Reshaping Smart Home Research and Development in the Pandemic Era

by Adam Felts

AgeLab researchers have published a paper describing the creation and testing of a prototype smart home system intended for human factors research. The smart home is a massive and growing product sector, but creating scalable studies on consumers’ use of smart home systems – to understand how they use the system, whether they successfully adopt it, and their ease of using the system, among other questions – poses several challenges.

The chief issue for the development of studies for smart home usage is the need to develop an experimental smart home system that can be delivered and installed in each study participant’s home. If the participant is not able to install the system themselves, then an expert must be dispatched to assist them with the installation—a process that cannot be feasibly accomplished on a large scale. (The COVID-19 pandemic has also posed complications for the feasibility of an expert entering users’ homes to assist them). Additionally, the system needs to be cost efficient, to not require any structural changes to the user’s home, and to protect the user’s data and privacy to be reproducible and willingly adopted.

The researchers aimed to create an easily installable and operable system that would not require expert assistance for user installation. User interviews, a large-scale survey, and an exhaustive study of the literature previously conducted as a part of the AgeLab’s C3 Connected Home Logistics Consortium research guided the creation of the prototype. Once the prototype was developed, the researchers undertook a pilot study of eight participants to observe the degree to which users could successfully install the system themselves, and to probe where they may have encountered particular difficulties, their perceptions of the system’s data security, and their satisfaction with the installation process.

The evaluation revealed that the prototype was easily installable and usable by participants without much confusion. However, the researchers received mixed responses from participants about privacy concerns, suggesting challenges that must still be addressed.

Former and current AgeLab researchers Heesuk (Chad) Son, Chaiwoo Lee, Shabnam FakhrHosseini, Sheng-Hung Lee, John Rudnik, and Joseph Coughlin are co-authors of the paper.

Read more about the paper, which is titled Reshaping Smart Home Research and Development in the Pandemic Era: Considerations around Scalable and Easy-to-Install Design, here. This paper is also scheduled to be presented at the 25th ACM Conference On Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW 2022).

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About the Author

Photo of Adam Felts
Adam Felts

Adam Felts is a researcher and writer at the MIT AgeLab. Currently he is involved in research on the experiences of family caregivers and the future of financial advice. He also manages the AgeLab blog and newsletter. He received his Master's in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Boston University in 2014 and his Master's of Theological Studies from Boston University in 2019.

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