Smart Homes for Seniors is a character-led design anthropological documentary which follows five senior households over 6 months as they experience and experiment with smart home technology. The film advocates for co-designing technologies and related services with seniors themselves in their homes to better support wellbeing and ageing in place.
Smart home technologies - such as digital voice assistants, automated vacuum cleaners, smart lights, and smart kettles - have increasing capability and availability and have the potential to support the independence and wellbeing of seniors, enabling them to live for longer in their own homes, to be better connected with others. Yet little was known about how seniors can best benefit from these technologies, about the usability of existing smart home technology designs for seniors, how they may need to be embedded in services designed to support seniors, and the as yet unknown benefits they may derive from such innovations.
The film immerses viewers - designers, senior care specialists, students, documentary filmmakers and an interested public - in the everyday lives of seniors to show how they experience and find their own uses for smart home technologies. The film is based on an in depth design anthropological and video-based study of 23 households and 33 participants who participated in a smart home technology trial. It offers an unprecedented insight into how we might realistically design smart home futures with seniors, accounting for how technology can usefully and plausibly support their independence, physical safety and wellbeing, bring them joy and connection with others.
The Smart Homes for Seniors film was selected and screened in 6 international film festivals, 1 design festival and at least 3 internal screenings, plus multiple keynote addresses to academia, and the project the film represented won two national awards for Innovation and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The film has been accepted for distribution by ResearchTV (Canada), and has been used in teaching students in at least three countries internationally. The research has been published in Q1 journals and a public report and has featured in a number of media outlets.
The Smart Homes for Seniors film was based on an effective collaboration between academia and industry. It brought together the Emerging Technologies Research Lab team, McLean Care and Deakin University’s CADET Virtual Reality Training and Simulation Research Lab to undertake a unique and “worlds’ first” study, of which the film is an innovative research outcome.
The film was produced by Dr Citt Williams, an award winning documentary filmmaker, who worked with Director Prof Sarah Pink and the research team to create an innovative documentary shaped by and evocative of the pandemic context. The film was based on video materials shot by Prof Pink, who has a training in anthropological documentary, and the research team members - Melisa Duque, Rex Martin and Larissa Nicholls - in situ in New South Wales, and online in Melbourne. The film’s story and the issues it raises, including its situatedness in the pandemic context not only highlight the need to attend to seniors and to co-design smart technologies and services with them for more inclusive futures, but also to acknowledge the deep uncertainties relating to public health and climate that characterise the present and to account for these when designing for and with seniors.