Smart home tech that operates on breath control – Architecture and Design

Smart home technology has brought a revolutionary transformation in our lifestyles, with hundreds of consumer-ready appliances and devices introducing convenience and efficiency into our everyday life. From lighting and energy control systems to air conditioners and security systems, users can control these devices remotely or program them to perform autonomously.

However, for people living with disabilities and limited mobility, or those who are unable to speak clearly, accessing smart home technology can be difficult.

Scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio have invented a novel breath-controlled device that allows users to command smart technology by changing their breathing patterns. Designed to fit into the user’s nostrils, this self-powered unit could enhance their quality of life by allowing them to operate smart home devices and appliances using the power of their breath. Users may also program the device to send automatic alerts to medical personnel if an individual has trouble breathing.

“We believe that having both of these capabilities – smart technology control and medical alert – in a small device makes this special,” said Changyong ‘Chase’ Cao, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering who is leading the research and development of the device.

Cao and his collaborators recently published their research in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces. The team included recent postdoc Yaokun Pang (now a professor at Qingdao University, China) and PhD student Shoue Chen. Cao has also applied for a patent on their prototype device.

“Smart technology is great – but only if you can actually use it,” Cao explained. “Our new design would allow for anyone who is breathing to be able to turn devices on and off. They could change the settings of a thermostat, for example.”

How the device works

An illustration from the academic paper showing how the device (upper right) might be used.

The device uses a technology known as triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs), or triboelectrification to operate. TENGs convert mechanical energy harvested from the environment to electricity, which can then power small devices such as sensors or recharge consumer electronics.

This energy present in the natural environment includes rain, wind or even everyday body motions such as touching hands together, walking or breathing.

Cao said the device – dubbed a ‘breathing-driven Human-Machine Interface (HMI) system’ – could be available to the public within three to five years.



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