Several years ago, Bill Gates built his famous mansion nicknamed Xanadu. The building process took 7 years with a total cost of US$63 million. Although the home is as large and luxurious as you would expect, Xanadu captured the public’s attention, not for its size or opulence, but instead for the previously unheard of level of technological advancement and customisation that it incorporated. The house was, and still is, a marvel of automation and homeowner convenience, as is befitting the home of the founder of Microsoft.
Luckily for the rest of us, nearly that same level of home automation is now much more widely available, with homes that can very nearly serve as inhabitable assistants, not only following your every command, but actually capable of learning and anticipating your needs. The best news is that you don’t have to be Bill Gates or have his bank account to have such a home.
It is no lucky accident that the advent of the smartphone coincided with the rise in popularity of automated devices for the home. With high-speed Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and sophisticated operating systems, smartphones have already changed the way people get their news, work, play, and interact with one another, and it is likewise changing how we interface with our homes.
Today’s ultra-powerful smartphones have virtually eliminated technology that was once popular, such as pagers, mp3 players, cameras, palm devices, voice recorders, and alarm clocks. The next logical step may be to render the push button obsolete. The need to actually press a button to operate a device in your home is rapidly diminishing, and may soon be a quaint reminder of our low-tech past, like cassette tapes and rotary phones. Although there are still some control functions that require you to flip a switch, for an increasing number of tasks, the most strenuous activity you might have to do is pick up your phone, call your house, and tell it what you want it to do for you.
Let’s take a look at how technology that that is currently available on the market could change and simplify your life if it were currently installed in your home. This is not science fiction. These are technologies that already exist in homes.
As you arrive home after your long day at work, and you approach your front door with an armload of groceries for tonight’s meal, there is no need to fumble with keys. Your Lockitron device has detected an automatic Bluetooth signal from the phone in your pocket and unlocks your door as soon as you are within a few paces.
As soon as you are in the door, the Nest thermostat on your wall actually senses your presence and adjusts the temperature to your preferences. You head towards the kitchen, where the oven is already preheated, thanks to the phone call you made earlier to your BeeWi Mobot, telling it to turn on the oven.
Thanks to your installation of Anvil cabinetry, your cabinet doors unobtrusively slide open with a wave of your hand, making it easier to reach needed ingredients. A barcode or RFID scanner can detect which items you have taken from the cabinets and prepare a future shopping list, or even order replacement groceries.
While you are prepping, you say aloud to HAL, your aptly named home intelligence unit, to play your ‘Cooking Dinner’ playlist. Through microphones that have been installed throughout your home, HAL hears your message and sends your music through wireless speakers.
Once your meal is in the oven, you have time to freshen up before dinner. If you are using a microwave, you need have no worries about unevenly cooked food because your oven has infrared sensors that can detect level of doneness and adjust cooking times.
You don’t have to tidy up the rest of the home before dinner, because your sweeping and vacuuming robots have done their due diligence during the day. Likewise, your plants have been watered, your pets fed, and your lawn watered and even mowed, all on an automated schedule.
As you move throughout the house, biometric sensors can detect and identify you, turning lights on and off as you enter and leave a room, and also adjusting the temperature and lighting for the particular room you are in.
If you wish to take a relaxing bath before dinner, you make use of Bathomatic, which will automatically fills your bathtub to a temperature and fill level that you previously set. There is no need to worry about overflowing. The Bathomatic can even add fragrances and bubble bath. While in the bathroom, you can get an instant checkup from a toilet that will take your weight and temperature, measure your blood pressure, and check the sugar level of your urine.
Coming out of the bath, you hear a message over the from HAL over the speakers that a stock you have been following has reached a certain point, letting you know that it is time to either buy or sell. You sit down on your Athena couch, a luxurious sofa with a built-in LCD computer, and quickly make the necessary transaction.
When dinner is ready, you announce to HAL that it is dinnertime, and the music, temperature, and both the brightness and colour of your lighting is adjusted to your preferences.
Later on, while watching television, you will be able to change the channel and volume just by simple hand gestures, thanks to the same technology used in interactive gaming. If you receive a phone call or Skype message, the notification can be displayed on your TV. You can even Skype directly on your TV, if you prefer.
When you retire for the night, you don’t have to worry about your home security or safety. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, as well as pressure and motion sensors, will all act as safeguards while you sleep.
If all this seems like a bit much, then remember that home automation technology is still in its infancy, and the industry is primed for an innovative explosion. In January 2013, Microsoft agreed to buy home automation startup R2 Studios. What is particularly interesting is that both Apple and Google were also looking into buying R2. Anytime Microsoft, Apple and Google all vie to purchase the same company, you can be sure that it is worth keeping an eye on.
An automated, interactive home is truly the home of the now and of the future. It offers a level of unprecedented comfort, convenience and customisation heretofore unheard of. By freeing you from mundane tasks, automation technology allows you to be more creative and productive than ever before.