We've long been fascinated by the idea of the house of the future. In 1956, MIT researchers tested plastic homes -- it'd be a cinch to hose them clean, wouldn't it? -- while Goodyear researchers worked on air-bubble domiciles a few decades later [source: Ngo]. Neither one panned out, of course. But the concept of the "house of the future" wasn't just structural. It also encompassed all of the new technology that would lie inside: video chatting instead of rotary-dial phones, robots to do our housework, and a few buttons we could push to control just about everything.
Alas, our homes still aren't the technological wonders we'd dreamed about. But we certainly have made some advances. Think of amenities like central vacuum, in-home stereo and programmable thermostats. Not sexy enough? Then read about five truly exciting home technologies that are either available now or in development, meaning they all have a real chance of becoming commonplace.
Imagine coming home after work and pushing one button that adjusts the lighting for your entire house. The lights go on in the kitchen and living room, maybe your bedroom and select hallways, and the drapes lower throughout the house. Then the exterior lights begin to blaze. Actually, let's go one step better. You've got a control panel in your home, much like your programmable thermostat. You program in your daytime and nighttime lighting preferences, plus those for the weekend, and voilà -- no need to mess with your lights again [source: Future Technologies].
You may be thinking, "Of course I'd have to mess with them again. What if I wanted different lighting because I was reading, or snuggling with a date?" No worries. The system would be so smart, and so all-encompassing, that you could pre-program settings for romance, reading, dinner parties and more [source: Future Technologies].
Various advanced lighting systems are currently available, although they're not widely used because they're an added expense. In the future, though, the hope is they'll be standard features in homes. And why not? Much like the programmable thermostat mentioned earlier, controlled lighting saves energy and money. It's also a great safety and security feature [source: Future Technologies].
Did you ever wonder why we've long had smart technology in our cars, but not our homes? Think about it. If you're low on gas, your car tells you. If your tire pressure is low, your car tells you. If you're short on oil, need to check your engine or are out of windshield wiper fluid, your car tells you. All of this information helps keep your car healthy, and you safe. It also saves you money by taking preventive measures and avoiding costly repairs. But what does your home and its major appliances tell you? Nothing. Powerhouse Dynamics, for one, wants to change this.
The Maine-based company has unveiled the Total Home Energy Management program, which monitors a home's energy use, energy cost and carbon footprint every single minute. Thanks to its detailed tracking, the system can tell you when your energy use spikes and why, allowing you to moderate consumption. It also monitors your appliances, letting you know when maintenance is needed so you can avoid pricey repairs, and even cluing you in when an appliance is so old and energy-inefficient that it's cheaper to chuck it and buy a new one. And new features are constantly being added as the company identifies and addresses the needs of its customers . For example, when the defrost cycle in a customer's refrigerator wasn't working properly, the system was modified to provide an alert [sources: Future Technologies, Powerhouse Dynamics].
For years -- decades -- we've been regaled with tales of housekeeping robots. Remember Rosie from "The Jetsons"? Yet here we are, in the 21st century, with a handful of robotic household helpers. All is not lost, however. Inventors are still hard at work trying to perfect the perfect 'bot. One prototype unveiled by research scientists in Germany is a one-armed, three-fingered wonder that can pick up items while on clean-up duty, serve drinks to its owners and their guests, and even operate some machines. Numerous sensors prevent it from inadvertently (and painfully) clamping its hand around your arm. While users can direct the robot via a touch-screen in its serving tray, it also responds to spoken commands, plus can understand and respond to gestures [source: Science Daily].
This is just one version of a household robot, of course. There are others in development, and it's anybody's guess which one(s) will actually be developed, marketed and sold. Or if they'll be priced so that the average person can afford one. But we haven't given up on the concept.
If you've been to Asia, namely Japan, you've likely been fascinated by their toilets. To those of us in North America, they're quite futuristic. These super bowls are loaded with buttons and gadgets whose function and operation are difficult to figure out. At least to the uninitiated. For starters, the toilets also function as bidets. Long common in Europe and other parts of the world, bidets spritz water at you for post-potty cleansing. In these newer toilets, a dryer also kicks in, wafting warm air up towards you, meaning there's no need for toilet paper [source: Mapes].
But oh, there's so much more to these wonders. Like heated seats, and lids that raise -- and lower -- automatically. Not surprisingly, the latter function is especially appealing to women; they've even been dubbed "marriage savers." Then there are the built-in deodorizers, which remove every trace of our, uh, prior activities. And, of course, they self-flush, a toilet feature already found in public restrooms in America. Some of these toilets even clean themselves once we've left, applying an antibacterial coating as the last step [source: Mapes].
But while smart toilets currently exist -- even if they haven't reached our shores yet -- even smarter ones are in development. Their purpose: to keep us healthy. Some toilets in Japan already perform urinalysis to see if users have diabetes; soon there will be toilets able to detect things like drug use and pregnancy from your urine, plus colon cancer from your stools. Heck, they'll even be able to give us diet and exercise advice [sources: Future Technology Portal, Mapes]. But will we heed it?
Lots of movies today feature businesses and governmental entities with facial recognition software in place, usually to keep unauthorized personnel from accessing areas with highly-classified information and priceless goods. Eventually, many of us may be able to install this software in our own homes. Why would we want to? Video cameras at our doors could identify our family and friends, plus strangers. If a stranger does ring our doorbell, the system could then immediately run the person's mug against all the faces in our criminal and terrorist databases, so we don't let in some really bad dude [source: Future Technology Portal]. Of course, sometimes a family member or friend turns out to be a bad guy.
There are numerous companies currently working with facial recognition software, for both business and personal use. When and if it becomes widely available isn't yet known. Android currently has a face-unlock feature in its Android 4 operating system, aka Ice Cream Sandwich. But if you hold up a photo of the authorized user, it can be fooled [source: Bonnington]. So, it seems we have a ways to go on this one.
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Author's Note: 5 Future Home Technologies You'll Love
I don't need a robot. I don't even think I'd like it, actually. But a smart toilet? Sign me up for that one!
- Bonnington, Christina. "Apple Patent Describes a More Secure Face-Recognition System." Wired. May 10, 2012. (Sept. 9, 2012) http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/05/apple-3d-facial-recognition/
- Future Technologies. "Lighting Control Benefits & Possibilities." (Sept. 4, 2012) http://futuretechnologiesinc.com/index/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=29&Itemid=26
- Future Technologies. "Track Power." (Sept. 4, 2012) http://futuretechnologiesinc.com/index/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=49&Itemid=38
- Future Technology Portal. "Future Home." (Sept. 4, 2012) http://www.futuretechnologyportal.com/future-home.htm
- Mapes, Diane. "Are you ready for the toilet of the future?" MSNBC. March 10, 2010. (Aug. 4, 2012) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35787518/ns/technology_and_science-innovation/t/are-you-ready-toilet-future/#.UEY14NmsRj4
- Ngo, Denise. "Archive Gallery: PopSci Envisions Your Future Home." Feb. 25, 2011. (Sept. 4, 2012) http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2011-02/archive-gallery-popsci-envisions-your-future-home
- Powerhouse Dynamics. "Residential eMonitor Overview." (Sept. 9, 2012) http://www.powerhousedynamics.com/residential-energy-efficiency/
- Schirber, Michael. "How Smart Homes Could Power the Future." Live Science. July 23, 2008. (Sept. 4, 2012) http://www.livescience.com/5019-smart-homes-power-future.html
- Science Daily. "New Generation Of Home Robots Have Gentle Touch." July 14, 2008. (Sept. 4, 2012) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080710113026.htm
- Seattle. "House of the Near Future Loaded with Energy Saving Design." Aug. 28, 2012. (Sept. 4, 2012) http://powerlines.seattle.gov/2012/08/28/house-of-the-near-future-loaded-with-energy-saving-design/