Smart Electronics & Assistive Technology

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We've been hearing for a long time about how smart technology will someday be a normal part of our lives, as familiar to us as it was to the animated Jetson family.

We don't yet have robotic servants preparing dinner and doing the laundry, or computers and appliances that do our bidding at the sound of our voices. But smart technology is indeed making real inroads.

Vehicle electronics are doing more than moving power wheelchairs forward and backward and operating seating options such as tilt and recline. Electronics are increasingly able to "remember" specific positioning needs, such as the degree of tilt a client (or clinician) prefers for pressure relief or after eating. In addition, some newer electronics systems can impact environments beyond the chair — for instance, opening and closing curtains, adjusting thermostats, turning lights on and off or operating TVs and DVD players.

And power chairs aren't the only ones getting smarter.

As baby boomers grow older, they're thinking more and more about being able to stay in their homes as they age. Last spring, an MSNBC report called "Smart Homes Go Mass Market" discussed the growing trend of building mass-market smart houses to sell in the $250,000-800,000 range.

The cooling housing market, the report explained, is driving builders to look for ways to add value to new homes. One way to do that is to build in smart technology, including door and medicine cabinet sensors, motion detectors to monitor the movements of residents, and controls to lock or unlock doors, adjust room temperatures and turn lights on and off. Sound familiar?

A CNN.com story from 2005 talked about smart technology combining with cameras to enable homeowners to visually check various rooms in the house by using their cell phones or remote computers. Also mentioned in the story: Technology that can open blinds and curtains automatically, control thermostats and detect if a resident has fallen. In fact, prototype smart houses are already being lived in by real families who are testing the technology's effectiveness.

So what does this mean to the HME mobility and rehab industries? First: Smart technology may enable more people with medical conditions and disabilities to live in their homes for longer periods of time — an idea not only supported by consumers, but also by the general housing industry itself.

Second, as consumers start to seriously integrate smart technology into their personal lives, they are likely to demand such integration in more and more areas. That means more power wheelchair and POV users could start asking if their vehicles' electronics can also be prograMMed to unlock the car, turn on the front porch light as they approach, or remind them that it's time to visit their HME dealer for service.

Educating your service and repair technicians and keeping them up to date on smart technology could be one more way to distinguish your business from the standard just-the-basics dealership down the street.

Mobility/Rehab Impact: Electronics systems for scooters and power chairs.

This article originally appeared in the January 2007 issue of Mobility Management.

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