User and design configurations

home with smart phone

For Module 1 – User and Design Configurations, the CANDID research programme is exploring understandings of ‘smartness’ especially in the areas of Smart Energy Technologies and Smart Care Technologies.

Smart Energy Technologies

The smart grid refers to electricity infrastructure that involves increased use of ICT for collecting data. This ‘smartness’ promises possibilities for active management of electricity networks at different levels, from energy generation plants to electricity distribution and to end-users in their homes.

CANDID’s main area of investigation of smart grid technologies is smart energy meters installed in domestic buildings and small businesses. Such meters enable measurement of consumption data for consumers and energy operators, so users can manage their energy demand in new ways by using this data; while energy providers can have more detailed real-time information about energy consumption, and can then better manage supply.

The rollout of smart grids and smart meters involves building and maintaining new ICT and electrical infrastructures on a massive scale. Hence, device manufacturers and grid management services companies have a clear commercial interest in their diffusion into the market. Moreover, ‘smart’ energy has also permeated policy agendas over recent years, covering such issues as transnational integration of national energy systems to cost-effectiveness in infrastructure investments and grid management, as well as balancing variable renewable energy sources like wind and solar, and establishing new markets to facilitate interactions between energy providers and end-users.

Controversy and conflict has emerged. For example, some consumers are wary of the idea of smart energy meters in interest of avoiding information overload or out of concerns over privacy or protection of their personal data.

Anti-smart meter campaigns, law suits, critical reports by consumer organisations, and administrations passing motions against smart meters have reflected such concerns in several countries, including Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, the US and the UK.

CANDID is asking what kinds of smart systems are envisaged and who the anticipated users are; citizens, households, vulnerable groups, or others?

By focusing on representations of users in smart technology and design, CANDID is investigating what ‘smartness’ implies for various types of providers and users. We will pay specific attention to what the increase of data implies for these actors and develop more robust understandings of what kinds of information transmissions happen via smart technologies among energy producers and users.


Smart care technologies

Smart care technologies include self-tracking software, health monitoring systems, smart watches and other wearables, all aimed at collecting data on habits and health, and to gain insight from that data.

Most systematic reviews in healthcare find no strong evidence of the efficacy of smart care technologies. However, as potential solutions for the problems of modern ageing societies, and for promoting healthy lifestyles such technologies are, variously, presented as measures for cost reduction and time saving: reducing hospital admissions and doctors’ visits, easing the care-giving provided by the family and non-professional carers, and reducing the economic cost of nursing homes, hospital admissions and prolonged home care. 

Smart care technologies offer encouragement for disabled and older people, and those with chronic conditions, to self-manage their care, and promise greater independence and participation in social activities. They are also presented as solutions to ease the burden of care of family and friends of disabled, elderly or ill people. 

Smart care technologies are also expected to contribute to public health. Combining data from different sources could enable the discovery of risk factors across groups and populations. Such technologies could also be expected to foster and promote healthy behaviour by means of constant monitoring and immediate feedback. Although people can use these sensors while on the move, many smart care technologies are designed to be implemented within homes. Examples include smart-home health and wellness monitoring technologies, safety monitoring technologies such as tele-alarms, home rehabilitation systems and treatment-efficacy programmes. 

Despite the large range of promised benefits, some commentators and scholars have been critical of smart care technologies as being a search for a technical fix for addressing burgeoning problems of care in times of austerity. Critical voices have also claimed that smart care technologies can reinforce exclusion, threaten privacy and discriminate against groups unable to self-manage their care.

CANDID is examining different user representations in smart health care, lifestyle and well-being practices, and contends that smartness means very different things to various potential users of these technologies. 

These relevant groups range from consumers expected to self-manage their health and perform self-care, for independent living via smart technology — to health and social care professionals, relatives and informal caregivers using smart technology for optimisation of care delivery, more personalised and earlier diagnosis and faster, more prevention-oriented and non-intrusive interventions. 

As such, smart projects offer different types of autonomy and possibilities, whether the users are simply acted upon (e.g. through automated ‘smart’ systems) or expected to self-manage their health and wellbeing by adopting behavioural changes. By examining these themes, CANDID is aiming for a more robust understanding of what kind of information transmissions happen via smart technologies, from care providers informing final users to these final users informing providers about their needs, health and wellbeing, or more active interventions by providers on specific care needs.