Barnabas Helmy – “Innovator of the Year” at the UIS * iSPI * SIU Illinois Capital Innovation Awards


Barnabas Helmy – “Innovator of the Year” at the UIS * iSPI * SIU Illinois Capital Innovation Awards

We are proud to announce that SmashToast CEO, Barnabas Helmy of Springfield, and creator of The PUCK, was honored with an “Innovator of the Year” award at the UIS * iSPI * SIU Illinois Capital Innovation Awards. Congratulations, Barnabas!

How smart home products empower users with disabilities


How smart home products empower users with disabilities

Smart home products are often marketed for their convenience, but the technology also can help people with disabilities become more independent.

Smart home products are objects connected via Wi-Fi or a different technology to other things in the home; they can be controlled remotely by a touch panel or an app on a device. Smart home technology remains a nascent category, but some consumer products include functions that previously were found in assistive devices.

Smartphones, tablets and Wi-Fi-connected homes made the overlap possible, said Stephen Ewell, executive director of the Consumer Technology Association Foundation. Apps use smartphone accessibility features, like voice commands or touchscreens, opening interaction with various home technologies. The consumer market’s economies of scale can make smart home products cheaper and with better technology than assistive devices, he said.

Attractively designed smart home products also remove the stigma some disabled feel when using a clinical-looking device, Ewell said.

“What I hear more and more from the disabled community is that they really are looking for the same devices that the general consumer market is looking for,” he said.

Both the people with disabilities and product manufacturers are just starting to realize the empowering potential in these products, said Cristen Reat, co-founder of BridgingApps, a program of Easter Seals Greater Houston.

One of the top smart-home devices is Amazon’s Echo line, which use Amazon’s Alexa voice service, said both Reat, and Alexander Glazebrook, director of training and technology for Older Adults Technology Services in New York.

The Echo Dot ($49.99) is Amazon’s voice-activated speaker, and the newest product is the Echo Show, ($229.99), which has video-call integration. Reat said Echo can be used for audiobooks and voice shopping, and it even picks up communication devices used by nonverbal people.

“Voice shopping is tremendous for people with disabilities. Someone with a cognitive impairment can be taught to order things,” she said.

Reat said she was very impressed that Echo recognized robotic voice commands. “That’s a huge impact for people who cannot speak for themselves and rely on technology to speak for them,” she said.

Glazebrook said senior citizens his group works with enjoy interacting with Echo, and he sees a lot of promise that the Echo Show’s video capability could reduce the feeling of isolation in the elderly.

Smart locks and smart doorbells offer convenience and safety for people with disabilities and their caregivers. Popular lock brands include August Smart Lock (starting at $149) and Schlage (starting at $199), while a top smart doorbell is Ring (starting at $179).

“Smart doorbells are good for all ages. Ring has a video camera on the doorbell, and you can see on your computer (or phone) who it is and communicate through the doorbell, even if you’re not at home,” Glazebrook said.

Reat said smart locks make it easier for people with disabilities to enter and exit the home, and caregivers don’t have to run home to let someone in or give out permanent keys, since they can control entry from their phone. Some higher-end smart locks have video cameras.

Reat said smart ceiling fans, like the Signal line from Hunter Fan ($349), combine safety and comfort. Especially in hot areas, ceiling fans help with circulation, but manual fans can be difficult for people with disabilities if they require standing on a chair to switch speeds or direction.

Money can be an issue for people with disabilities, as many cannot work, Reat said. An inexpensive way to add smart technology is with smart switches, like those from iDevices (starting at $29.95) or Belkin’s WeMo (starting at $34.99). Users plug manual objects into the smart switch, and the object can be controlled from their smartphone.

Smart light bulbs, like Philips Hue ($99.99 for a starter kit), are energy efficient and come in color palates, said Glazebrook. Not only can users control them remotely, they can change the colors if they’re sensitive to lights.

“I love that product. I‘ve had it close to four to five years, and they’ve not gone out,” he said.

Debbie Carlson is a freelance writer.

Americans: Smart Homes Are Cool, But Too Expensive


Americans: Smart Homes Are Cool, But Too Expensive

People like the idea of controlling their houses from afar, but aren’t interested in pricey retrofits.

Americans like the idea of smart homes, but when it comes to actually paying the bill for stuffing their houses and apartments with futuristic Internet of Things (IoT) tech and devices, they balk.

Just 27 percent of Americans have purchased a connected home device, although 71 would appreciate the ability to monitor their home while they’re away, according to a survey of 2,177 adults commissioned by home automation company Wink.

One reason for the disconnect? People think smart homes cost too much. Thirty-four percent of survey respondents estimate it would cost more than $5,000 to turn their abode into a smart home, while 9 percent put that number at $20,000. Of course, definitions as to how smart a home must be before you can label it that way vary widely; Wink notes that its basic automation hub suitecan be had for about $200.

For people who are enthusiastic about the tech but not the price, there’s also the possibility that insurance companies might foot the entire bill for home security and automation systems, either through rate discounts or by paying for the installation up front. (Homes with IoT devices like leak detectors are safer and thus cheaper to insure, the thinking goes). The insurance industry is gung-ho about that option, according to a recent surveyfrom analytics firm NTT Data, but just 16 percent of consumers surveyed said they’d be interested in home automation provided by their insurance carrier.

The upshot is that the connected home conundrum of the 1990s is still with us today: people like the idea, but not the expense or the installation hassle. So home automation is still largely the realm of geeky men with large disposable incomes, rather than something that the average homeowner would consider as necessary as the hot water heater. Fifty-seven percent of connected home product buyers are men, and only 20 percent of households with yearly incomes under $50,000 have bought a connected home product, according to the Wink survey.

Meanwhile, if you are thinking about making your home a bit more intelligent, our roundup of the best smart home devices is a good place to start.

By Tom Brant

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