The centre for Usable Home Technology (CUHTec) was established at the University of York in 2003 with funding and support from the University, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and Tunstall Healthcare. It was a collaboration between staff (Andrew Monk, John Robinson & Peter Wright) in the University’s Psychology, Computer Science and Electronics departments all of whom had an involvement with research and teaching relating to the use and design of technology for the home. They were convinced that technology could make domestic tasks and independent living easier and safer if designs made their use simpler i.e. if home technologies were more usable.
The centre became active through a membership model in 2004 when Kevin Doughty became the part-time Deputy Director (sponsored by Tunstall). He brought with him experience in the design, commercial development and utilisation of telecare devices and systems to support older and vulnerable people to remain independence in their own homes. This led to the launch of a range of strategy courses based on presentations, discussions and exercises. All courses included a tour of the Responsive Home, a 3-bedroom bungalow in adorned with the latest technologies and in which researchers could introduce devices and study the reactions of users. Over a period of 3 or 4 years, these would empower scores of local authorities and telecare service providers to define specifications for service delivery and establish operational models that were superior to those offered anywhere else in the world. He was also instrumental in setting up an Advanced Telecare User Group, consisting of invited “mover and shaker” members, who collaborated to set the telecare agenda before and during the period when capital grants were available for councils across the UK to buy telecare equipment.
When Andrew Monk retired, and Peter Wright moved from York, CUHTec moved to the Culture Lab at Newcastle University where students and researchers led by Patrick Olivier shared an interest in Home Technologies, and had even built their own kitchen lab where they could monitor people’s cooking habits and activities using special sensors built into appliances and utensils. New spin-out companies worked with CUHTec and demonstrated their devices and systems to CUHTec members who could give them valuable feedback.
The Health Design & Technology Institute (HDTI) at Coventry University became the next home for CUHTec in 2013, with the aim of expanding the training propositions to fit in with their M.Sc programme in Assistive Technologies and other foundation courses suitable for staff in the care industry to increase their knowledge and competencies. Unfortunately, HDTI became a victim of Coventry Univerity’s academic reorganisation and expansion plans, and was closed at the end of 2015, leaving CUHTec potentially homeless.
This, and an increasingly fruitful collaboration with Community Resourcing in Australia, was the inspiration to set up the international version of CUHTec – iCUHTec (where the i can also indicate the virtual nature of the new proposition.
Its aim is to continue to partner with and support local authorities, NHS trusts, 3rd sector organisations, family carers, designers, manufacturers, distributors, telecoms companies, and individuals in raising the awareness of and useful applications of technology in all forms. This extends to establishing and sharing good practice principles across emerging applications and for an extended group of service users in a broad range of scenarios.
The main resource of iCUHTec will be its members, especially those super-members who have been selected to form an enhanced user group which contributes to the debate by hosting meetings and providing specific feedback on new products, projects and techniques. The main facilitator is Dr Kevin Doughty who has over 30 years of experience in the field of care, ranging from establishing and running a care home for older people, heading a successful university telecare research group (University of Wales Bangor), spinning out a specialist telecare design and development company (Technology in Healthcare), and being an expert adviser to government, local authorities, housing associations, charities and housing associations. He is an invited speaker at local, national and international conferences.