Katie Siek, an associate professor at the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study how older adults could build their own Internet of Things devices using a toolkit of customizable electronics to support their aging in the residence of their choice.
The project, part of a collaboration with the University of Maryland, aims to simplify the integration of electronics into everyday objects to aid aging adults in their home by developing Toolkits for Aging in Place for Older Retirees (TAIPOR). The study, which includes Ph.D. student Ben Jelen, an NSF Graduate Research Fellow, would assess older adults’ interest in pervasive computing while empowering them to design and create their own aging in place technologies.
“We’ve been working with local groups and going all over the state talking to older adults,” Siek said. “We’ve also been working with IU Mini University and just trying to figure out what older adults want in terms of sensing capabilities. We found that they’re interested in subtle reminders about everyday tasks or general safety.”
Recent developments in IoT technology has created a number of products that introduces sensors in to the home to alert both users and caregivers to movement, cooking safety issues, reminders to take medications, and more. Adoption by aging adults, however, has been low, and Siek’s team looks to empower users by allowing them to easily build smart technology into the items they most find useful while maintaining their sense of aesthetics. For instance, the TAIPOR system could be used to create a pill bag that will remind users to take medications at a certain time if their routine changes.
The project also includes a workshop with a local Girl Scout troop that will allow intergenerational collaboration on technology-based projects.
“Working with electronics can be kind of scary,” Siek said. “You have to know how to solder and connect things, and you have to know how many resisters are needed and what kind of power is required. With this toolkit, you can use magnets and machine sew pieces together. The TAIPOR system is pre-programmed to take that ‘scary’ aspect out of it. You don’t have to know ports or polarity or anything like that. You just have to match colors.”
The project was inspired by the response of a family member of Siek’s who balked at the idea of having a device in their home that could potentially impact their privacy by “listening” at all times waiting for commands. The person felt like they would be giving up some control of their privacy if they welcomed a digital assistant into their home.
“Our toolkit can help give people more control over their devices because they know what is going into them,” Siek said. “We want to make kits that can allow people to integrate their own IoT into everyday items. For instance, someone might not like a nightlight that could light their way in a hallway, but they might like to incorporate some LED lights into a quilt they could hang on the wall that would serve the same purpose. This grant will just help develop a system to make adults more comfortable with the technology and give them a better understanding of what goes into the IoT in their home.”