Google-backed smart home sensors track all devices in a room

A research team at Carnegie Mellon University’s Future Interfaces Group believe they may have found the answer to the issues with interoperability and security that turn many people off having connected devices in the home – and at a relatively low cost.

Replacing the need for connecting IoT devices one-by-one or adding sensor tags to old appliances, researchers at CMU have introduced an innovative concept for a hub that can track a whole space when plugged into an electrical outlet this week’s ACM CHI (Human-Computer Interaction) Conference in Denver.

By tracking ambient environmental data creators of the sensor nexus – dubbed “synthetic sensors” say it allows programmers to trigger certain activity or routines in the home. As the video above shows, users only have to plug in the sensor board into a USB wall port to trigger the sensors collecting data about its surroundings. This is then sent up to the cloud over WiFi.

Machine learning algorithms allow the sensor to eventually identify different events in the home (such as the switching on or use of appliances) by detecting certain sound patterns. This awareness can potentially go one step in the future – for instance, "left faucet on" to activate a room's left paper towel dispenser, and automatically schedule a restock when its supply runs low. It can even check the flush status of a toilet.

Back in 2015, the research proposal from Google the project forms part of stated the company had high hopes for the technology driving forward widespread adoption of IoT. It said: “The mission of this program is to enable effective use and broad adoption of the Internet of Things by making it as easy to discover and interact with connected devices as it is to find and use information on the open web.”

“The resulting open ecosystem should facilitate usability, ensure privacy and security, and above all guarantee interoperability.”

The team at CMU say user privacy is prioritised by not bringing a camera into the room and refraining from uploading raw environmental data to the cloud – only the analysed results. Although the system cannot provide remote control of devices, the system itself not being connected to the internet has considerable benefits.

It is as yet unclear if the research team plan to bring the sensor to market, but Google’s backing of the device may just mean this definitely may not be the last we hear of the technology, with some suggesting there is a strong chance it could incorporated in the Google Home speaker.

More information on the synthetic sensors (including the research paper) can be found here.

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