Smart solutions for the homes of the future
Jochen Bauer from FAPS at FAU on the new ForeSight programme
What role does artificial intelligence (AI) have to play in assisting people at home and helping them run their houses more efficiently? Questions such as these will be investigated by the ForeSight project, which has received funding for the next three years within the German government initiative, ‘Artificial intelligence as a driver for economically relevant ecosystems.’ ForeSight is an open platform aimed at incorporating existing and new smart living solutions into an integrated system which can be used across the board, irrespective of manufacturer or industrial sector. The Institute for Factory Automation and Production Systems (FAPS) at FAU is responsible for managing the technology. We spoke to Jochen Bauer, who leads research into home automation at FAPS.
Mr Bauer, you were successful in the AI innovation contest run by the German government. What is special about this initiative?
The innovation contest is a building block in the government’s national artificial intelligence strategy. The contest is not restricted to any particular sector and has probably come to the attention of all relevant stakeholders. Well over one hundred project proposals were submitted, and 35 of them were provided funding to develop an implementation concept for the idea they described. Finally, 16 consortia were given the chance to work on their concepts and put them into practice over the next three years. We are naturally very pleased that we and our partners were able to convince the judges with our ForeSight concept and that we now have the opportunity to be involved in what will probably be the largest smart living project in Germany in the next ten years.
Your research focuses on smart home and building management solutions. What role does AI have to play in this context?
In practice, artificial intelligence is already being used, for example in energy management or technical assistance systems. However, these tend to be isolated solutions. We are lacking systems which can be used across the board, irrespective of manufacturer and sector. It is true that interoperability is slowly improving, but integration and digitalisation of existing processes is still largely neglected at the current time. This is where AI has a valuable contribution to make. One example could be in the housing sector. We could make key management fully digital, taking the individual context into account. By key management we mean the processes involved in exchanging keys when there is a change of tenant and regulating access rights. It is challenges like these that we are going to tackle with ForeSight.
What exactly do you hope to achieve with ForeSight?
ForeSight focuses on building management. We hope to generate important research findings at the same time as laying the foundation for operational modules that can be used by third-party systems and become successfully established on the market. The project team will offer basic AI services which allow context recognition, and which are able to recognise people and their activities and integrate processes and services in the housing sector into smart living concepts. For example, sensors in the home could analyse the daily routine of the inhabitants, adjust energy management accordingly and even initiate a presence simulation if the family is away on holiday. The system could also plausibly be used to offer assistance in an emergency, for example by raising the alarm to warn people present in the house or automatically unlocking the door to grant emergency services access. Our strategy is to test and evaluate the modules we design first of all in the laboratory, then in show homes, then finally in authentic settings with real tenants. At the end of the project, we hope to have developed a method platform offering a number of robust modules which will set new standards in the areas of interoperability, security, data protection and, of course, AI.
Which institutions are involved in ForeSight?
We are one of 17 consortium partners, and there are another 50 or so associated partners. As it is such an interesting mix of companies, associations and research institutions, we are very well placed to cover the value chain of the platform we are aiming to establish. Some of the largest partners are Bosch, the Zentralverband der Elektroinnung (Central Association of the Electrical Guild) and the Deutsche Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz (German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence), but a number of hidden champions from the SME sector which play an important role in the global market are also involved. FAPS is responsible for managing the technology. It is up to us to ensure that all concepts and modules are incorporated into one integrated system. We also deal with issues of interoperability, scalability, data protection, security, identity and access management and, of course, AI.
How do you think smart living solutions will change our lives in the next ten years?
I think that in ten years’ time we will probably all have various sensors and control elements integrated into our living space that interact with each other and provide significant added convenience and comfort to our day to day lives. When the time comes, we will be able to stay in our own homes longer before we have to consider moving into care. We will save money and resources thanks to clever energy management. Our homes will become generally more convenient and comfortable. One highly sensitive aspect which shouldn’t be ignored, however, is how to deal with all the data which is generated. We will therefore also work on providing technological solutions which ensure that data sovereignty remains with the respective user and that data misuse is avoided as far as possible.
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