Prof. Birgit Wilkes of TH Wildau

Professor Birgit Wilkes chairs the jury of the SmartHome Deutschland Awards and is Head of the Institute for Facility Telematics at the Technische Fachhochschule Wildau. She does not only investigate what people can do for buildings but also what buildings can do for people. To be more specific: She researches how flats can be redesigned to lighten, remind and protect people. We have talked with her about the subject of living in the future. 

What does it involve to be a Facility Telematics? Telematics is a made-up word from telecommunication and informatics. Telematics has basically to do with intelligently linked things, many of which with the internet of things. Being a telematics subsequently means that I work with intelligently linked things within buildings. The subject comprises a huge amount of work and research. This is why I restricted myself to deal with the subjects of energy and demography focussing on residential buildings. In many areas of life it becomes increasingly more important to be energy efficient and there is a lot of saving potential available within residential surroundings. Also, the demographic change is knocking at our door, which means that it becomes more and more important to support old people in their wish to remain in their own home as long as possible. Telemedical applications also play a role in this context. While doing my work I therefore often come in contact with people from other professional areas such as physicians, care personnel, or from the residential- or energy industry. And this is particularly exciting. 

You were responsible technical installations of the show flat of the concept of the residential site, “Pflege@Quartier”. What can a smart apartment offer for the elderly, which a regular nursing home can’t and vice versa? When could such homes become the norm? Pflege@Quartier has set itself the goal of establishing homes for elderly people, in which they can live independently for as long as possible. Structural and technical aids encourage independency, activities and social togetherness. In a nursing home, daily routines are planned out very thoroughly and the residents are freed from most responsibilities. Some are not even permitted to cook. If an individual occasionally forgets to turn off their stove, an automatic oven switch can be installed, meaning that the individual is not necessarily advised to go to a nursing home. Nursing home operators recommend smart homes, as nursing homes are becoming overfilled.

In my opinion, the traditional classification of living in one’s own home or moving to a nursing home is outdated. There are so many other living arrangements, such as self-organised residential communities, supervised residential communities and generational living, which simultaneously provide independence, safety and care. Technical aids can be applied viably in all of the given living arrangements. In light of the demographic change, it is necessary to provide apartments and alternative types of housing with technical aids for the elderly. The nursing crisis is currently a large issue. However, the focus lies on nursing homes. Prospectively, the living and care sector, social organisations and technology suppliers have to develop and provide solutions collectively. This is supposed to happen as soon as possible, since the aging of our society is unstoppable

Does Berlin invest sufficiently in new technologies? And where is more work needed? There are quite a number of subsidies available to develop technologies. It is more difficult to establish Smart Home technologies on the market, especially in the existing residential homes construction due to the lack of marketing- and financing models. The simple strategy that the party who benefits pays the bills does not apply with Smart Home, as there are many parties who will benefit. This includes, of course, the tenant, in case of older people also the relatives, health- and care insurances, who are relieved and the landlord, too. Models for cross-financing have not yet been established. 

 What does the ideal energy efficient building of tomorrow look like? The ideal energy efficient building takes into consideration the generation of own energy as well as an intelligent energy management. Energy that is produced in the home can be used there and then or be stored. Devices will be regulated such that mostly own generated energy is used. The building itself operates optimally in respect of energy. In summer, for example, if a strong sunshine is recognised, the windows are shaded to avoid an unnecessary warming up, while in winter the generated heat of the sun is made use of. Ventilation systems with heat exchangers provide an agreeable room atmosphere with clean air and a minimum loss of energy. The building optimises itself. 

 How will living change in future? By using Smart Home our living surroundings will adapt to our individual requirements in future. Some may want functions such as musical tracking throughout all rooms, others may focus on energy efficiency or safety. There will not be a standard Smart-Home flat. Every person will select those functions he or she wants to have. The flat will also be in a position to adapt to changing living conditions of its occupants - may be the arrival of a baby or occupants becoming old or ill. It is, however, of utmost importance that the technology does not change the normal lifestyles and fits unobtrusively into the living surroundings. It must be adaptable to the occupants such that those who have no technical knowledge will be able to handle the system just the same as those who are technically knowledgeable. Also, the occupant must always be able to interfere and ‘overrule’ technology. 

What do Smart Home solutions look like for instance in in-patient care? An important objective in in-patient care is to relieve the care personnel from administrative and general tasks. Apart from supporting the care documentation, this is also an interesting area to make use of a robot that can be integrated into the Smart Home system of the building. For example, having laundry transported by robots will relieve the care personnel from physical stress. But patients, too, can be supported. A project has demonstrated that patients who suffered a stroke and had to learn to walk again were pleased to be accompanied by a robot. A nurse has so much to do such that many people are pressed for time but a robot has a lot of time. He also knows the way through the institution and is able to show the patient how to get to the nearest WC or his/her room. 

Where can Smart Home solutions also be applied to? Smart technologies can not only be used in residential surroundings but also in industry or commercial building. They are able to increase the safety of buildings, in as far as the building recognises, if a person approaches dangerous machinery or machine parts and, if in doubt, switch off the machine. The library at the TH Wildau uses smart technologies to support the users who will be directed to the desired book via an app. In doing this the book is located and need not be at its allocated place on the shelf. Outside of opening times the building knows whether there is anybody in the library and monitors the use. The building also notices whether there is too much noise in the library and a robot will approach the users to remind them in a friendly way. 

You are a member of the jury for the SmartHome Deutschland Awards - what kind of subjects are you dealing with? The really exciting thing about the SmartHome Deutschland Award is the fact that within the four categories of products, projects, start-ups and students‘ performances all kinds of projects and systems can be submitted that have anything to do with Smart Homes. This comprises especially well-equipped bathrooms, assisting people with dementia, or individual appliances right up to complete houses. A wide range of solutions shows how diverse the market has become and also the areas of application. It is an enormous pleasure to watch how exciting ideas and solutions develop in their heads to be realised in respect of a Smart Home technology.

 Who can apply for the SmartHome Deutschland Award? Anybody who can contribute to the subject of Smart Home is eligible to apply. This may concern companies who have developed products or projects but also private people who have discovered the Smart-Home-Technology for themselves and who integrated it into their private surroundings and their lives. Works and projects by students can also be submitted for the award.  

What will the city of the future look like for you? Urban building and ecology will not oppose each other in the city of tomorrow. The city will offer living space for the young and the old and will have ample green spaces, squares, and parks. The individual traffic will be drastically reduced as individual mobility sharing can be booked for each flat. The public transport is variable in respect of the means of transport and the selected route. Infrastructure in quarters and a good quarter management will strengthen the social cohesion and the neighbourhood. The cities will generate a large part of their energy de-centralised and manage the production, storage, distribution and consumption via a Smart Grid - and intelligent network. At a first glance this vision does not look as if it is technically oriented, however, many ideas are supported by technology. 

 Could you please finish the following sentence: “Berlin is smart, because... it is diverse and dynamic.