A Smart Man Makes A Long Trek To Our Smart Apartment

November 19, 2013

Rocco Arizzi knows that he soon will be unable to flip the light switches at home. He already cannot open his front door or his window shades. But Rocco doesn’t plan to sit in the dark while waiting for someone to help him out. These physical barriers are unacceptable to Rocco and he will fight to overcome them as he has done with other challenges since age three when he was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA type 2). He’s in the process of re-wiring his house for a home automation system. Rocco’s brother is an electrician so he winks when saying that the installation price for the circuitry is “just right.”

While SMA has been progressively robbing him of his motor abilities, Rocco has been putting his mind to good use. He has a PhD in Electrical Engineering and works in the defense industry in the Philadelphia area. He has already selected the items important to control in his home and has mapped out the wiring schematics. The budget-conscious engineer would rather save his money for adventure travel than overpay for automation components, so his choice for low-cost controls were from Insteon, Inc.

What Rocco couldn’t determine was whether his plan for voice control of his home system was realistic. While there have been great advances in voice recognition technology over the past five years, could a true hands-free control system work reliably? That’s where the Helen Hayes Hospital Smart Apartment is crucial. Our Smart Apartment has a dozen access systems and one of them is HAL Pro, a voice control system known fondly to our therapists and visitors as “Rosie.” Rocco knew that the uniqueness of Helen Hayes’ fully functioning state-of-the-art home automation system combined with alternative access control methods required him to visit. Rocco spent eight hours of travel on train and bus to receive two hours of evaluation at our Smart Apartment. With two Engineering degrees between us, it was an unusual session of system trials and information-sharing. Rocco was able to trial, discuss and compare HAL to other voice-controlled home automation systems including The Grid2, Sicare, and VoiceIR.

Rocco was able to solidify some technical decisions as a result of his Smart Apartment evaluation session. He now plans to install HAL Ultra software on a dedicated rack PC in the control room rather than using his laptop. To monitor his automation system, he’ll wire HDMi output from that PC server to his televisions. The HAL server will be set up with remote Internet access so that he can program the system from anywhere using his laptop. Audio feedback will need to be selectively ‘gated’ room-by-room in order to allow Rocco private telephone conversations and also prevent HAL from disturbing his guests. Infrared (IR) control signals will need to be boosted and directed to reliably interface with the IR-controlled shades, toilet and televisions that are in seven different locations in Rocco’s home. Rocco plans to continue consulting with the therapy staff of the Helen Hayes Smart Apartment. He’ll benefit from our ongoing relationships with the manufacturers of HAL and the contractors who installed it at Helen Hayes. “We’re all going to get smarter,” he quips.

– Eddy Ehrlich, MA,OT/L,ATP