automated lighting isn’t simply about being able to watch a great movie in a home cinema, but also about being accessible to someone who has a light sensitivity. Voice control offers a way for people who don’t have full use of their hands or limbs to thrive independently in their home. As Matthews says, independent living technology is “helping promote dignity”. Helping people stay in their homes longer can also be more comfortable as people get older.

JLCo Ana Suanes / Shutterstock

“A lot of these solutions can also provide reassurances to family members. We have started working with a ‘Connected Care’ platform, that can be integrated with various sensors within a smart home system, to provide a portal to reassure family members about their loved one who may want to live alone for longer,” explains Matthews. It enables informal carers, such as family members, or even formal care providers to be automatically notified of potential health issues, falls or other related events in the home. It can provide an online dashboard to allow carers to check in a non-intrusive manner easily and effectively on service users, too. Not to mention the likely stress reduction benefits for family members who now have the additional assistance of a 24/7 health monitoring service for their loved ones. It can also provide significant cost savings due to being able to delay entry into often expensive formal care settings.

Seeing the potential positive impact stemming from the update to the disabled facilities grant guidance, Matthews notes that he’s had a “paradigm shift” in terms of his thinking and business direction.

What you need to know about integrated tech & accessibility

Matthews is making and leading big changes in how smart home technology is seen, particularly in Leicestershire, England where he’s based. During the course of 2022, Automated Spaces became a CEDIA Member of Excellence, won a Control4 Circle of Excellence Award and received a ‘Highly Commended’ designation for their ‘Integrated Home’ entry to the CEDIA EMEA annual awards.

His advice is simple: take a quiet moment to read the updated guidance. Once you understand the changes, reach out to your local care providers, home improvement agencies, occupational therapists, start having conversations with them. “They’re very keen to understand,” he says. If you have a showroom, use it to help the carers and community partners in your area understand the good you can do with technology you’re already installing.

It’s a new way to think, but when you consider the accessibility implications, you’ll feel good knowing your work is making people’s lives better. After all, that’s what our industry is all about, right?

Get a copy of the full Policy Connect report here.

Main image: Matej Kastelic / Shutterstock

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