Sumi Helal

Smart Home in a Box: Lessons Learned in Designing Assistive Living Environments for Graceful Aging


An imminent crisis in ageing-related care threatens world economies and people’s quality of life. Multimorbidities, frailty, dementia and other conditions are overstretching both the health and social care systems and exposing their lack of integration. Cost-effective, high impact Gernontechnology for personal health and independent living are urgently needed. I will present our experience and lessons learned in building “assistive environments” for the ageing population and demonstrate some of the challenges faced in working on multi-disciplinary, human-centered research.

I will present ATLAS, a middleware architecture and a sensor platform that supports self-integration (plug and play) and remote programmability of smart spaces. I will show how ATLAS was used as the foundation on which we built and programmed the Gator Tech Smart House, and how it enabled pervasive application development, data collection, and analysis. I will close by providing a critical review of the key advances achieved in the past 20 years but also the mistakes, missed opportunities, and in general lessons learnt. Specifically, I will present 7 key such lessons and close by summarizing the challenges ahead and potential paths forward.

Sumi Helal


Sumi Helal, is professor and Chair in Digital Health at Lancaster University, UK, where he leads interdisciplinary research initiatives in digital health in both the School of Computing and Communications (Faculty of Science and Technology) and the Division of Health Research (Faculty of Health and Medicine). As Director of Lancaster University’s Center on Digital Health and Quality of Life Technologies, he leads several active projects on Connected Health Cities, Healthy New Towns design and implementation, suicide prevention using cybernetics and analytics, Airport Accessibility for the hearing impaired, and intelligent primary care GP-Patient interactions. He is a board member and lead of the digital health infrastructure and strategies in the Fylde Whyndyke Garden Village – one of ten NHS England Healthy New Towns development project (a 1400-unit, green grass development which provides for a unique opportunity to embed health elements, by design, in public areas, neighborhoods, and the town community hub (school, wellness center and health care facility), to promote health and wellbeing, active and healthy living and ageing, prevent illnesses and improve people’s quality of life.

Before joining Lancaster, Prof Helal was a Computer & Information Science and Engineering Professor at the University of Florida, USA, and Director of its Mobile and Pervasive Computing Laboratory. He co-founded and directed the Gator Tech Smart House, a real-world deployment project that aimed at identifying key barriers and opportunities to make the Smart Home concept a common place (creating the “Smart Home in a Box” concept). His active areas of research focus on architectural and programmability aspects of the Internet of Things, and on pervasive/ubiquitous systems and their human-centric applications with special focus on smart spaces, proactive health/wellness, patient empowerment and e-coaching, and assistive technology in support of personal health, aging, disabilities, and independence. Professor Helal served as the Editor-in-Chief of IEEE Computer (2015-2018), the Computer Society’s flagship and premier publication. He currently serves as member of the Board of Governors of the IEEE Computer Society, and Chair of its Magazine Operational Committee. Professor Helal is a Boilermaker (Ph.D., Purdue University, class of 1991), Fellow of the IEEE, Fellow of the IET, and a 2020 IEEE Computer Society President-Elect nominee.