Thu. Jun 17th, 2021

Our homes are becoming smarter. People are getting more and more interested in various smart devices, such as doorbells, IP cameras, virtual assistants and even thermostats. Smart thermostats help regulate temperature inside the home very precisely, adapting it to people’s needs and weather data. But scientists from the University of Waterloo  say that smart home thermostats could also help monitor people’s health.

A modern ecobee smart home thermostat. Devices like this can tell when the person left the room. Image credit: Shadowncs via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Now, obviously, a smart home thermostat is not a medical device. However, smart things are smart because they can adapt to various situations. And scientists believe that sensors from smart home thermostats can be used to help monitor the health of older adults and home patients. In this case scientists focused on ecobee – a Canadian smart thermostat technology. They developed an algorithm using software they developed to monitor people’s behaviour, such as sleeping, physical activity and sedentary behaviour. And those are great indications about one’s health.

There are numerous advantages to using smart remote monitoring devices for functions like this. First of all, health professionals can react quickly to the changing situation, changing treatment plans accordingly. Secondly, these devices use artificial intelligence, which makes quick work of huge amounts of data. Research that would take years could be accelerated to several months. And, most importantly, services to house-bound elderly could be improved significantly.

ecobee is a very popular brand of smart thermostats – an estimated 100,000 Canadians already have ecobee smart thermostats in their homes. In fact, ecobee created the world’s first smart thermostat back in 2008. Current devices have a huge variety of functions, including separate modes for sleeping, away and just hanging out. More importantly (at least in this case), ecobee smart home thermostats have a variety of sensors, such as the remote temperature/occupancy sensors., which can tell when the room is empty.

Scientists could use that data to understand how people are moving around their homes and whether they are being too sedentary. But, as usual, technology like this comes with a huge question mark over privacy. Plinio Morita, one of the scientists in this project, said: “Another challenge we have is that people worry about their privacy, and rightly so. There is a balance we must strike between collecting meaningful data and making it available for personal and public health purposes”.

Scientists are still researching these possibilities. However, because our homes are getting filled with hundreds of devices, it would be a good idea to use them to enhance our actual wellbeing. Using thermostats for health reasons could be one of the ways to do it.


Source: University of Waterloo 

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