Smart Home systems are part of the technical infrastructure in many households. They are used for security and for enhanced comfort, automatically regulating lighting and heating or reminding users of an open window when leaving the house.
In most cases, a central gateway controls the whole system, where single components are inter-connected and rules are configured. This type of central control unit needs not only power but also a connection to the local network. In some cases, the connection is realized wirelessly. Solutions with a direct tethered connection to the Internet router are much more common, simply because they can guarantee more secure services in new buildings.
These stable services are otherwise something that cannot always be taken for granted with today’s steel-concrete ceiling constructions, where WiFi signals are often not strong enough for a reliable connection through various floors or rooms.
A current problem: Current gateway design is limited to boring boxes with a technical appearance that often doesn’t fit into existing interior designs.
The current solution: The gateway is usually hidden in utility rooms, next to storage racks, in closets or in fuse boxes close to the Internet router.
The issue with this solution: The connection to hardware components, such as motion sensors or room thermostats, is interrupted because the radio signal isn’t strong enough.
As a different solution, the gateway (RaspberryPi) has an attractive design and can be positioned unobtrusively within a room. A central position has the advantage of a flawless connection to the Smart Home components and to the Internet. The prototyped gateway is shaped like a Japanese rice bowl. Its style allows it to fit in most rooms without seeming misplaced.
Besides the more attractive design approach and the functional aspects as a gateway, the artifact comes with other add-ons. For instance, the bowl could be used to charge a smartphone or fitness tracker. It could also be used to store keys or, if a chip is on the key ring, then users can let the Smart Home system know they are at home by simply placing their keys in the bowl.
After design decisions had been made, a 3D-model was created and produced using different 3D-printing techniques (powder jet print, plastic bonding). The printed models were used to optimize the placement of the RaspberryPi’s in the gateway’s base.
Then the designed 3D-model was discussed with a carpenter, who produced a wooden handmade model of the rice bowl. After another design iteration, fixing points for the gateway and the cable routing were considered. A CNC-shaper was used to produce more versions of the final model.
The bowl is currently being used in seven Living Lab households in Oldenburg. Users reacted positively and were satisfied with the design and the handling. One of the households positioned the bowl in the entrance area, so that it is one of the first items visitors spot when entering the house.