Arrive Process & Design

Environments for Aging- The Technology Tidal Wave

By May 6, 2016 No Comments

This is the 2nd article in a series which captures our thoughts and take-aways from the 2016 Environments for Aging Conference and Exhibit in Austin, TX.

As a firm, Arrive has dedicated itself to being at the forefront of Senior Living, which means staying current on the latest research and trends impacting how we design housing- both for the aging, and those needing assistance to carry out their everyday tasks.  This article is Part 2 of a multi-blog series on trending topics impacting the ever-changing world of Senior Living. You can check out Part 1 here.

The Technology Tidal Wave

Like it or not, we are all tethered to our technological ‘devices’ everywhere we go. In fact, statistics cited at this year’s conference indicate that in 2015 there were roughly 10 billion devices connected to the Internet in the U.S.  By the year 2020- that number will soar to 34 billion, of which only 10 billion will be ‘traditional’ computing devices. Other experts have gone on record, estimating that number to be even higher at 50 billion devices. All of which amounts to a $6 trillion industry in a 5-year span.

This projected surge in technology use will translate into changes in our way of thinking as we design senior living communities for the future generation of retirees. This shift is referred to as a market disruption.  A disruption is defined as anything that permanently impacts an existing market in a significant way- or creates an entirely new market that has previously not been served.  “Revolutionary, not evolutionary.” Jeff Carpenter in his presentation outlined four “disruptions” affecting senior living. The two “disruptions” impacting us as designers are unpacked below:

A Paradigm Shift in Care Model

As more and more baby-boomers turn 65 each day, what they look for as they near (or enter) retirement and prepare for increased care needs is evolving.  Amenity based, lifestyle focused facilities with a distinct residential character continue to rise in popularity. Specifically, there is an increased focus on “neighborhood” based approaches, aka specialty communities that are purpose-built for specific needs. This represents a maturation in consumers who are beginning to see that different needs equate to different care.  It doesn’t sound earth-shattering, but is a step forward from the, “one size fits all” nursing homes of old.  Experts believe that this shift in the care model will greatly impact the technology needs of senior communities because of a relatively new consumer concept known as the Personal Technology Ecosystem.

The Personal Technology Ecosystem & the Internet of Things

If you’re like most of us, you are wondering- What is a technology ecosystem? and, What on earth is an Internet of Things?

A Personal Technology Ecosystem is simply a collection of devices, software and services that develop into a personal reliance. In order to maintain and expand this ecosystem, consumers make changes to their traditional purchasing behavior. Simply stated: future consumer decisions are influenced by whether the product or service furthers, or impedes this ecosystem.

Consider this example. Apple or Android.  Someone’s decision in the early 2000’s to purchase an Apple smart-phone at the time seemed like a one-time decision to purchase a phone.  What really happened, is that over the next decade, this consumer has likely abandoned several traditional purchasing behaviors in as a result of, and in favor of, that single purchase decision. Now, they buy all music on Apple iTunes. When in the market for a new computer or tablet, why go with another brand when your tablet and phone could communicate? The same goes for those of us that have “made the switch” to an Android device. We declare our allegiance to our ecosystem, and this “cascading decision making,” goes on and on. As advances are made in car and home automation, we will only see an increase in the expansion of our personal technology ecosystem.


The Internet of Things is a relatively new phrase. A Google search to find out what it means would turn up thousands, if not millions of results. I will attempt to break it down.

The internet of things is essentially giving “things” (our devices) the ability to collect and communicate vast amounts of data in real time over a network (the internet). This data accumulation is interpreted by the various devices and real-time, intelligent, decisions are made based on this data without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.

For instance, if your smart phone calendar communicated a change in to your schedule back to your house- your smart thermostat (which has learned your temperature preferences and can sense when you are home, optimize power usage, and so on) knows you will be home early today, and could automatically prepare the house to your desired temperature. More than that, your lights could turn on, blinds open, oven pre-heat, and the list goes on.  All of this as a result of a simple piece of data entered on one device, the other devices know how to respond.

As a part of Senior Living communities, the Internet of Things will begin to provide independence for residents because instead of needing a caregiver to do simple tasks, those tasks will (in theory) do themselves.

The possibilities range from the simple ability for caregivers and loved ones to monitor real-time vitals via wearable devices (ie: a fit bit) to being able to turn off a stove that was accidentally left on. To take it even further, if four residents want to play cards in the Poker Room, the HVAC system will be able to collect data from their devices indicating their preferred comfort level. It will then find the median temperature the room should set to for those four individuals.  The possibilities are limitless.

So How Do We Prepare?

This technology is not readily available to these extremes today.  So the good news is we have time to react.  But a change in thinking is required if we intend to design our facilities to be prepared to accommodate this type of ‘smart’ technology. The presenter, Jeff Carpenter with KJWW Engineering, referred to this as the “Convergence Phenomenon.”

Often times, we see the “tech” components designed as individual systems, working independently.  “A system of systems,” should be our goal. Moving forward, we as Architects must urge our clients to move toward convergence of these systems.  In doing so, we can eliminate the duplication of system infrastructure, leverage economies of scale, and most importantly allow for flexibility of design. By promoting a convergence model, we can be on the leading edge of this revolutionary industry.

Continue to follow our blog for the third and final take-away from EFA 2016.

Michael Fittz, AIA, Project Architect | ARRIVE Architecture Group

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