Design challenge: How can IoT support alternative ways of co-habiting?

Although more and more people are living together in new ways, many technologies are designed with individuals and traditional use patterns in mind. The research project VIRT-EU is now inviting designers and developers to come up with fresh ideas on how technology can take into account different needs within living spaces.

Business IT DepartmentResearchinternet of thingsdesignIrina Shklovski

Smart thermostats that lower the heat when the parents go grocery shopping, letting the kids freeze at home. Running watches that couples cannot share, since they can only accommodate one person’s height and weight settings. And electricity meters that leaves the decision on whether to share consumption data to the roommate whose name happens to be on the bill.

All examples demonstrating that Internet-connected technologies – also known as the Internet of Things (IoT) – are not necessarily conceived with all potential users in mind.

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A lot of technologies are designed for single users, but IoT technologies are very much about instrumenting living spaces. Many people don’t live alone, and a lot of living spaces aren’t the imagined traditional setup with two parents, 2.5 children and a dog.

Irina Shklovski, Associate Professor at ITU
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"A lot of technologies are designed for single users, but IoT technologies are very much about instrumenting living spaces. Many people don’t live alone, and a lot of living spaces aren’t the imagined traditional setup with two parents, 2.5 children and a dog. There is a multitude of communal living spaces where people with different needs live together for different reasons,” says Irina Shklovski, Associate Professor at the IT University of Copenhagen and leader of the VIRT-EU research project, which examines the intersection between IoT and ethics.

To address this, the research project has launched a design challenge inviting developers, designers and others who work professionally with technology design to develop ideas for how IoT can support different ways of co-habiting.

Thinking differently about IoT

The challenge, Living with Difference in the Connected Home, is divided into two phases. In the first phase, participants must submit a brief ‘napkin sketch’ of their idea.

The participants selected for the second phase will be provided with a tool that has been developed in the research project specifically to support concept creators in addressing ethical questions in relation to their product.

The purpose of the competition is partly to test this tool in practice, but also to encourage developers to think differently about IoT development, says Irina Shklovski.

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We would like to encourage designers to think a little differently about the way they design their IoT concepts and at the same time start a conversation about how to design IoT for use situations that fall outside the relatively traditional expectations for which people tend to design.

Irina Shklovski, Associate Professor, ITU
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"We would like to encourage designers to think a little differently about the way they design their IoT concepts and at the same time start a conversation about how to design IoT for use situations that fall outside the relatively traditional expectations for which people tend to design. We hope to see creative ideas that support the wild diversity of human experience and the range of different configurations of living,” she says.

Two finalists will be invited to present their concepts at ORGCON19, a conference on digital rights taking place in London on July 13. The first prize is £1200, the runner-up wins £700, and both finalists will be offered a free mentoring session with two of the world's leading IoT experts, Rob van Kranenburg and Alex Deschamps-Sonsino.

Further information

Irina Shklovski, Associate Professor, phone +45 7218 5363, email irsh@itu.dk

Vibeke Arildsen, Press Officer, phone 2555 0447, email viar@itu.dk