First Pilot studies running in Austria and Switzerland

At the beginning of the second year of the SmartHeat project, a first prototype of the system was ready to be installed in several households recruited by the project's end-user organizations in Austria and Switzerland. The system rolled out had been developed in the course of the past month in line with the heating needs and requirements of older adults. For the system architecture to be developed, insights had been gathered in both countries by means of various workshops, interviews and surveys in the first year of the project.

In total, five households in Switzerland and three households in Austria were selected for the first test phase out of a pool of several households expressing their interest in participating. Inclusion criteria concerned both the user group (minimum age) and mechanical pre-conditions, such as the fit of radiators and pipes for the mounting of valves, wifi-connection and household size. User satisfaction with SmartHeat's specific heating approach thus became subject to scrutiny, just as the functional efficiency of the appliances outside the lab.

The installation was conceived by the team of Modosmart, and proved to be more challenging than imagined, given the various environmental factors distinct to each household: Wifi-connections and settings, mechanical contacts and interaction between tablet, valves and sensors were only some issues the project team gained valuable insights about.

The Smartheat consortium already gained important insights for improvement after the first weeks and is very confident that in the course of the second field study, a fully functional system can be deployed.

Despite complex and rather time-consuming installations, the participants of the study have shown themselves to stay highly motivated, helpful and understanding. Even after the installation, when there was a need of several visits by the end-user organizations to eliminate one or the other problem, the motivation stayed rather high. As a result, most of the mechanical and software problems could be eradicated in the first week of the trial period.

Ever since, the system has been running quite stable in four households so that additional functions of the system are just up to remote implementation. Two households in Switzerland had to be dropped on the installation day due to unexpected incompatibilities, whereas three households in Austria dropped as a result of repeating system instability. Despite these losses, all installations rendered important insights for the improvement of the existing devices and further development targeting a more elaborate second prototype. More than that, even the dropouts expressed a strong interest of trying again with the optimized system, because they see a clear benefit of using the SmartHeat system.

For the remaining households, the pilot study runs until the end of March, divided in two phases, one for the system learning and one for the deployment of intelligent algorithms. In the course of the runtime, the end user organizations will collect feedback from the users in three waves and the findings will be used to optimize the system for the second field study that will be run in year three.