Home awareness: connecting people sensuously to places.
-Connecting People Sensuously to Places
Aviaja Borup Lynggaard
Bang & Olufsen
Peter Bangsvej 15
+45 3113 2618
M. G. Petersen, R. Gude, M. Mortensen
Department of Computer Science
DK-8200 Aarhus N
+45 8942 5639
People living a global lifestyle connect remotely to their
families while away from home. In this paper we identify a
need for connecting with a home as the physical place
itself. For this purpose we introduce the concept of Home
Awareness that connects people sensuously to remote
places through sound, light and feeling of temperature. A
working prototype has been successfully tested and we
present some results from early user studies.
ACM Classification Keywords
H.5.2 Information interfaces and presentation: Prototyping
Ambient displays, remote connectedness, interaction
design, home feeling, mobility.
As globalization has gained ground mobility has become a
condition for the late modern person. For more and more
people, home is not just a house. An increasing number of
people have flats and houses in several countries, people
travel more and more as part of their job, urban families
spend their weekends away from their primary homes in
their cottage houses, and children of divorced parents spend
their time between different homes. Many have designed
for connecting these mobile people to their loved ones
[4,7,8,9]. Through ethnographic studies and interviews we
have identified a need for connecting people to places. We
have seen how people currently exploit CCTV technology
to relate to their secondary homes, and many commercial
solutions exist for monitoring remote homes with respect to
burglars, fire and other aspects of security. Based on the
empirical studies of people sharing their time between
multiple homes, we suggest that there is an unexplored
potential in supporting the emotional and sensual
relationship to remote homes. In order to investigate this
we have developed a prototype exploiting multiple sensory
modalities in relating to a remote place. We have carefully
considered the form of the prototype such that it can be
present in the primary home in a form, which goes beyond
a traditional display.
The demo prototype is a poetic answer to how people can
relate to places, which are emotionally valuable to them. In
the following, we describe the rationale behind the
prototype, the actual prototype and results from early
evaluations of it.
CONNECTING PEOPLE WITH PLACES
Studies of extremely mobile people have illustrated how
people seek to establish connections with both people and
places . Ibid mapped their study into tactics for ‘home
making’, ‘connecting’ being one of the predominant tactics
for shaping a sense of home. The participants in the studies
[ibid] varied from the child of divorced parents living part
time with each parent, to the commuter between the city on
weekdays and a small Island during the weekends; and the
steward staying on UK time while being in the US and
others. We expanded the studies with 9 supplementary
interviews of wealthy globalists owning multiple homes
around the world, as these are also extreme examples of
We found that most of the informants frequently were
thinking of the other places, not in relation to people being
there, but the place as a value of its own. One of the
informants explained that his wife would check the
residences over CCTV weekly, to be sure everything was
ok, but also to decorate the house remotely: “(…) she might
change her mind, she wants to change the curtains, she
wants to upgrade the boiler…” Another informant stated
that he didn’t like to travel for more than a week, because
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otherwise he missed the home too much, exemplified as the
familiar bed, the bathroom and such. He had CCTV over
the house that was displayed at his office. He liked to
glance at the house numerous times daily.
Numerous studies have explored the landscape of designing
awareness displays that support people in feeling connected
with family or friends in different places [1,2,7,8]. While
many studies have explored the form and expression of
these types of displays, some have also empirically
investigated the adoption of these types of displays and
have documented how they actually result in peoples
feeling of connectedness with remote loved ones [1,8].
Moreover there have been explorations of how to support
connection or relationship with the home while away  or
with experiencing the home in a new way through offering
a view from the rooftop inside the home .
Thus from these studies we suggest that there is an
unexplored potential in designing for more emotional
relationship to remote homes.
The Home Awareness prototype consists of two parts. A
‘sensor part’ placed at the remote home sensing ambient
data from the environment and a ‘reproducing part’
exposing the sensed ambience to the primary home.
The Home Awareness prototype mediates light intensity,
ambient sound and temperature.
The central component in the ‘sensor part’ is a netbook
computer monitoring and sampling two sensors and a
microphone. The two sensors detect light intensity and
temperature levels using Phidgets [www.phidgets.com]
mounted in a small weatherproof enclosure.
Using Skype, the sound recorded by the microphone is
transmitted from the ‘sensor part’ to the ‘reproducing part’
as a regular Skype call over a 3G cellular network. Light
and temperature readings are transmitted through the same
connection as Skype-compliant UDP data packets.
The ‘reproducing part’ is a 65 cm tall cone shaped
installation shaped by overlapping wooden leaves reflecting
light through the gaps (see figure 1). The top is a vertical
foam cap through which sound and ventilation can
At the reproducing end, another netbook computer is
connected (using Phidgets) to a dimmable light bulb to
simulate the remotely recorded light intensity; a modified
heating fan imitates the temperature levels from the remote
home. Light and temperature sensors - similar to the ones
in the ’sensor part’ - is used for monitoring the
reproduction of ambience. The orientation and shape of
leafs on the outside of the ’reproducing part’ provide a
surface for the light to reflect on and illuminate as well as
funneling the air from the fan upwards.
When “idle”, the ‘reproducing part’ lights up and plays the
streamed sounds to imitate the visual and auditive
ambience; and as the ‘reproducing part’ is approached it
detects the presence of a person, and supplements with the
reproduction of temperature using the heating fan as
Figure 1. The Home Awareness prototype reproducing
light, sound and temperature of a remote place
EARLY USER STUDY RESULTS
The Home Awareness prototype has been tested in the
context of two families.
The first study was a family consisting of three people.
They lived in their house on the 17th year and in addition
owned two diverse summerhouses situated by the sea. We
placed the ’sensor part’ in the more primitive summerhouse
by the water and the ’reproducing part’ in their primary
The findings supported the purpose of feeling connected to
the remote location. They expressed that the awareness of
the summerhouse had definitely grown while having the
prototype running. It made them connect mentally to the
specific place having “a picture about the place inside your
head.” (Stated by the mother in the family). They felt that
the rhythm of the day was very clear by following the
installation in the background. They told us about different
sounds they could identify by listening, e.g. children’s
voices, neighbor cutting down a tree and so fourth. It would
sometimes make them want to go there to check it out. It
also made them consider some more practical things as
their thoughts wandered to the summerhouse like “Perhaps
it is time to mow the lawn again”. The family liked having
the connection and the awareness, however they would not
like to have a cone for each place and they sometimes
found it too intrusive, as the sound was playing constantly.
Thus there was certainly a value in feeling connected to the
We had the prototype installed with another family who
spend most of their weekends in their summerhouse, which
they themselves have rebuild from ground to top. The
‘reproducing part’ was installed in the primary home and
the ‘sensor part’ being installed in the summerhouse. This
family consists of a couple with two grown-up sons and
their families. Immediately when the ‘reproducing part’
was installed in the primary house the couple recognized
the sounds of swallows flying by, which they recognized as
a specific characteristic of that place at that time of the day.
This situation was an example of how they felt strongly
connected to the specific summerhouse. In a later situation
they heard some sounds that they did not immediately
recognize, and for a little while they were concerned that
someone were trying to break into the house. They listened
for a while and concluded that this was not the case.
Thus the cases illustrate how the Home Awareness
prototype indeed supported people in feeling connected to
their secondary home, for both good and bad, i.e. pointing
both to nice experiences there but also to an increased
concern and memorizing some of the practical thing to be
done. Interestingly, even though we in the development
focused on supporting the emotional relationship and
sensuous relationship with the remote place, in both
situations we saw instances where the Home Awareness
prototype functioned as a kind of a ‘burglar alarm’.
At this point we conclude that installations like the Home
Awareness prototype hold great potential in supporting the
emotional and sensuous relationship with a remote home.
Further work needs to be done in order to integrate in
particular the sounds in a way, which is not too intrusive in
the primary home. One solution is to couple the sound to
the proximity sensor, so that it is almost silent when people
are away from the cone and sound turns up when closer to
the cone. An alternative is to use directional speakers,
which we have also tried. It did not give much different
experience than the above mentioned, but to some extend it
worked better than having the soundscape fill the room at
Furthermore research needs to go into how to couple more
than two homes or places in this way. Additionally there is
a potential in adding some practical awareness aspects, like
CCTV, the lawn, checking out plumbing, ventilation and
such. In this way there may be a practical reason for having
it, but the sense of the other place through supporting other
sensory modalities than traditional displays offer seems of
great potential. Thus it is important to keep the poetics of
the relationship so that it does not overwhelm with
We would like to thank the families for participating as
well as our colleagues in the Mobile Home Center project,
in particular Thomas Lassen for creating the cone.
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