December 30, 2014

Monsanto house of the future

Monsanto's Disneyland "house of the future" envisioned life in 1986. Credit: brunurb / Flickr Creative Commons

A dream home of the future might include a self-cleaning floor, a refrigerator that texts when the ketchup is nearly empty, and a roof that automatically opens up on sunny days.

That dream home might be coming sooner than you think.

David Rose is the author of Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things. And he already has a bit of the future in his home now, which means family members are guinea pigs for a growing army of gadgets: a Google Earth coffee table that replaces the globes of yesteryear; a Skype cabinet that opens up to allow long distance chats at a moment's notice; and a personalized doorbell that alerts you when different family members are on their way home.

Convenient, sure — but perhaps also a little scary. Apprehension about smarter homes might be one reason devices like Nest haven't quite caught on for the masses yet.

"While the market is pretty sizable right now, it's still very much an early adopter, hobbyist, experimenter market, " says John Kestner founder of Supermechanical.

"No one's going to buy the 'smart home' as envisioned by Honeywell or Intel or Cisco or any of these companies," adds Rose. "Increasingly, it's the product companies that are seeking differentiation in the marketplace that will start to adopt connectivity into luggage, or jewelry, or clothing — all these things."

The potential vulnerability of a connected home might also be keeping customers away — at least for the time being. With phone hacks in the news, it's easy to be worried about an entire home that is wired. But, Kestner points out, "A phone is a much bigger intrusion into our privacy, and we've already in general shrugged our shoulders about it."

The world is changing not just for those of us living in homes, but also for companies making products. In some ways, homes get more sustainable: Instead of throwing something away, you can reprogram it for your new needs. But it will also mean a shift for companies towards thinking about products more like services.

The smart home from the ground up is probably still pretty far off, despite projects like the holodeck-inspired CityHome from the MIT Media Lab. In that world, furniture can move around — even into the ceiling and floors — to reconfigure a room, kind of a Murphy Bed 2.0.

Such a breakthrough could be particularly interesting for businesses like hotels and bars that could make money by maximizing the space, adds Rose. "We do two things in cities: We sleep in them and we work in them. What if that same space could accommodate both those modes?"

Business, David Rose, John Kestner, design, technology

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