Researchers are working on a technology that could make homes of the future adjust to your activity without the need for invasive cameras.
So when you leave a room, you would not have to instruct the technology to turn off the lights or fan. Sensors hidden in the walls or floors could automatically detect that the room was empty and do the deed for you.
This system would read not only the vibrations, sounds - and even the specific gait, or other movements - associated with people and animals in a building, but also any subtle changes in the existing ambient electrical field.
"There is actually a constant 60 Hz electrical field all around us, and because people are somewhat conductive, they short out the field just a little," said Soumyajit Mandal, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, US.
"So, by measuring the disturbance in that field, we are able to determine their presence, or even their breathing, even when there are no vibrations associated with sound," he explained.
The researchers call the new system the "Internet of Ears."
"We are trying to make a building that is able to 'listen' to the humans inside," said Ming-Chun Huang, Assistant Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the same university.
"We are using principles similar to those of the human ear, where vibrations are picked up and our algorithms decipher them to determine your specific movements. That's why we call it the 'Internet of Ears.'"
While Huang is leading the research related to human gait and motion tracking, Mandal focuses on vibration sensing and changes in the existing electrical field caused by the presence of humans or even pets.
Huang and Mandal published details of their research in October at the IEEE Sensors conference in New Delhi. A longer version of their results will appear in the journal IEEE Transactions on Instrumentation and Measurement early next year, according to a statement from the Case Western Reserve University.