The market has become flooded with “smart” home appliances that you can control remotely. Each of these appliances is controlled by an app, meaning that if you have a lot of devices, you’ll need to download and monitor a lot of apps. VUB researcher and postdoc Audrey Sanctorum, of the Web and Information System Engineering (WISE) research unit at the Department of Computer Science, is tackling this challenge. For her doctoral research she designed eSPACE, a tool accessible online with which the average person can control multiple apps.
“Nowadays, each of these smart device brands provides its own app,” says Sanctorum. “Each app has a different design and provides similar yet different limited functionality, making it difficult for end users . Users with a smart thermostat, a few smart bulbs and smart sockets often have to learn to use three apps to control all these different devices. With the eSPACE tool, we provide one place where users can manage them all.”
eSPACE is intended for people who have no particular technological expertise but are interested in a smart home system, i.e. people with smart devices in their home or people who would like to start using them. Most households already have a few devices, such as tablets or smart TVs, but there are also smart lamps, smart sockets and smart thermostats.
“The eSPACE tool can be opened through a regular internet browser and is therefore compatible with most devices,” says Sanctorum. “You can then create your personalised application. That may sound difficult at first, but the purpose of eSPACE is precisely to make it easy. One of the big advantages of such a personalised app is that you choose which devices you want to control and how.”
However, during a user study of the tool, it became clear that there was still some work to be done and that designing interfaces for users without a design background was not straightforward: the interfaces were functional but not necessarily practical or attractive. Work is continuing on that now. Sanctorum: “It is therefore a bit too early to launch our tool on the market yet.”
Sanctorum is working on the usability of the tool under the guidance of Prof Dr Beat Signer of WISE.
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