All posts by Lucy Ingham

Smart living: How integrated services are coming to your home

Smart meters are opening the doors to city-wide networked services that feed into individual homes.

The technology that makes networked smart meters possible could be expanded to provide in-home communication and monitoring by security or healthcare services, according to experts speaking about the future of smart cities.

In a talk at London-based green construction exhibition Ecobuild, Mark Atherton, director of environment for the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, explained how networked smart systems were already being used the supply air source heat to social housing.

He explained that by using an IT system to manage the supply enabled the organisation to find ways to “smooth out the demand curve” – to regulate supply to reduce spikes in use by controlling the amount of heat is supplied to individual households at a given time.

“These technologies won’t just be used to enable smart meters but can be used for security and health services”

Atherton also explained how this system could be expanded to other services, such as in-home health monitoring or support for the elderly.

Institute of Sustainability chief executive Ian Short shared this view of the potential for networks. “These technologies won’t just be used to enable smart meters but can be used for security and health services,” he said.

Individuals in need of assistance could simply push a button in their home to communicate with healthcare or security services. These services would have access to data to assist with their work, for example in the form of medical readings for a healthcare professional or live local crime data for a security expert.

While the system has some obvious benefits, it raises serious privacy concerns for individuals living in networked homes, summoning up an almost Orwellian image for some.

The example Atherton cites of an existing project is in social housing, where the local government has a greater right to add such systems than in private houses. This division could lead to a two-tier system where social housing is largely networked and monitored, while private housing is largely not – something that would be very concerning for some rights campaigners.

“A little bit into the future you might see electrical vehicles being built into the same grid”

However, the technology is not necessarily a bad thing. With adequate legislation and monitoring and use it could become a valuable system and an effective way to link homes together in a sustainable way.

The grid could also be expanded to include wider city services. “A little bit into the future you might see electrical vehicles being built into the same grid,” said Atherton.

For governments and organisations looking to get users to embrace these technologies, it will be a matter of trust. Short believes this is something that can be built by involving the community in the development of such systems.

For Atherton, explaining the benefits is central to such a system’s success: “It’s all about going in and explaining it to people,” he said.

Rise of Robocop: the autonomous robot that predicts and prevents crime

Autonomous crime fighting robots could soon be roaming the streets, with the launch of the Knightscope K5 autonomous data machine.

Resembling a mix of WALL-E’s EVE and R2-D2, Knightscope can “see, feel, hear and smell” to collect data and indentify security threats.

In a move that is decidedly reminiscent of Minority Report, the data collected is analysed to predict potential crimes and an alert is pushed to notify the authorities.

The security system also makes use of crowdsourcing to fight crime. In the event of an alert, the local community is involved to contribute real-time information through social media, which will not only assist with crime prevention but the company hopes will also alleviate security concerns.

Knightscope K5 Autonomous Robot

The robot has an impressive range of data acquisition techniques to identify potential security risks. Both daytime and nightime video can be recorded in full 360°, and Knightscope is equipped with gesture recognition and optical character recognition.

It also has infrared capabilities and real-time 3D mapping, all of which combine to produce a mammoth amount of raw data – 90TB, equivalent to 5,000 Blu-Ray movies – each day.

This information is used to plot a real-time ‘heat map’ of crime hotspots in the area, and provide a direct and targeted response to crime.

Knightscope K5 Autonomous Robot predicts and prevents crime

Although the robot is still in development, the company has already attracted interest from several organisations, and has acquired at least one Silicon Valley-based customer to beta test the machine with over the next few months.

It also won’t be long before the robot starts to appear elsewhere. Knightscope vice president of marketing and sales Stacy Dean Stephens confirmed that the company already has “nearly 30 large enterprise customers on a growing wait list and anticipate[s] large-scale deployments in 2015”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, investors have been falling over themselves to grab a slice of Knightscope pie.

“Knightscope is also oversubscribed for its $1m seed round and will be pursuing a Series A financing later in the year,” explained Stephens.

The company is targeting $1bn+ eventual value, which may seem like a staggering figure but is almost modest when you realise that many security companies are worth tens of billions.

Weighing in at 136kg (300 pounds) and rising to 1.5m (60 inches) in height, Knightscope will be a very visible presence in communities. The company hopes it will be a friendly sight in neighbourhoods, and is describing the robot as a “new hometown hero”.

How many people will see the robot in a positive light remains to be seen, but it could have a similar impact on crime to a police presence, acting as a deterrent for criminals.

However, its recording capabilities could have the opposite effect. In many parts of the world there is a growing anti-surveillance mentality, which is playing out in resistance to new technologies that involve video recording. Most prominent of these is Google Glass, with at least one reported attack on a wearer occurring in the last month.

Images courtesy Knightscope.