Convenient home automation can be especially helpful for people with limited mobility due to age or disability. This often overlooked user group can benefit greatly from a network of electronic aids using a tablet PC or smartphone. The ability to lower wall-mounted cupboards in the kitchen to an accessible height or adjust the room temperature and lighting anywhere in the house would provide a greater sense of freedom. Eaton's proven xComfort wireless system aids in providing this service
The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Muskelkranke (DGM), a German association for people with muscular diseases, is the oldest and largest self-help organisation in Germany for people with neuromuscular disorders. The association provides advice and assistance to more than 7,500 members. In cooperation with building automation specialist HomeBrace (based in Urbach, Germany), and Invacare, a leading provider of mobility aids with headquarters in Isny (Germany), DGM has executed an innovative residential project in Freiburg-Waltershofen.
DGM designed and built two flats with living room, kitchen and bathroom fixtures suitable for wheelchair users and those with disabilities. They are targeted to the specific needs of people with neuromuscular disorders. The underlying idea was to create a residential space in which people with physical disabilities and their family members could not only see various aids and structural measures, but also try them out under practical conditions. The flats are very popular and serve as a source of inspiration for the planning of residential spaces tailored to specific needs.
HomeBrace specialises in solutions that enable smart living in private residences and care facilities. By giving occupants interactive control over lighting, heating, shading, multimedia and access, innovative building automation provides benefits such as increased comfort, better cost effectiveness, higher energy efficiency and enhanced security. However, it offers something special for people with limited mobility: a great deal more freedom and independence. HomeBrace is passionate about this, which is why they have been active for some time in the development of specific solutions for those living with disabilities.
Challenge – New tasks for a proven system
The key element of the HomeBrace system is the controller, which manages the sensors and actuators of the building functions. The company's MyBrace Controller Easy is designed to support basic building automation, while the Classic version additionally supports the integration of digital multimedia. The MyBrace app provides a convenient user interface and Eaton's proven xComfort wireless system plays a central role in the concept. It encompasses numerous sensor and actuator components for switching or controlling all possible functions in the building, including lighting, roller shutters, heating, ventilation, windows and doors, as well as appliances.
All devices in the xComfort system communicate wirelessly, which makes the installation of wireless buttons, switches, outlets or heating system valves quick and easy even in existing buildings and eliminates the need for structural work. The switches can be mounted on any desired location using screws or adhesive tape. Wiring to the actuators or the controller is not necessary because the entire system communicates wirelessly. After installing the actuators and sensors in the building, HomeBrace sets up all the functions in its controller, configures the device parameters, and connects the devices to the local network and the Internet. This enables users to access all building services from a central place, no matter where they may be. HomeBrace has already installed this building automation system in more than 5,000 households in the German-speaking region of Europe and Scandinavia.
The challenge in the DGM residential project was to adapt this proven solution to the specific objective of enabling people with disabilities to use and control functions and fixtures in their home environment as extensively as possible.
Solution – Flexible operation concept for an intuitive app
As part of the project, HomeBrace developed a special app for smartphones or tablet PCs that is adapted to the circumstances of the DGM residence. Users can operate this app in various ways depending on their physical abilities: by hand using the touchscreen or a joystick, with head control in the case of severely limited hand function, or even with eye motion. All of these modes can also be operated comfortably from a wheelchair.
Scenarios that recur on a daily basis can be programmed as configurations. For example, Night mode dims the lights at a specific time of day and switches off power to the cooker and unused power sockets, while the bath time function sets the room temperature and lighting to suitable levels and fills the bathtub with a defined amount of water at a specific temperature. The solution also enables actions that are usually entirely unimaginable for wheelchair users without external assistance, such as lowering wall-mounted cupboards in the kitchen or a clothes rail in the wardrobe to an accessible height at the push of a button, using the phone, or changing the television channel. Many different scenarios are possible, and HomeBrace can adapt the system to suit individual needs.
All of these functions are made possible by the fact that the xComfort components are not limited to receiving and executing commands, but can also send status feedback to the controller. The wireless system is additionally designed to avoid the need for routers even in extended areas, since each component acts as a relay station for the wireless signal. This makes the system very reliable. HomeBrace has already used xComfort in applications with areas up to 2,000 m2 with good results.
Result – An unlimited breadth of application areas
“We have been working with Eaton for several years already. This project provides additional proof that we chose the best technology”, commented Thomas Rosner, Managing Director of HomeBrace. “Right now I don't see any alternative to xComfort on the market. The product is still innovative. There is nothing more flexible than a wireless system, and in my experience xComfort has the most reliable wireless bus technology. There are no limits to the breadth of application areas. Now we have increased our portfolio to include solutions for those living with disabilities and assistance systems for elderly people. I'm curious to see what comes next. In our view, building automation still has a lot of potential.”
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how it works in reality.