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Home Group Case Study

Organisation Overview – Home Group 

Home Group is a housing association, social enterprise and charity and one of the UK’s largest providers of high-quality housing and integrated housing, health and social care.

The Challenge

Home Group supports vulnerable people including the older generation, those with mental health needs, people with learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorder. Their aim is to build homes which will help some of the most vulnerable people in society live more independently.

The Solution

Researchers from across different disciplines at Northumbria University tested and developed a range of smart digital technologies including virtual assistants, sensors, apps and off-the-shelf smart devices, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home, as part of a ‘living lab’. The lab at Gateshead Innovation Village – an award-winning housing development created by Home Group, and designed by ID partnership with project management by Elliott Associates - was the base for the 12-month research project examining how various digital technologies can assist vulnerable people in different ways. These include home automation, prompts and reminders about their everyday activities, developing and maintaining their skills, and even monitoring their day-to-day behaviour.

Ana-Maria Salai, Senior Research Assistant in the Department of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, lived at the house in the Gateshead Innovation Village for a year during the project.

She helped to develop personalised and agile approaches to existing everyday technology. One solution that has been developed is IntraVox, which is a process that analyses data collected from the sensors and then sends a message in a familiar voice to control a virtual assistant. This audible sending of commands makes the things that go on in the home clearer and more understandable, which is particularly important for residents that are not used to “smart” technology.

“The voices on these devices such as Alexa and Google Home also sound quite synthetic,” she said. “Programming these devices so that they have a human voice makes them a lot more user-friendly. These can be the voices of a family member, friend, or even a person’s carer.”

The Impact

The project and its findings have been well-received by Home Group and now other local councils are showing interest in Northumbria’s innovative approach to support in the home. Its team of researchers are challenging the status quo and looking at what they can do to improve the life chances of people, particularly some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Glenda Cook , Professor of Nursing at Northumbria University, who lead the project from a health care perspective, said: “Incredible social impact can be achieved through use of digital technologies that are becoming widely available to everyone and can support independence and improve quality of life.”

Professor Lars Erik Holmquist, from Northumbria University’s School of Design, has vast experience in smart technologies and is leading the research from a technical side.

“The smart home does not actually exist yet, it is still very much a myth,” he said. “It is still something the world is aspiring too, but what we are doing here is very innovative. We have devised a way in which the devices can communicate with each other; for example, if it’s getting dark a sensor will pick this up and a voice on another device will say would you like the lights turned on? This opens the “black box” of the smart home and makes it much more user-friendly.”

If you are interested in collaborating with Northumbria University on a research project, contact us today and we can discuss your needs in more detail.

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