Poor housing has been shown to have a major impact on people’s health and quality of life. The Cornish research and innovation project Smartline is collecting data from environmental sensors fitted in the homes of social housing tenants in order to explore how technology can be used to improve the health and wellbeing of local communities. This information is now being used to support the development of new e-heath and wellbeing products and services to help people live healthier and happier lives.
Smartline is one of the largest monitoring exercises of its type, certainly in the UK. Over the past 18 months, our sensors have been collecting information on indoor air quality, humidity, temperature, how much water is used and how much energy is used from 290 Coastline Housing tenants. The team are also monitoring indoor as well as outdoor air quality, with sensors checking the impact of particulates created by heating, cooking and smoking and nearby traffic, as well as those from new furnishings, cleaning products, paints and things like computer printers.
By comparing properties with varying numbers and profiles of people in them, we can see the energy usage, temperature and air quality in a home and what influences those factors. Combining this with in-depth interviews, we can unpick the factors that change health and wellbeing.
We are now using this information to work with businesses and organisations to encourage them to design better systems for managing homes in the future, and to invent new products and services to improve people’s day-to-day lives.
Research shows that around 10,000 people die each year as a result of cold homes. We also know that there is a link between mould and respiratory illnesses such as asthma and allergies. By using the Smartline data, we can work with companies to develop new technologies and produce new products to address these issues.
Data on humidity, temperature and air quality is already being used in a project looking at the possible links between asthma and mould. Work is now taking place to understand the conditions under which mould grows that could inform the development of new smart-control systems to help minimise mould growth.
Other proactive solutions which could be explored in the future include dealing with over- and under-heating problems; introducing automated repairs and automated service reminders; and developing the next generation of smart leak detectors, positive-pressure units and fire & carbon-dioxide detectors.
Improving health & wellbeing
Smartline isn’t just about using technology to help people live healthier and happier lives. Last year, our researchers held a series of ‘guided conversations’ with Smartline participants to understand their wellbeing needs, aspirations and desires for their communities. Residents told us that they wanted more activities which brought people together and helped them feel they belonged in their local communities, while others wanted to improve their physical health.
We have used the results of the surveys to organise community activities such as coffee mornings, arm-chair exercise sessions and the development of new green spaces to help reduce loneliness, improve fitness and improve community cohesion.
While significant technological advances have been made in other market sectors, such as electronic management systems in cars, there appears to have been limited commitments to develop property assets that self-diagnose and automatically report repairs when they go wrong. Our researchers are looking at simple solutions to problems that are often easily fixed but which, if left unresolved, can result in disrepair, poor internal environments, health risks and unnecessary inconvenience to customers.
We are also supporting entrepreneurs to work up innovative ideas that explore new products, processes or services through Smartline’s Idea Generation Grants. We also offer an In-Residence Scheme that finances the time enterprises spend on research activities so they can better understand and cultivate the research opportunities available and a Follow-On Fund which supports the development of new products, processes or services connected with health, wellbeing and digital technologies.
So far we have engaged with over 120 companies and agencies across Cornwall, with 63 of these receiving direct support. Based on our progress so far, we expect this collaborative research to lead to 18 ‘new-to-firm’ products and 14 ‘new-to-market’ products by later this year.
Smartline’s project team, comprising Laurie Magowan (project manager) and Dr Tamaryn Mennear (research fellow) from the University of Exeter, and William Voyce (delivery manager) and Ian Manson (data integration manager) from Coastline Housing, were invited to talk about Smartline and the benefits the project is already producing for individuals and local communities at Housing Technology 2019. This article is based on their presentation at the event. The Smartline project is led by the University of Exeter, in partnership with Coastline Housing, Cornwall Council and Volunteer Cornwall. Smartline is being financed as part of a wider European Regional Development Fund project.