Homes of the future

Drawing of the 1961 idea of a futuristic home.

The 21st century is said to be the age of convenience: we want quality and quantity. We want to have our cake and eat it, without gaining weight.

The next level to our age of technological evolution was clear at Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2017 – home automation is going to be the next big thing.

Although Apple released the ‘HomeKit’ which brought home automation into the mainsteam in 2014, it wasn’t until Christmas 2016 when Amazon’s Alexa hit the big time did we see virtual assistants in the home.

Alexa and others, such as Google Home, show the next level of people relying on technology.

Using personal assistants to control wifi enabled products such as these excites many, harking back through movie history from Star Trek to Iron Man.

So if that is now, what is the future?

People are likely to get tired of asking for everything all time, using up vital speaking time on a personal assistant.

Aside from never being able to name a child Alexa again, or say Google anywhere near your home, the next level is a house so smart, it thinks of things before you even ask.

Picture this:

The house has already detected that your heart rate is speeding up and your breathing was getting less consistent by using your smart bed-sheet.

It sends a message to your blinds to open, for some soft music to play and for the coffee machine to start brewing.

When you are in the ‘least deep’ part of sleep the alarm goes off, with a warm burst of light akin to a sunrise.

As you walk into the kitchen, you ask what your day holds. The house tells you your appointments, the news and advises you to wear a jacket because it’s cold today.

As you leave the house the front door locks behind you, the lights and appliances switch off, the garage door opens and the heating inside drops to conserve energy.

While you are out a delivery man stops by, ringing the door bell, a live stream arrives at your phone, you can unlock the door for him and with cameras all over the house, to make sure all he does is leave the package.

While you’re away your house is hoovered and your plants watered.

As you leave work you get a text from your fridge asking if you’d like to make a recipe that it has worked out you have the food for. When you accept, it then pre-heats the oven to the desired level.

It is sort of like having a virtual butler that isn’t physically there and doesn’t need all those annoying little things like ‘time off’.

Here are a few examples of new smart technologies and what they can do for the home:

  • Lights: Using lightbulbs connected through wifi one can switch them on and off through a phone app or home automation system. Some such as the Phillips Hue can change colour and warmth to anything on the rainbow you want.
  • Thermostat: Smart thermostats use wifi and bluetooth to send monthly charts to your phone on your levels of usage. You can also control them via your phone, changing the temperature and setting schedules for when you want them to come on and off e.g. turn off when you leave the house and turn on when you wake up.
  • Garage doors: Connected to wifi you can programme your garage doors to open and close when you come up the driveway, or just control them remotely.
  • Door locks: can be opened and closed remotely, automatically open for specified people, alert you when specific people enter the house (parents can know when the kids get home) and stream the front doors camera and intercom from anywhere using your phone.
  • Bed sheet: Bed sheets such as Luna can measure your heart rate and brain waves to know when you are waking up, and trigger events, such as your lights being turned on, the house heats up and your coffee maker starts to brew. It can also be set to know when you are going to go to bed. 
  • Security: Cameras, motion detectors and window sensors can update you on your pets activities at home on top of sending you notifications if someone tries to enter your home. You can choose to send for the police or have the lights flash and you can tell them to go away through automated speakers.
  • Health: Medication dispensers, sleep monitors, cameras that track your food intake and heart monitors. This corner of the home automation system is just now growing, it can send notifications to your doctor to let them know something is wrong, or provide an instant way for your elder family member living alone to be kept safe. One can also connect other devices such as a FitBit and other wearables to add to the data being collected.
  • Outdoor Home Irrigation System: Some new smart gardening gadgets have arisen such as Lono, which tracks upcoming weather and automatically waters your plants when they need it.
  • Smart ovens: can detect what type of food is in the oven and make sure to cook it at the best possible temperature. Remotely being able to turn off appliances means a safer home and pre-heating the oven on your way home.
  • Sofa: Last year Carlo Ratti launched a modular sofa system, in which hexagon shaped sofa modules tesselate together and can be digitally formed to whatever shape the user wants. It can be a sofa, a bed, a chaise lounge, or indeed anything else one would like you buy more.
  • Hairbrush: L’Oreal has released a smart hairbrush that uses small microphones and sensors in the bristles to check for “frizziness, dryness, split ends and breakage.” The hairbrush then notifies you (based on the upcoming weather reports) with personalised beauty tips on the best products to use on your hair that day.
  • Toothbrush: Smart toothbrushes monitor how you brush your teeth and collate data to help you do it better in the future.
  • Breast Pump: At CES this year there was also a breast pump, which has the positives of doing away with heavy machines and tubes, and having to undress. It simply sits beneath the bra and its connected to your smart phone, sending you updates of volumes expressed and a correlation of the times one is most likely to need to express milk.

So why doesn’t everyone already have a fully automated home?

There are a few reasons:

  1. Prices for entire smart home kits can be pricey, but as they start to become standard in new buildings they will integrate quickly;
  2. Consumers need time to trust the technology to let into their everyday life.

One of the main issues with home automation is we don’t know enough about the security risks yet.

If the house not secure then imagine the damage that could be done, with full control of the house a hacker could technically cut one off from electricity, lock all your doors and turn the oven on.

Other risks so as connecting one’s credit card details in order to places orders through your virtual assistant quickly.

For example, on the advertisements for Amazon’s Alexa the actors ask Alexa to order them a Domino’s pizza.

Hackers could not only get one’s credit card details but charts of the homeowner’s sleeping patterns, when they leave and come back for work, not to mention the cameras all over the house.

In fact Synack published a study that shows that a hacker either with your phone or sitting near you in a coffee shop on the same wifi, can easily hack your devices in as little as five minutes.

Most solutions to security issues seem to lie with the manufacturer who is currently relying too much on consumers to sort out a secure network for themselves, as this doesn’t work in the grand scheme with billions of technophobes.

There are a few solutions available to consumers such as Invizbox, which one connects straight to a router and it promises to secure the network.

Another, Cujo promises to protect devices in a similar way by being a stand alone plug in, although both of these are in their infancy having just come off Indiegogo, a crowd funding website.

Perhaps in another five years all the little bumps will have been ironed out, people will have stopped yelling into their empty kitchens for the heating to be turned down in front of confused house guests.


Featured image by Susi Pator Flick CC