Creating “can-do”: Imagine! SmartHomes

Tucked away on Iris Avenue, the Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome is just that, a home.

Lacking the sterile feel of  a clinic, Imagine!’s group SmartHomes “look like normal homes because they are normal homes,” says Fred Hobbs.

The family room is complete with a plush sectional couch and brand new hardwood floors add warmth throughout the interior. It is the goal of Imagine! to create an environment for their residents to interact with different communities in a natural environment, with disability as little of a factor as possible. The integration of cutting-edge technology into these SmartHomes facilitates learning and independence. Using a touch screen computer in the kitchen, residents can follow step-by-step cooking videos, enabling them to make the food they want to eat when the want it, creating less need for constant care; or they can read the daily news, email friends using a voice recorder, or check the weather before getting off to their daily routines that often involves going to work.

Funded entirely by Imagine! and The Imagine! Foundation, “the idea behind SmartHomes is that they work as a living laboratory where we can test technology that we can then move into other homes,” says Hobbs.

"Make it beautiful," was one criteria architects were given when building the Bob and Judy Charles SmarHomes.

“Make it beautiful,” was one criteria architects were given when building the Bob and Judy Charles SmartHomes.

With over 300 people wait-listed for Imagine!’s services, new in-home technology is a way to manage demand for sercices. Though technologies in the homes are often designed with the need of one specific person in mind, “the designs can easily be translated into the general market,” notes Hobbs.

Technologies as simple as adjustable counter tops make food preparation more comfortable and easily accessible for residents in wheel chairs while more advanced technologies such as an electromagnetic stove top keep residents safer than traditional kitchen fixtures.

The electromagnetic stove at Boulder's Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome can be raised and lowered to cater to each cook.

The electromagnetic stove at Boulder’s Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome can be raised and lowered to cater to each cook.

The SmartHomes work with engineering students such as Professor Malinda Piket-May of CU’s Electrical Engineering department. Piket-May’s students work with Imagine! SmartHome residents to create such technologies as a bionic arm to control the movement of a DynaVox (an augmented communication device used by people who do not have the use of speech), to an adapted Nintendo Wii platform that accommodates the weight of electric wheelchairs.

One resident noted doing his own laundry as something that was very important to him and his sense of independence. His wheelchair made carrying a laundry basket difficult, but a team of engineering students were on it. After spending time with the resident, the team crafted a laundry basket that hooked onto the resident’s chair. The team used retractable cables that stretched with the weight of the clothing, and contracted as the load lightened, bringing the bottom of the basket closer to the top as clothes were removed. This simple feature allowed the resident to reach the clothing at the bottom of the basket even with limited mobility and arm reach.

An adapted keyboard and mouse help one resident pursue her dream of becoming a writer.

An adapted keyboard and mouse help one resident pursue her dream of becoming a writer.

The ultimate benefit of the SmartHome technologies?

“Being in control of one’s life,” says Hobbs.

Follow the Imagine! SmartHomes blog for updates every week from “Technology Tuesdays.”

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