The Homelab concept: a strong foundation for innovation

Technological advances come at a cost. Technological solutions aiming to solve everyday needs or societal challenges are popping up at an increasing speed. This poses a number of technical and non-technical issues. First of all, there are a wide variety of technologies that are not interoperable amongst each other. This happens at different levels, devices can use a different communication medium (e.g. RF vs. Ethernet), a different application protocol (e.g. DLNA vs. REST) or - even if all purely technical barriers are broken down - they can just not be aware of other devices to interact with. Secondly, technology gets introduced at a pace the general public cannot keep up with. How do people interact with emerging technology and how can technology help people without interfering with their everyday lives?

Technical issues are traditionally tackled by working together with technical experts, who may decide on developing and testing prototypes in testbeds. User research groups evaluate the usability and market feasibility in small-scale trials or in living labs. By providing the environment in which the available expertise and technical toolkits of both technical experts and user research groups can be combined and further extended, the above pitfalls can be overcome in the most efficient way possible. For this purpose, iMinds is building an actual lab/house, called Homelab (working title). Homelab will become a residential test environment and innovation incubator that will stimulate the collaboration and cross-fertilization between stakeholders in the field of research, development and innovation, for academics, research institutions, enterprises and governmental bodies. Flexible walls, technical corridors, hollow floors and ceilings make it possible to easily install and replace new technologies as the technological evolution continues and guarantee that Homelab will be able to host and test the technologies of the future.

Homelab as seen from the outside (front, design under finalization)

Homelab as seen from the outside (back, design under finalization)

Technical corridors in Homelab make it easy to install or replace technology

Today, a semi-realistic home set-up known as “mini-Homelab” and an extension to this set-up in an office environment are operational. The mini-Homelab is being used while completing the HomeLab building process. Among other things, the mini-Homelab brings an interoperability platform that allows for easy prototyping of a combination of potentially completely different technologies. Within mini-Homelab and soon, the HomeLab itself, a flexible environment is provided in which experiments can be set up without any limitations in terms of installation, technology used, type of devices or type of test. Additionally, it can be used as a long-term demonstration environment that will lead to new idea generation. Homelab bridges the gap between purely technical testbeds where technical tests are run in a lab environment and living labs where a technology is presented to the user for the first time. Once a certain product or service has been tested and deemed stable in Homelab, the concepts and tools provided can be used to help upscaling to living labs with technical support.

The mini-Homelab setup in Ghent is currently used to support integration tests and co-creation sessions