This paper documents work from the EPSRC ‘EQUATOR’ and Dependability Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration on Computer Based Systems (DIRC) concerned with the appropriate design of dependable assistive technology to enable older and disabled people to maintain a quality of life within their own homes. Technology, especially so‐called ‘smart home’ technology, can only be used to assist people if it is effectively designed. Designers are therefore required to consider certain key questions such as what situation they are designing for, what solutions should do, and who should use them. The focus in this paper is on understanding and identifying user needs and system requirements for dependability in the complex challenge of inclusive design. The feature of inclusive design addressed here is the new emphasis on the user, a living, breathing person situated in real world settings along with others, rather than some designer's abstraction.
The acceptance or rejection of assistive technology relies on the users' perceptions of the designed technology as well as the appropriateness of the technology designed. Consequently, this paper suggests that despite highly imaginative views of future technologies, getting such dreams to work generally means they must, at some point, meet the real world and engage with the needs of users if they are to be sufficiently grounded. Given this emphasis on users, the highly personal character of domestic settings presents conventional research techniques with obdurate problems that can make research practically and ethically difficult. Researching domestic spaces and domestic values requires different methods to understand the unique needs and experiences of residents. Accordingly, the authors report on their experiences of using observational studies and adapting ‘cultural probes’ to foster an ongoing dialogue with the members of their user groups, to gain insights into their needs and generate design relevant information and inspiration. The paper discusses how such information might feed into dependable design through consideration of a model of dependability.