Heating control for elderly/partially sighted people

Thread Starter

YorkshireDave

Joined Jun 12, 2016
59
I have searched for anything similar and failed to come up with anything. If however you can direct me to a link I'd really appreciate it...

My 95 year old father in law, who continues to live on his own in his own home (albeit with our support) has virtually no vision now. At his time of life he also finds it very difficult indeed to learn new things.

He can no longer see any kind of thermostat. We've tried all the large display versions. Some he can kind of see but he simply cannot grasp their control. I have raspberry pi lying around so I thought about constructing something very 'simple' for him to use that could perhaps form the basis of an add on board for others to benefit from too. In my book older people deserve support and do not deserve to be isolated or ripped off.

My concept is this. A standalone box with two buttons (perhaps one backlit blue & one back lit yellow so partially sighted colourblind people can use it) and a speaker.

It would work thus:
- press any button for less than 3 seconds and the current temperature is read out
- press any button for more than three seconds and it is announced that you are in temp change mode. It will also explain that further presses of either button take the temp up or down 1 deg C. At each press of a button the new set point is announced.
- leave the new set point for 5 seconds and it announces the new set point

The system would need to also have a continuous setting and a timed setting along with a set back temperature so not too much energy is wasted during sleeping hours.

The 'voice' recording need to be a family member so it is familiar and comforting.

I'm more than aware that the simplicity at the user level requires a lot working behind it so where do I start? Please?

I do want this to be something EVERYONE can access for their family.

Thank you in advance
 

tranzz4md

Joined Apr 10, 2015
310
It would appear you have already started. Certainly the first stage of a project is determining what the scope is.
- probably the most important step is determining if your intended users agree with your ideas and will use your device.
-probably the next step is to determine how you want it to operate.
-The chosen HMI will determine a fairly small list of items suitable to interface and control your devices (heating system, temperature sensors, and UI)
-since you mention voice recognition and audio message playback, a fairly strong microprocessor system and OS would be required.

Why not a big (like 12" diameter), physical, wall mounted copy of a thermostat, that noticeably clicks when rotated? There is no need for him to know what "temperature" it is; he either wants it warmer or cooler if it's not presently acceptable.

If you're actual goal is letting an aging person with fading senses easily adjust the heat (which probably isn't a very good idea anyhow), pressing buttons of different colors in specific sequence as directed by a bot may prove counterproductive.
 

wayneh

Joined Sep 9, 2010
17,153
A 3-button interface would be pretty easy to grasp, I think. Left button turns it down, large center button reads current temperature and set point, right button turns it up. Each button press would trigger the same voice response, current temp and target temp.

One question I have to ask is, why not automate it to the degree that no interaction is required? I mean, if it cools off at bedtime and holds a comfortable temperature at all times, why worry about the interface?
 

ebeowulf17

Joined Aug 12, 2014
3,282
Why not a big (like 12" diameter), physical, wall mounted copy of a thermostat, that noticeably clicks when rotated?
I like this idea, probably still with the voice output announcing current temperature and new set point.

Wayneh's idea sounds good too. A third button would help a lot.

As someone who helped design a system just a few years ago that relies on the distinction between short and long presses, I can tell you that finding universal understanding and acceptance of such a system is surprisingly difficult. You can have 50 beta testers in a row say it's a wonderful interface, but the one person who doesn't like it will raise such a stink about it being incomprehensible, you wouldn't believe it! My personal saga aside, I think a system that never requires a long push will be much more useful for a wider audience. Beyond comprehension issues, there's also the fact that a lot of old people find it difficult to physically manipulate anything, and applying pressure to a button for several seconds in a row can be quite a chore! Momentary presses are much easier.
 

crutschow

Joined Mar 14, 2008
27,402
You could perhaps design the box to interface to one of the new smart thermostats over WiFi.
That way the box to control it could be located anywhere.
And the setback and other smart control options would be handled by the smart thermostat itself.
 

dl324

Joined Mar 30, 2015
12,917
He can no longer see any kind of thermostat. We've tried all the large display versions. Some he can kind of see but he simply cannot grasp their control.
Install a programmable thermostat for him. That's what my Wife did for her Mother. She's not 95, but is old enough that she either can't or won't learn new things.

When the program needs to be changed, pay him a visit. If that isn't an option, look into WiFi enabled thermostats that can be programmed remotely from a smartphone.

My WiFi enabled water heater has an app that lets me control temperature and schedule vacation mode from my smartphone. Unfortunately, it doesn't let me access all of the features supported by the heater.
 

philba

Joined Aug 17, 2017
960
I think it's great you are doing this! Having dealt with aging parents and an 85 year old mother in law, I truly can sympathize.

As an alternative idea - what about voice control? There are a couple thermostats that do this on the market but I don't know how well they work. Also, there might be an alexa or similar interface to a thermostat.
 

Thread Starter

YorkshireDave

Joined Jun 12, 2016
59
Wow! Many thanks everyone. Some valuable feedback and ideas.

Let's start at the beginning.
- How it works etc would be just operating a relay. The signal from the boiler would be on/off.
- there is NO voice recognition involved. Just announcement. All inputs would be via the 2 buttons
- re existing options. We have tried many, including so called 'smart' ones. They are simply too complicated for him.
I agree that interfaces are a nightmare and that designing one for many people is a prospective minefield. That said, to sit and decide not to do anything as its presents too many problems lets people down. We have to start somewhere. As far as my FIL is concerned, we have come to recognise that the more we do for him the more he relies on us. The more he does for himself, the better and more uplifted he is. What that translates to is, he needs to be in control so far as it's possible to be all other issues not withstanding.
- voice control. I discounted that on the basis of available processing power, complication of programming and his variable voice output. I can see something like Alexa doing that form of job but, for me at least it's still too early in its development and costly to implement. Sorry.
- Pushing buttons. My experience of people of his age is that they need absolute rules. He does a lot by feel these days so we are able to get him to 'learn' e.g. left does this, right does that. We stick little raised dots on things so one button is differentiated from another. With regard to length of push etc I take the points raised. For the FIL, as he's kinda groping around I'd need it to be a def >time before it responds otherwise it would be going off at every 'glance'.
- We have tried programmable devices till they come out of our ears. Not one is any good in this instance. In my opinion they are designed by those with zero concept of the issues faced by aging users which is why such a massive opportunity now exists in my view.
The other issue here is the one alluded to above - independance. Him feeling he can control things to some extent helps him and slows down the inevitable decline.
- In terms of interfacing with existing smart devices. I have no idea where to even start and he, frankly doesnt have that long for it to happen - hence asking for help.
He comes to us every evening and we see him at his house every day. All we want to do is get him some control of his own conditions back instead of feeling like he's losing even more than his sight.
- By the way, he's a Yorkshireman and his nickname is Econ as he doesn't like spending money ;-) So, the actual temp does matter to him so the idea of hotter/colder would make him feel he didn't have control. When you get to know how older people work, this sense of control - especially for men - is absolutely vital for their continued welbeing
D
 

wayneh

Joined Sep 9, 2010
17,153
- We have tried programmable devices till they come out of our ears. Not one is any good in this instance. In my opinion they are designed by those with zero concept of the issues faced by aging users which is why such a massive opportunity now exists in my view.
Can you elaborate on what you mean by this? I've been spending quite a lot of time developing a smart controller for a home HVAC system. This could be just the thermostat or also include control over ventilation from the outside.

Anyway, my basic approach has been to keep eliminating any reasons I've found to manually override my own app. The first reason I found was that I like it to be cooler at night when I'm sleeping. The second reason was to turn off HVAC power when no one is home. Most smart thermostats incorporate these ideas, and in fact I now find almost no reason to ever override my app's control over my thermostat.

So I'm wondering, does your FIL want to change the temperature throughout the day in some unpredictable way? What does he want that cannot be automated? I never touch my thermostat anymore. Why does he need to?
 

crutschow

Joined Mar 14, 2008
27,402
I think perhaps the easiest (and likely cheapest way) to do this is with a Raspberry Pi computer.
You can readily interface push-buttons to the Pi and program it to control a thermostat.
Here are some articles on that.

And here's some stuff on getting the Pi to talk.
 

Thread Starter

YorkshireDave

Joined Jun 12, 2016
59
Can you elaborate on what you mean by this? I've been spending quite a lot of time developing a smart controller for a home HVAC system. This could be just the thermostat or also include control over ventilation from the outside.

Anyway, my basic approach has been to keep eliminating any reasons I've found to manually override my own app. The first reason I found was that I like it to be cooler at night when I'm sleeping. The second reason was to turn off HVAC power when no one is home. Most smart thermostats incorporate these ideas, and in fact I now find almost no reason to ever override my app's control over my thermostat.

So I'm wondering, does your FIL want to change the temperature throughout the day in some unpredictable way? What does he want that cannot be automated? I never touch my thermostat anymore. Why does he need to?
It is as I've said. Development of these types of systems take no heed of the physical and mental issues associated with aging. In my opinion they are developed thinking, as you have done, that no one wants to meddle or as the majority seem to have done, rarely if ever testing them on real people in real situations with real issues. The reality in my experience of dealing with older people in my job for the last 20 years is very different. Some people don't want to know but most definitely do. Having control taken away from you, cos hat's how they see it believe me, makes em feel useless. when they feel like that they go downhill fast. The ability to exercise control is vital. They may never choose to use it but the fact they can, if they wish to, contributes to their wellbeing. Lastly, older people are of an era where waste is an anathema to them. They do not waste and wish to minimise costs generally. So exercising control allows them to carry on as they have been raised to be.

Bottom line Wayne is that few designers of systems such as these recognise these facts of elderly life and as such miss the huge opportunities that are lined up waiting...

What I'm trying to do here is cobble together something that will fulfill my FIL's needs for the short time he has left. I want him to feel in control and not feel like he's worthless and unworthy of being trusted with control of his own thermostat. In the grand scheme of things it's tiny, but it matters and so long as it matters I'll try hard to help him live what time he has left with dignity and feeling valued. Any help you can give towards that end would be very gratefully received.
 

Thread Starter

YorkshireDave

Joined Jun 12, 2016
59
Many thanks for those C. One point I neglected to mention was that he does not have internet access - at all.

So, do you know of say a voice recognition apk (or whatever it is) that:
- is completely standalone
- can be reduced down to say 10 words or phrases
- will then 'speak' 12 or so words or phrases
- can link with some kind of temp sensor
- work with some kind of basic language so the temperature/status can be read out
- linked to a 'simple' relay output to turn the boiler on or off

I can do a bit of basic if this do that else do something else etc but I'm jiggered when it comes to anything else!!
 

wayneh

Joined Sep 9, 2010
17,153
Ok, well I still advocate for 3 buttons. The down and up buttons could have brief tones that reinforce the direction of change, followed by the verbal reading. I think the latter should only happen after a few seconds, so that the user might hear 3 “going down” tones but only the voice once no more button presses have occurred. The center button could demand an immediate readout of current status. Any button might cause them all to light up, with the down button colored blue and the up button red. I suppose now that I think about it, they should be arranged vertically rather than horizontally.
 

dl324

Joined Mar 30, 2015
12,917
What I'm trying to do here is cobble together something that will fulfill my FIL's needs for the short time he has left.
It sounds like you just haven't found an appropriate programmable thermostat.

Both of the thermostats I use have two buttons for overriding the programmed temperature; one for increasing and one for decreasing, with a two hour override period. The both show the override temperature for a short time before reverting to the normal display of current temperature.

If readability is an issue, many types of magnifiers are available.
 

ebeowulf17

Joined Aug 12, 2014
3,282
Ok, well I still advocate for 3 buttons. The down and up buttons could have brief tones that reinforce the direction of change, followed by the verbal reading. I think the latter should only happen after a few seconds, so that the user might hear 3 “going down” tones but only the voice once no more button presses have occurred. The center button could demand an immediate readout of current status. Any button might cause them all to light up, with the down button colored blue and the up button red. I suppose now that I think about it, they should be arranged vertically rather than horizontally.
+1 on vertical arrangement being more intuitive and self-evident, and I'm also still a fan of three buttons over two.
 

Thread Starter

YorkshireDave

Joined Jun 12, 2016
59
Ok, well I still advocate for 3 buttons. The down and up buttons could have brief tones that reinforce the direction of change, followed by the verbal reading. I think the latter should only happen after a few seconds, so that the user might hear 3 “going down” tones but only the voice once no more button presses have occurred. The center button could demand an immediate readout of current status. Any button might cause them all to light up, with the down button colored blue and the up button red. I suppose now that I think about it, they should be arranged vertically rather than horizontally.
That sounds like a plan Wayne!
With three buttons arranged vertically the bottom would be reduce and upper increase. Centre for information or menu if reqd.
From a user simplicity perspective, pressing any button initially, as you say, could light them up or actually just light the middle one so ones 'bearings' are got.

Okay, how about this?
Three buttons. Top one with something on its surface so it can be felt. Middle with a light. Bottom with a different surface finish.
Press any and the thing beeps in recognition and all light as a guide.
Press any button at this stage for an actual temperature readout
Press upper button to raise temp - each press reads out new temp set point
Press lower button to lower temp - each press reads out new temp set point
After ten seconds, announces new set point.
Press middle button for more than 5 seconds and it starts to flash meaning menu mode all guided by voice instructions from Pi.
Examples questions when centre button flashing:
1 - to turn heating off press lower button
2 - to reduce temp during night press upper button (this could be pre-programmed on set-up for time and set back temp)

Thoughts? Doable? How?
 

Thread Starter

YorkshireDave

Joined Jun 12, 2016
59
It sounds like you just haven't found an appropriate programmable thermostat.

Both of the thermostats I use have two buttons for overriding the programmed temperature; one for increasing and one for decreasing, with a two hour override period. The both show the override temperature for a short time before reverting to the normal display of current temperature.

If readability is an issue, many types of magnifiers are available.
Sorry Dennis they are simply unsuitable. Read my replies to Wayne for further info. He has magnifiers but his vision is too far gone plus they are far too complicated for him.
 

ebeowulf17

Joined Aug 12, 2014
3,282
You can program it for him. He can make temperature overrides with two buttons. Can't get much simpler than that.
Still doesn't get around the vision issue. Bigger buttons and a spoken output instead of just a visual one would both be improvements over normal, commercially available, programmable ones.
 

ebeowulf17

Joined Aug 12, 2014
3,282
That sounds like a plan Wayne!
With three buttons arranged vertically the bottom would be reduce and upper increase. Centre for information or menu if reqd.
From a user simplicity perspective, pressing any button initially, as you say, could light them up or actually just light the middle one so ones 'bearings' are got.

Okay, how about this?
Three buttons. Top one with something on its surface so it can be felt. Middle with a light. Bottom with a different surface finish.
Press any and the thing beeps in recognition and all light as a guide.
Press any button at this stage for an actual temperature readout
Press upper button to raise temp - each press reads out new temp set point
Press lower button to lower temp - each press reads out new temp set point
After ten seconds, announces new set point.
Press middle button for more than 5 seconds and it starts to flash meaning menu mode all guided by voice instructions from Pi.
Examples questions when centre button flashing:
1 - to turn heating off press lower button
2 - to reduce temp during night press upper button (this could be pre-programmed on set-up for time and set back temp)

Thoughts? Doable? How?
Seems to be like you need to break this project down into segments, find solutions to each one, then integrate them:
  1. Are you directly controlling HVAC functions, or communicating with a smart thermostat? If it's the former, there are loads of examples online for how to drive relays with something like a raspberry pi. You'll also need to read temperature. Lots of sensor options, some of which have digital outputs, which might be helpful since I think I remember RPi having no built in ADC. If you go with digital output temperature sensing, you might want to buy one from Adafruit, SparkFun, or some similar place that offers libraries and support to make programming the communication with the sensor easier. If you're integrating your system with a smart thermostat, you'll have to figure out that communication. I have no idea how to approach that.
  2. User interface. Lots of circuit examples online for how to connect pushbutton switches and output LEDs, so the circuitry should be easy. You'll just need to play with code until you get the behavior you want.
  3. Voice output. There are numerous text to speech systems available these days that might be easier to work with, but if you want the voice to be that of a family member, then you'll need to buy/build an ADC/amplifier system to play back digital audio files at the right times. Probably easier to record those files elsewhere rather than build recording ability into the device itself... but if you also were thinking of sharing this idea with others, an all in one package with recording built in might be preferable.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I've not programmed in the RPi environment, so can't really help with specifics. If I were you, I'd pick a basic strategy, try to pick a shopping list for the parts to implement that strategy, and do a little research to see if you're comfortable with the coding requirements for that plan. If not, try analyzing a different approach/different parts list.
 
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