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First resident in home technology test bed

An e-learning researcher from China is the first resident in a unique apartment being developed as a test bed for future home technology.

The iDorm2 is a two-bedroomed fully furnished apartment within the Computing and Electronic Systems building at the University of Essex.

For the past three months it has been home to Liping Shen, who travelled nearly 6,000 miles from China’s prestigious Shanghai Jiao Tong University to collaborate with Essex. She has been researching the use of Essex’s emotion detection technology to improve and personalise the delivery of e-learning services.

Liping has also been the first test subject for the iDorm2, evaluating the apartment as a living environment which can be used to test home technologies. Her stay has been supported by a BT bursary, and one of the first products she has tested for the company is a digital picture frame, which enables her to view images of her husband and two-year-old son Zhe in Shanghai, while they can share the same images with another digital picture frame at home.

She explained: ‘By sharing the pictures I can imagine their lives in Shanghai and feel connected with them.’ Liping speaks daily to her son using a webcam link, but initially he found this confusing. ‘The first time he was very excited to see me, but he wanted to touch me and to embrace me, and asked me to do up his shoes,’ she said.

In Liping’s research, she has used herself as a test subject wearing Essex’s X-vest, or emotion jacket, to establish links between her learning ability and her emotional state, measured using heart rate, blood volume pressure and skin resistance. She now plans to extend testing on Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s (SJTU) e-Learning platform, which delivers fully interactive lectures to computers, TV screens and mobile phones for more than 15,000 part-time learners in its Network Education College.

Liping explained: ‘In a traditional classroom, teachers are able to recognise the emotional status of their students and respond in ways that positively impact on learning. With remote learners, emotion information is missing.

‘Our emotion-aware system would be able to collect emotional information to develop students’ profiles, in order to provide both personalised learning services and to give emotional feedback to teachers so they can adjust their teaching in real-time. This extends some of the benefits of being taught in a real classroom to remote learners.’

Liping is also helping researchers from Essex’s Digital Lifestyles Centre to generate the specification for high-tech equipment to be installed in the iDorm2. In further collaboration with BT, it is planned to test a range of its technology including Home Hub and BT Vision.

Jeff Patmore, BT’s Head of Strategic University Research said: ‘BT believes that supporting academia for the advancement of scientific research which is likely to lead to intrinsically valuable innovation in future products and services is key to its overall innovation programme.

‘Our funding support for projects at the University of Essex is an example of where such research is leading towards the generation of valuable lifestyle technologies for the benefit of all, young and old.’

Jenny Grinter | alfa
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