ISU will be first U.S. host for international conference on smart home technology

AMES, Iowa -- For many older residents and people with disabilities, independent living is an important quality of life issue. Yet debilitating physical and mental conditions often force many out of their homes.

But that may be changing because of "smart home" technology, which will be the focus of an international conference coming to Iowa State University from June 30 through July 2. The sixth annual International Conference on Smart homes and health Telematics (ICOST) will be held at the Iowa State Center's Scheman Building.

A smart home makes use of technology through embedded computers, information appliances, micro/nano systems, and multi-modal sensors to assist its occupants with nearly every aspect of their everyday lives.

The conference at Iowa State will feature many of the international leaders in smart home design. They will discuss and demonstrate a number of assistive technologies, such as devices and systems for vision, hearing, cognitive and communication impairments; and home health monitoring and intervention.

Chang lures conference to U.S.

Carl Chang, a professor and chair of computer science at ISU, is general chair of the conference and was instrumental in bringing it to the United States for the first time. Last year in Japan, he told the conference's scientific committee that Iowa would be an ideal location for the event.

"I told them that we have this aging population and a rural setting in Iowa, so we do need this type of technology," said Chang. "And I said 'We're going to connect you folks, the techies, with the users.' That's what we promised. And you can see from our program that we have tried very hard to blend in the user's perspective."

One of those users is Kirk Garrett, Jr., a 26-year-old web designer who has cerebral palsy and lives in South Carolina with his parents. He will be the featured speaker via an online connection during the event's final session on Wednesday at 11 a.m. Garrett uses a wheelchair and nonverbal -- previously communicating through the use or gestures, hand signals and body language that were interpreted by his parents. But that changed because of smart technology. Through an Eye Response ERICA System ( -- a communication device/tablet PC system mounted on his wheelchair -- most of his communication barriers have been eliminated.

"At first, we were going to have Kirk come out to the conference, but the logistics seemed too daunting. So instead, we're doing his presentation virtually, which probably fits the conference better anyway," said Mary Yearns, an ISU professor of human development and family studies, who will co-chair Garrett's session. "Kirk is going to do most of the talking, and his father (Kirk Garrett, Sr.) will be interacting from a technical support standpoint."

The recipient this spring of the National Institute of Senior Housing Sid Spector Memorial Award for Excellence in Senior Housing from the National Council of the Aging, Yearns is leading Iowa State plans to collaborate with the Volunteers of America to construct a 20-unit research and demonstration complex for older Iowans on the ISU campus that will incorporate smart home technologies. The ISU computer science department has also created a Smart Home Lab where students are working on technology that will be used in that home.

Gerontology theme lures new scientists

Professor of Computer Science Johnny Wong is co-director of ISU's Smart Home Lab and one of the conference's program chairs. He is co-chairing a panel on education with Jennifer Margrett, an assistant professor of gerontology in human development and family studies at Iowa State. Due to the conference's theme, "Gerontology: Enhancing Quality of Life for Rural Elders," this is the first year that gerontologists and other behavioral scientists are participating in the event.

"Smart home technology helps people maintain their independence and have better choices," Margratt said. "It puts them in contact with providers. It can be a less expensive route than care facilities because it keeps them at home."

And because of an aging population, Chang says the conference is coming to Iowa State at an important time.

"The thing about it (smart home technology) is that the 'Baby Boomers' are now turning gray -- and there are 79 million of them -- so there are going to be tremendous needs for such technologies," he said. "And so the home will become much more accommodating because of all of the high technology developments."

Event sponsors include Iowa State's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Human Sciences, Department of Computer Science, Office of the Vice President, and ISU Extension to Families. The Office of Disability and Health, a division of the Iowa Department of Public Health, and Institut TELECOM/ Telecom & Management from France are also sponsors.

For more information about the conference or smart home technology, visit the ICOST Web site at The advance conference program is also available here.