Control units like TV & air-conditioner remotes activate, shutdown & moderate various home appliances & electronic systems. They function as Environmental Control Units (ECU). More sophisticated units, & even mobile phones, can interact with comprehensive computer-controlled systems (eg C-bus) that master many functions within the modern home.
Built into many dedicated AAC devices is the software & hardware to allow people with disabilities to control their immediate electronic environment. This is referred to as an ECU capability. It is present in all Accent devices, though not in the Saltillo range. Having ECU onboard adds greater value to the basic AAC device & can serve to better engage young people with the equipment. It promotes independence, improves privacy & subsequently can save government funds by lessening in-home support costs.
How do ECUs work?
ECUs can function through a number of different processes. When discussed in reference to communication devices, the most common methods include:
- Infrared – this type of connectivity works by the device sending infrared waves to a receiver that is able to receive and interpret the signal. This method requires a direct line of sight between the devices infrared panel and the receiver.
- Bluetooth – this type of connectivity works through the communication device sending messages through a form of radio wave. Radio waves are not blocked by physical barriers, unlike infrared waves, so they provide more flexible control of the environmental systems.
To control the environment through a communication device, it first needs the capability to do so and secondly the user must also have a way to access the device and its controls. The process of environmental control begins with activation of a button. This may be through direct selection of the screen or through the use of alternative access products such as switches, head pointing or eye gaze technology. Being able to use alternative access products to manipulate the communication device to control the environment is what truly promotes independence and greater quality of life.
Can all communication devices control the environment?
Not all communication devices are able to use environmental control features. Properly enabled devices are capable of generating either Infrared (IR) or Bluetooth (BT) signals. For a device to be particularly effective it should offer both forms of signal transmission. This means that tablet-based devices are not well suited to environmental control and a computer-based device may be more appropriate.
As mentioned above, powerful devices that have ECU's inbuilt include the Accent 800, 1000 and 1400. These devices have the added advantage of being able to use all forms of alternative access, providing greater flexibility and choice for users. They contain pre-programmed codes to make activation easier. Plus, the devices run propriety software programs that integrate with the main language menus & tools.
Although some electronic appliances like TVs often already contain IR codes, others will need to be scanned or entered into the AAC device control page. Certain items require specialised preparation in order that they can be controlled eg. air-conditioners, front & rear doors. Other equipment like fans & side lamps can be turned on & off by incorporating adapted plugs (IR & wi-fi)
Alexa, Echo & Siri can now interact with smart adapted appliances via an AAC device through wi-fi or simply by voice output. Android & IOs phones can now act as ECUs in their own right, though this can over-complicate things when actual control can only be accessed via the custom interface in the AAC device.