Can a more intuitive smoke alarm save lives?

Node is a more responsive smoke alarm designed to communicate more clearly for users to quickly and easily understand. Node combines visual and auditory signals to accurately convey a spectrum of risk levels as well as better accommodate hearing impaired users.

This is an independent research project culminating in a functional prototype that I designed and engineered.

1 in 4 deaths from house fires are caused by broken or intentionally disabled smoke alarms

1 in 4 deaths from house fires are caused by broken or intentionally disabled smoke alarms

Over a third of homes are at risk

More than a third of homes are at risk due to non-functioning smoke alarms; either they are broken, out of batteries or purposefully disabled by the user *

We conducted user interviews to understand how people use their smoke alarms. The results showed user frustration and confusion with smoke alarms.

Participants reported that smoke alarms can seem to overreact to small amounts of smoke or steam, loudly ringing and startling users when they are trying to cook or stepping out of the shower. Users often do not maintain the batteries or intentionally remove them because the smoke alarm doesn’t seem to be working properly.

Envisioning a more intuitive smoke alarm

I conceptualized a smoke alarm that could alert users through sight as well as sound, using LEDs to assist the visually impaired and make smoke alarms easier for anyone to understand.

Developing the hardware

To prove out the concept, I built a functional prototype using a custom epoxy circuit board with a IR smoke sensor, piezo speaker, and LEDs driven by an Arduino microprocessor.

Juxtaposing perforated steel against clean, white plastic, the form of the device is both elegant and communicative. Node identifies the level of smoke and provides visual and auditory feedback on a scale of 1 to 6. The most minor levels of smoke or steam are met with a single LED and no noise, while more severe threats trigger more, brighter lights and louder sounds. By communicating the amount of smoke detected, Node enables users to better understand, anticipate and preempt alarms.

Responsive visual feedback...

When Node detects a trivial amount of smoke, the first warning lights turn on but does not emit any disruptive noise yet.

Responsive visual feedback

When Node detects a trivial amount of smoke, the first warning lights turn on but does not emit any disruptive noise yet. Users can see as smoke levels rise, enabling them to preempt accidental alarms.

... that gives users time to respond.

Users can see as smoke levels rise, enabling them to preempt accidental alarms.

Meaningful audio feedback

When Node detects a severe amount of smoke, an alarm will sound. As the risk becomes greater, the noise becomes louder.

Wall or ceiling mounted

Node's novel design enables it to be mounted to the wall for easy visibility. This is particularly helpful for hearing impaired users who might otherwise not notice any signals from the device.

SIMPLER

SMARTER

SAFER

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