An Internet of “Ears”

The next generation of smart homes envisages using changes in the electrical field, vibrations, and sound to enhance the energy consumption and track occupants’ movements. So, does this indicate the arrival of the Internet of Ears?

An Internet of _Ears
Anticipating the Internet of Ears

Houses have been getting more and more “smarter” for epochs, but the next gen of smart homes may introduce something that Case Western Reserve University scientists call “Internet of Ears.”

Today’s smart home presents appliances, heating and cooling systems, entertainment systems, security cameras and lighting, that are connected to each other and the Internet.

This technology of integrating industrial, commercial or government buildings or the entire community soon, is termed as “Internet of Things” or “IoT.”

However, a pair of computer science professors and electrical engineering professors in the Case School of Engineering have been working on a new set of sensors. This system would not only read the sounds and vibrations but also the specific pace and other movements related to the animals and people in the building. The sensors will further detect any imperceptible changes in the prevailing ambient electrical field.

Although the technology is still a decade away, the future homes could be a building that adapts to your activities with the help of a few hidden and small sensors in the floors and walls and without the need for intrusive cameras.

An assistant professor in electrical engineering and computer science, Ming-Chun Huang said, “We are trying to make a building that is able to ‘listen’ to the humans inside. We are using principles like those of the human ear, where vibrations are picked up and our algorithms decipher them to determine your specific movements. That’s why we call it the ‘Internet of Ears.’”

Huang is heading the research concerning motion tracking and human gait, at the same time Soumyajit Mandal, the T. and A. Schroeder Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is working on changes in the existing electrical field and vibration sensing caused by the presence of pets and animals.

Mandal further adds, “There is actually a constant 60 Hz electrical field all around us, and because people are somewhat conductive, they short out the field just a little. So, by measuring the disturbance in that field, we can determine their presence, or even their breathing, even when there are no vibrations associated with sound.”

Mandal and Huang published their research in detail in October at the IEEE Sensors conference in New Delhi, India. They have further put the technology to testing in the Smart Living Lab at Ohio Living Breckenridge Village, a senior-living community in Willoughby, Ohio and in conference rooms in the electrical engineering department on campus.

They expect more benefits from the system.

Huang further said, “The first advantage will be energy efficiency for buildings, especially in lighting and heating, as the systems adjust to how humans are moving from one room to another, allocating energy more efficiently.”

“Another benefit could be the ability to track and measure a building’s structural integrity and safety, based on human occupancy–which would be critical in an earthquake or hurricane, for example,” Huang said.

“This hasn’t really been explored as far as we’ve seen, but we know that humans create a dynamic load on buildings, especially in older buildings,” Huang said. “In collaboration with our colleague YeongAe Heo in the Civil Engineering department, we are trying to predict if there is going to be structural damage because of the increased weight or load based on the number of people on the floor or how they are distributed on that floor.”