There’s a subset of Generation X, raised on a diet of The Jetsons, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Knight Rider, who are still waiting for their jet packs, flying cars and teleportation devices. While we may all be walking around with mini-computers in our pockets, technology has not always delivered what was promised. But the rapid and rapacious forward propulsion of technological developments will never cease, regardless of the lack of jet packs, and one area where it is zooming towards peak tech is in the home.
Few people still refer to mobile phones as smart but in the world of home tech the concept of the smart house is still alive and kicking. Just as Wi-Fi has become an expectation rather than a luxury, so will certain aspects of a connected home. The proliferation of voice activated devices such as Alexa, Siri and Echo have installed themselves firmly into millions of households. Berg Insight, a research firm based in Sweden, predicts that 63 million American homes will be assigned the smart moniker by the end of 2022.
Beyond the voice activated virtual assistant, the Roomba, video door bells, washing machines, refrigerators and security cameras all connected to your phone are developments such as lights that change colour depending on your mood, toilets that analyse waste for signs of illness, alarm clocks that speak to your digital schedule and adjust themselves accordingly. There are also ‘chef’s hands’ that assist in the kitchen, light bulbs that emit essential oils depending on the time of day, app-enhanced beds that collect data on sleep patterns and adjust the mattress, air purifiers that regulate output to ambient air quality and even a security system that barks like an angry Alsatian if it detects an intruder. These are not the dreams of mad scientists. All of these products are currently available; we’re not in Kansas anymore.
Each device will eventually end up connected to each other, enfolding your home in a web of information – a daunting prospect for those attached to their privacy. The collection of so much data about an individual’s homelife patterns will no doubt lead to hacking replacing breaking and entering as a household’s biggest threat. Naturally, tech heads will rely on more technology to solve the problem.
What does all this mean for normal people? For those of us who still get a thrill from the magic of a video call or smugly remember their maths teacher saying: “You won’t have a calculator in your pocket when you grow up!” there’s not much stopping this race to so-called smartness. As much as the Luddites try to stem the flow of technological interventions into daily life, we will all, at some point soon, be part of a smart household of some kind. Architects are starting to design with technology in mind, rather than as an afterthought and according to analysts at Fortune Business Insights the global smart home market reached 86.48 billion US dollars in 2020.
For anyone who has gone head-to-head with a recalcitrant version of Microsoft Word or had a virtual argument with Amazon about passwords and logins, the idea of relying on smart technology to switch on the lights can incite a migraine of massive proportions. When tech goes wrong, it goes terribly, irritatingly wrong. Will the smart homes of the near future have an off switch?
Some research shows that people are already disillusioned (see previous mention of jetpacks). Academics at Monash University in Australia conducted interviews with thousands of households to assess thoughts on tech visions of the future. They found that initial excitement was soon replaced with indifference. One interviewee said: “I have a smart washing machine and it’s only got one great feature, which is sending a push notification when the washing is done. The rest is useless.” Really, what is the point if you still must hang the washing out yourself?
Back at Blakstad HQ, home tech is always part of the design conversation. You can read a bit more about this aspect of our work in this blog. Staying up to date on new technologies is not only a serious part of our studio but also a fascinating journey. Learning about never-before imagined gadgets is fun, but we still take it all with a grain of salt. Not everyone is suited to living in a fully integrated smart home and for now, most of the tech installed in our designs is focused on energy savings, efficiency, and environmental improvements.
The truly smart home remains the lovechild of the early adaptor and Silicon Valley geeks who have no problem spending a whole afternoon fiddling with code and who never, ever forget a password. Bless these people, for it is their perseverance and dedication that has allowed us all to stick the virtual middle finger up at that maths teacher while we poke at our phones giggling at videos of cats in tutus riding llamas in pyjamas.