Telecare, smart power sockets, and independent living – The UK PEOPLE case study

We are presenting four case studies, implemented in the 1st PEOPLE Learning Cycle. In each of the four partner countries, Slovenia, UK, the Netherlands, and Czech Republic, students of social sciences and humanities worked with academic and industry mentors on a real-life, industry-identified research project in the field of energy efficiency and sustainability. The goal of the case studies was to involve students of anthropology, sociology, psychology, and related fields in (interdisciplinary) R&D teams and provide them with an opportunity to learn, test, and refine people-centred development and design approaches.

The students’ reflections on the case studies were published in the 3rd issue of our PEOPLE Newsletter in June 2018. Read on to learn how in our UK PEOPLE case study the students, mentored jointly by Durham Energy Institute (Durham University) and industry partner Kemuri, tackled the challenges of the design and operation of telecare devices and services in their fascinating study on Kemuri’s smart power sockets.


“We are working on Kemuri’s telecare device, which uses electricity monitoring alongside other sensors to build a picture of an older person’s daily activities and to highlight where a change in lifestyle patterns may indicate that there is something wrong. The product was inspired by the old tradition of checking up on neighbours and friends, should they be ill or in trouble. Given the cold and often damp weather of Northern England, households traditionally lit fires most of the time: the resultant smoke from the chimney was a very visible sign of activity. As this was such a common activity, if someone hadn’t lit their fire in the morning, neighbours would check up on them to make sure they weren’t in trouble. The Kemuri device aims to replicate this signal by using a modern equivalent, one particularly seen in the UK: the boiling of a kettle in the kitchen. The product comes in two forms: a fixed and a portable plug unit. These are installed in the property and they monitor not only the electricity usage but also include a temperature sensor, motion sensor and a humidity sensor. This usage data is fed back and used to build up a picture of the lifestyle patterns for that person, which can be used to identify and flag any changes to daily routine so that a nominated recipient receives a notification of the change.”

UK PEOPLE case study, PEOPLE project, Erasmus+, smart power socket, Kemuri, Durham Energy Institute, independent living, IoT, telecare
Visit to the Kemuri factory, Kemuri smart power sockets (photo: Maria Salaru)


“Our starting point was to understand more about the product and the business drivers behind Kemuri, which is a very small start-up company. What had inspired the development and what it hoped to get out of the development, alongside a better understanding of the product itself? To achieve this we met with the different members of the business including the founder, product designer, marketer and visited their production location. Additionally, we undertook a literature review of the published information around ageing and telecare in the UK, to be able to put this in context and start to devise the key areas of enquiry for the project. Having developed a preliminary understanding, we moved on to focus on the potential users and existing trials and demonstration sites. The product is being targeted at the elderly and has been installed in sheltered housing sites in the North East, around Durham and Sunderland. We have met and spoken with the wardens and mangers from the housing companies on these sites, in order to understand how the devices are being used currently, how they align with what is already in place and what has attracted or put people off in using these devices. Following these conversations, we arranged a series of one-on-one and group interviews and workshops with residents, some of whom have the device installed already, to see how they have found having the device, why they chose to have the device installed or why they didn’t want to have the device. As part of a wider investigation into telecare, ageing and support, we have organised focus groups with people to understand the broader application of the product and what other needs/attractions or detractions might be linked to the product.”


“Kemuri’s plug is focused on monitoring the use of energy and thus highlights how intrinsic electricity is now considered to be within our society. As such, a key enabling technology is completely embedded in everyday life – it has therefore become a useful proxy for monitoring individual activities for changes. The ability and use of the information for monitoring is therefore highly embedded in social and individual actions. Using this information in such a way raises much wider questions about privacy and data protection, monitoring and permissions and the rights of sharing that information and how it may be used. Access to information that may give you an insight into a person’s private life at such a level of detail is a new challenge for energy companies with potential risks and opportunities. The research to date shows how reliant on energy we are and how it may be a new source of untapped information, but also one that people are understandably nervous about.”

UK PEOPLE case study, presentation, Co-Creation Camp, Amsterdam, PEOPLE project, Erasmus+, Kemuri, Durham Energy Institute, Durham University
UK case study presentation at PEOPLE Co-Creation Camp in Amsterdam, 4 July 2018 (phto: Tilen Šoštarič)


“The process of working with an industrial partner has been really interesting for the team, as we are all from different backgrounds and the product and company are quite distinctive. It is a very small, early stage business that is developing a very personal idea as a business model. This has led to an interesting dynamic around the company that we don’t feel is particularly common to all industry but is very likely to be common in small businesses that are driven by one individual. We have also noticed the importance of different drivers and motivations for industrial partners and academic research, we have found there to be a challenge in retaining a focus on the research-led question when the industrial partner has a very specific action or questions they would really like you to answer.”


“As a group we have been surprised by a number of different issues. However, a major one is awareness of the quality, coverage and limitations of social care in the UK. We had not realised the extent of cost pressures being placed on the organisations operating in the area and how much is dependent on personal circumstances. A second issue we have been surprised about is the gap in understanding and messaging between different organisations and perspectives even when talking about something that is fairly specific such as telecare, the lack of a common language and starting perspective has been a fascinating question in itself.”


The UK students in the 1st PEOPLE Learning Cycle were:

  • Luke Lobo (MSc, Energy and Society)
  • James Davies (MSc, Energy and Society)
  • Zain Sultan (MSc, Sustainability, Culture and Development)
  • Maryham Abdelmalak (MSc, Sustainability, Culture and Development)
  • Ned Gatenby (MSc, Sustainability, Culture and Development)
UK PEOPLE case study, PEOPLE project, Erasmus+, UK team, Amsterdam, Co-Creation Camp
UK PEOPLE students at Co-Creation Camp, Amsterdam, 4 July 2018 (photo: Tilen Šoštarič)


Want to know more? Read our previous posts on the UK PEOPLE case study (here and here), find the students’ reflections on the Slovenian case study on automated buildings here, or learn more about the PEOPLE Learning Cycles on this page. And stay tuned for new posts on the Czech and Dutch case studies!