Extending the Design Space of Assistive Flexible Smart Environment Applications

The thriving field of Smart Environments has allowed computing devices to gain new capabilities and develop new interfaces, thus becoming more and more part of our lives. In many of these areas it is unthinkable to renounce to the assisting functionality such as e.g. comfort and safety functions during driving, safety functionality while working in an industrial plant, or self-optimization of daily activities with a Smartwatch.

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Congratulations, Dr. Silvia Rus!

Silvia Rus, research associate in the department "Smart Living and Biometric Technologies", has dealt with the progress of applications in smart environments in the course of her doctorate and successfully defended her dissertation on June 30, 2021 - congratulations!

The public defense of Silvia Rus' dissertation "Extending the Design Space of Assistive Flexible Smart Environment Applications" took place on June 30 at Fraunhofer IGD in Darmstadt and online. Supervivors of the thesis were Prof. Dr. techn. Dieter W. Fellner (TU Darmstadt),  Prof. Dr. Arjan Kuijper (TU Darmstadt) and Prof. Dr. Juan Carlos Augusto (Middlesex University London).


Adults spend a lot of time on flexible surfaces such as in the office chair, in bed or in the car seat. These are crucial parts of our environments. Even though environments have become smarter with integrated computing gaining new capabilities and new interfaces, mostly rigid surfaces and objects have become smarter. In this thesis, I build on the advantages flexible and bendable surfaces have to offer and look into the creation process of assistive Smart Environment applications leveraging these surfaces. I have done this with three main contributions.

First, since most Smart Environment applications are built-in into rigid surfaces, I extend the body of knowledge by designing new assistive applications integrated in flexible surfaces such as comfortable chairs, beds, or any type of soft, flexible objects. These developed applications offer assistance e.g. through preventive functionality such as decubitus ulcer prevention while lying in bed, back pain prevention while sitting on a chair or emotion detection while detecting movements on a couch.

Second, I propose a new framework for the design process of flexible surface prototypes and its challenges of creating hardware prototypes in multiple iterations, using resources such as work time and material costs. I address this research challenge by creating a simulation framework which can be used to design applications with changing surface shape. In a first step I validate the simulation framework by building a real prototype and a simulated prototype and compare the results in terms of sensor amount and sensor placement. Furthermore, I use this developed simulation framework to analyse the influence it has on an application design if the developer is experienced or not.

Finally, since sensor capabilities play a major role during the design process, and  humans come often in contact with surfaces made of fabric, I combine the integration advantages of fabric and those of capacitive proximity sensing electrodes. By conducting a multitude of capacitive proximity sensing measurements, I determine the performance of electrodes made by varying properties such as material, shape, size, pattern density, stitching type, or supporting fabric. I discuss the results from this performance evaluation and condense them into e-textile capacitive sensing electrode guidelines, applied exemplary on the use case of creating a bedsheet for breathing rate detection.