Imagining a future where connected devices work to enhance and improve our lives—rather than to burden us—requires a leap of faith that technology companies are often all-too-happy to impose on consumers. During the frothy dot-com boom years (circa 1997–2000), tech providers enthusiastically offered up myriad visions of a connected home that promised to solve innumerable household problems.
In 1999, at the height of the dot-com boom, Excite@Home rigged a New York City loft with high-speed Internet access—at the time, a rare commodity for residential use—and outfitted the space with ahead-of-their-time gadgets and gizmos (many of them prototypes), like an Internet-connected TV on your refrigerator or Internet telephony throughout your home, including in your bathroom.
Excite@Home optimistically envisioned a bright, shiny, super-connected “home of the future,” where ubiquitous, at-home Internet connectivity would lead to huge opportunities for marketers and retailers. The reality, though, didn’t turn out as optimistic as Excite@Home had wished, and their dream home of the future burst like the dot-com bubble that created it.
What went wrong? Besides suffering from an acute case of Aheadofitstimeitis, Excite@Home’s home of the future may have been more greatly crippled by the fact that much of the innovations it presented were solutions in search of problems. The heavily technology-centric approach seemed much more interested in exploiting bleeding-edge (at the time) technology rather than actually addressing real consumer needs.
Nearly a decade and a half later, New York-based idea-sharing news site PSFK recently opened a pop-up exhibit to showcase what the home of the future might look like, and this time around, the more human-centric approach yields a more practical—and realistic—vision of the future.
Billed as an “experience [that] showcases tomorrow’s ideas and innovations in modern urban living,” PSFK’s Future of Home Living is an interactive exhibit that incorporates smart design and technology to create an urban dwelling that’s as much about being connected as it is about being home.
While technologies are featured throughout the exhibit, they are mostly ambient, rather than central to the living experience. PSFK’s Home of the Future focuses less on the ubiquity of technology (and it is ubiquitous) and more on the human-scale of objects, and the need for home to be an oasis that is adaptive, on-demand and provides equilibrium. A wall at the exhibit encourages visitors to share their ideas about what they’d want in their home of the future.
From Studio Gorm’s modular peg-system furniture to Vurv Design’s wall-mounted desk, function plays as essential a role as form in the home of the future. GetArtUp allows art-lovers to refresh their walls every six months with a web-based subscription service that rents out original works from contemporary artists.
Click and Grow’s smart planters are sensor-embedded pots that tend to plants, regulating fertilizing and watering. Despite lots of high technology involved with Click & Grow, plants are grown naturally, using biomimicry as the main source for inspiration and innovation.
Berg Cloud’s Little Printer is a mini-printing device that generates customizable, receipt-sized newspapers, bringing news and content from web and social sources. Use your smartphone to set up subscriptions and Little Printer will gather them together to create a timely, beautiful miniature newspaper.
PSFK’s Future of Home Living Experience continues through August 16, on the ground floor space at 101W15, located at 555 6th Avenue, New York City. Admission is free with online reservation.
One of the more unique products unveiled at CES is a piece of smart cutlery that will alert you when you are eating too fast. Marketed as a weight loss tool, the HAPIfork tracks your eating habits and can measure how long it takes you to eat, how many “fork servings” you take (how many times you put the fork in your mouth), and how much time you wait between fork servings while eating a meal. Using the HAPIfork app and online dashboard, users can can track their progress and gain further insight into their personal eating schedules.
Why settle for a traditional light bulb when you can create a personalized lighting scheme from your smartphone or tablet? New Hue LED lightbulbs are able to connect to your home’s wireless network and can create custom lighting palettes from the colours in your favourite photos.
As technology progresses, the futuristic lifestyle portrayed on the children’s cartoon show The Jetsons doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. We have smartphones to make communicating easier, smart cars to make driving easier and artificially intelligent personal assistants to make our lives easier. The next frontier? Smart homes.
The Nest thermostat, the brainchild of iPod creator Tony Fadell, sold out instantly when it went on sale. Just like your current thermostat, only better: it’s sleek, significantly reduces your energy consumption and is able to program itself to adapt to your changing routine. You can even control it from afar through web and mobile apps.
At the 2012 CES show, LG unveiled its line of Smart ThinQ appliances, including a fridge that can tell you exactly what food is inside and when it will expire through its food management system.
Then there are the two MIT Media Lab graduates who created a gadget called Twine that can essentially make any object in your house able to tweet, email and text. The 2.5”, Wi-Fi-enabled square is packed with internal and external sensors that can detect temperature, motion, moisture and magnetism (more to come). Through a web app, users can set up their Twine to respond to language-based rules such as WHEN the doorbell rings THEN text “You have a visitor!”
If Twine hasn’t peaked your interest you could always get a Karotz, the intelligent Internet companion. This smart rabbit has voice-recognition software and can tweet, check your email, play music, take pictures, search the web and read RFID tags.
I think it’s fair to say that the future is going to be filled with all sorts of these cool toys. But I wonder what the big picture will look like. Will we be more efficient? Yes. But I’m not quite sold that we’ll be enjoying life more.
I can see the appeal of this convenient and minimalistic future, but at the same time I find it a little creepy. It’s one thing for a user to control their household remotely, it’s another for the household to seemingly come alive and take on a persona of its own. Digital should be used to enhance my life, not to live it for me. So for the future, I’m going to proceed with caution.