New futuristic ‘smart suite’ places UM at forefront of innovative research and learning
A new high-tech “smart suite” model apartment, developed by the College of Rehabilitation Sciences, opened Sept. 14 at Health Sciences Centre (HSC). Equipped with user-friendly assistive technology and flexible equipment, the suite will help educate and train students to enhance autonomy and well-being for older adults and individuals with disabilities.
The Jetsons’ like kitchen – featuring height-adjustable counters and kitchen appliances that can be controlled using a mobile app – will be used to assess kitchen ergonomics for clients that support aging in place and safe and independent living.
The 850 sq. ft. smart suite also features two bathrooms designed to demonstrate flexible options for accessibility and a bedroom where appliances and electronics can be controlled independently through voice or remote switches.
At the official opening, Dr. Peter Nickerson, vice-provost (health sciences) and dean, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, said the facility will give students and faculty in the College of Rehabilitation Sciences enhanced learning and research opportunities.
“This state-of-the-art smart suite has been years in the making, and I know throughout the conceptual, design and building processes there has been a great deal of support and input from many stakeholders and partners,” Nickerson said.
“On a Rady Faculty level, the dean’s office was pleased to offer $440,000 to support this important endeavour and work with the College of Rehabilitation Sciences to open this innovative space.”
Nickerson also praised the college’s commitment to technology-enhanced care initiatives, including the development of telepresence robots, one of which has been incorporated into the suite.
“This technology revolution is enabling rehabilitation scientists to come to the forefront and lead many of the things that will provide a higher quality of life for the patients they are serving.”
The suite is located at HSC’s rehabilitation hospital, on the same floor as some of the college’s other research and training facilities.
“Recreating this accessible living space provides an unparalleled opportunity for occupational, physical and respiratory therapy learners and researchers to look at ways to advance their clients’ independence through tele-presence, tele-monitoring and assisted living technologies,” said Dr. Reg Urbanowski, dean, College of Rehabilitation Sciences.
“This has created possibilities to think broader and that’s what excites me about the future.”
Urbanowski acknowledged and thanked Decor Cabinets, the Morden, Man.-based company that supplied the adjustable kitchen cabinets for the suite and pointed to their private-public partnership as a “huge success.”
Steve Friesen, a dealer development representative for Decor Cabinets, said seeing the project come to fruition after five years and through a pandemic was inspiring.
“It’s going to change people’s lives. Not only will it change the lives of people who come and get assessed in this facility, but it might blaze the way for more opportunities for businesses to collaborate with universities in the future,” Friesen said.
Eric Koskie, a recent occupational therapy graduate who now works in the assistive technology program at HSC, said the smart suite will allow him to show clients the possibilities they have in the community to enhance their daily living.
“The adjustable cabinets are awesome because I think for people who use wheelchairs and other mobility aids, it will allow them to better position themselves to do their dishes and laundry and things like that,” he said.
He also said it would provide great training for students.
“It will give them the opportunity to see the latest technology that is discussed in class in person and consolidate that learning.”
The smart suite is already being used for training for rehabilitation sciences students. In the coming weeks, clinicians will start working with clients for specialized technology assessments. The college is also using the suite to host interdisciplinary collaborations aimed at generating innovative research for new home-based technology concepts and solutions.
Dr. Jacquie Ripat, associate dean, research in the college said an occupational therapist is collaborating on a project with UM Faculty of Architecture researchers utilizing the smart suite. They are working with older adults assessing counter heights, environments and functions to make kitchens safer for them to use, so they can continue to live in their homes longer.