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.

Location aware Wi-Fi to send thousands of fans updates during events

The sight of thousands of people holding up their mobile phones as they watch a gig has become a more than familiar occurrence but now these fans could receive exclusive backstage interviews and deals by connecting to a Wi-Fi network at the same time as thousands of others.

At sports events phones could vibrate to give fans at events real-time betting opportunities, allow them to order food and drink to their seats and provide replays and updates from other sporting events using new technology developed by start-up company Mobbra.

The company, based in Manchester, UK, and aims to enable mass connectivity in large venues using their Massivity system.

The system allows 500 devices to connect to a single wireless access point – whereas it claims competitors can only connect up to around 60 devices at once – and provide content that fans can interact with.

Mobbra have only revealed the technology in the last few months and the latest tests show them practicing pushing content to up to 1,000 devices using two access points.

President and founder of the company Will Walters said the idea came from trying to push the boundaries of what can be achieved with a mobile device.

Walters told Factor: “Massivity is a technology that we have been developing for the last couple of years and we have just gone public with it over the last couple of months.

“We took inspiration from the Coldplay wrist band and said ‘what can we do with the power of a smartphones?’

“Smartphones are getting better and better and we looked at how can we create a more engaging fan experience by using a smartphone. We then looked at sports as well as music.

“From there we thought there is a problem with connectivity. The technology enables marketing agencies to be more creative because one of the biggest problems over the last five years has been wireless connectivity. We’re trying to be pioneers in wireless fan engagement.”

The company said by re-writing some of the code it will be have no upper limit to the amount of users that can be connected in one area and that it has been speaking to one event which will have up to 850,000 people attending.

It is currently targeting sports and music events and say they have been speaking to football clubs in the UK and Europe as well as NFL teams in the US but say discussions have also been had about being able to provide crucial information in emergency situations.

Walters said the mobile app Fangage, which is due to be available later this month, will capitalise on location-based software. It will also be able to work away from an event which, means users could receive extra footage if using their device as a second screen while watching television at home.

“The long-term goal is that we are creating almost an app for the wide entertainment industry. Because our technology is quite intelligent if you walk into a different location it knows where you are and you have a customised environment and a customised feel to that location,” he said. “We are trying to create an app that makes your life easier.”

“We are very strict on security and digital rights management.”

The technology will also be able to control the users’ phones in some ways – such as turning a camera’s flash light on – which has raised some concerns over the individual’s privacy.

But addressing potential concerns with allowing the technology to connect to and control people’s mobile phone Walters said the company takes privacy very seriously.

He said: “It all comes down to the app and what you allow us to do. If you don’t allow us to turn your light on then we can’t turn it on.

“We are very strict on security and digital rights management. The user has to give us permission to automatically turn it on. When you download the app there’s certain functionality that we ask for and you have to give us permission to do so.”

Image courtesy of Randy Miramontez /