Smart handset aids the disabled

The first mass-market ‘smart home’ handset that allows the elderly and disabled to remotely control a range of household items has been developed by a UK electronics company.

SRS Technology, which specialises in advanced environmental control devices for the severely disabled, will launch a low-cost portable version later this year.

The new product, called SRS Lite, will allow users to operate lights, curtains, remote-control access doors and other everyday items from a single unit with a simple, icon-driven interface.

The handset uses a combination of infrared and radio frequency systems to connect with link modules called ‘intellisockets’ located around the home.

It will also be able to remotely control all common consumer electronics products such as television sets and hi-fi’s.

West Midlands-based SRS will begin field tests of the prototype within the next few weeks, and plans to begin selling it through high- street retail outlets before the end of the year.

The firm said the new device was the next logical extension for its existing control and human interface technologies, which are already widely used by the NHS and private healthcare providers.

John Shermer, chief scientific officer at SRS, said the company had amassed considerable expertise in helping severely disabled patients control what is happening around them.

‘We have worked on systems designed for use by people who are literally only able to blink,’ said Shermer. ‘We were able to get them turning the TV on and off, sending faxes and generally interacting with the world in a way that would have once been unimaginable,’ he added.

Shermer said SRS decided to explore ways to strip some of that functionality out of the more advanced systems and apply them to the mass market.

‘There are millions of people who would not be classed as severely disabled, yet would benefit from the ability to control what is happening around them,’ said Shermer. ‘They include the very old and those who have some type of disability but are still able to live at home.’

Shermer said the biggest technical challenge was to incorporate the various processing technologies and a simple user interface into a small, light unit.

‘There is no point bringing something like this to the market unless it is easy to use,’ said Shermer. He added that SRS Lite would sell at a low enough price to be affordable to a ‘significant’ number of people.

Shermer claimed development of technology for the disabled and infirm was too often the poor relation of advances in the industrial, leisure and entertainment sectors.

‘It seems to me that technology has been racing ahead in the office and other areas, but here is a whole chunk of humanity that is missing out,’ he said.

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