I'm always pleased to see people using smart home technology for something other than making a really killer, expensive simulation of the local $9 movie theater. The Gator Tech Smart House for seniors is a new construction house that's
designed to assist older persons in maximizing independence and maintaining a high quality of life. To this end we are innovating Pervasive Computing technology to create a supportive and assistive environment for the elderly and the disabled.
The house has a number of typical "smart home" home automation things in it--flat panel displays, remote controls, kitchen computers that pop out recipes--but there are also some nice innovations, since they're forcing themselves to think about the whole house, not just the living room and kitchen. There's a bed that monitors sleep patterns, there are floors that detect if someone has fallen, there's a pantry to warns you if some of the food in it is rotten (something that I could have certainly used in the past), there's a tub that prevents accidental scalding and adjusts settings based on whose in it (if they do it by weight--what seems the easiest way, to me--that would be way cool...or lukewarm, if that's your preference ;-). By creating a specific target market--the elderly--they've created an interesting set of constraints that's let them tune the capabilities of the technology to specific uses, which I think is great.
An interesting quote comes from a transcript of a TV show about the house. 78 year-old Minette Hendler says "It's the house taking care of me. I'm not really alone." Once again, this shows how people project human qualities onto technology. Minette really IS going to be alone, in the literal sense, but her hope is that some of the anxieties normally associated with being alone--being out of contact, no one being able to call for help on your behalf, no one watching your food and water intake, etc.--are going to be taken care of by the technology. That's almost certainly a good thing, but what still fascinates me is how 'smart' technology changes people's relationships with the inanimate objects in their lives. I was just thinking of the From Animals to Animats intelligent agent conference series, and how animat is an interesting term for something that's between the two worlds: animated, but not an animal. A smart house, in this definition (though not in the definition that the conference people would use) is a kind of animat.