The smart and scary home of the near future

Robot butlers might be some way off, but our homes will soon become so head-spinningly smart we might need a lie-down

Illustration: Thinkstock

Illustration: Thinkstock


Pricewatch was asked to give a talk about the home of the future at the Ideal Home Show a couple of weeks back. The task seemed simple enough. We’ll just channel our inner Tomorrow’s World, we thought, as we conjured up images of jetpacks and robot butlers. And sure the home of the future will be a lot like the home of the present. After all, how much can things really change in 10 or 20 years?

The answer to that one is “a lot”: the home of the future will be radically and sometimes terrifyingly different to what we know now.

And we are not even talking about some distant time, either. The changes are coming at us faster than most of us can imagine. Some of the changes are already upon us. But only time will tell if our “always-on” homes will bring us great joy and ease or a dystopian hell.

Before we begin our top 20, we should at least acknowledge that some of these things might not come to pass; let’s face it, not even Tomorrow’s World got it right more than half the time.

1 The home of the future would be stuck in the past were it not for the Internet of Things. You have probably heard talk of it but you might not fully appreciate how big a deal it is going to become over the next five years. It has been described as the single biggest technological advance since the industrial revolution, and will see tens of billions of different devices talking to each other by 2020.

It can do much more than let your fridge talk to your supermarket via your phone about your milk supplies. Already there are gadgets that allow you to control your lights and their hue. Slow cookers, heaters, CCTV cameras and coffee- makers can be turned on and off remotely, and although such devices are not everywhere right now, they soon will be. And soon, the Internet of Things will guide almost every element of our homes. For good or ill.

2 Speaking of ill, homes will start to monitor our health in ways that hypochondriacs of past generations could only dream of. Thermometers that will take and record temperatures and suggest symptoms; although, having a machine warn us we might have meningitis every time our temperature spikes sounds kind of terrifying. In an ideal world these sensors would communicate with our GPs, but we’re not sure the HSE or Department of Health are ready for such a thing just yet.

3 Body analysers will soon leave weighing scales in the ha’penny place. They will measure weight, body fat and BMI and more, and then pass the info on to your smartwatch and phone. The devices will chat among themselves to let you know how many calories you should consume on any given day, depending on how active you have been. On good days, this will be great. On Christmas Day it will be a nightmare.

4 Toilets will become smarter too. They will analyse everything that comes their way and let you know if they spot anything amiss. In short, they will turn every bathroom visit into an episode of House.

5 There is a lot of talk about augmented reality right now. Generally speaking, when we talk about it on this page we think of retailers using the technology to convince us to spend money. The notion is that before you can say “Isn’t that pukka, mate?” holograms of Jamie Oliver will pop up in the grocery aisles to convince you to buy his new line of cheese graters. And they will compete with virtual Gary Linekers always on hand to help you with your crisp choices. It sounds terribly intrusive. But that is only a starting point. In the home, augmented reality will see us replace permanent garden features with fake ones more lavish than gnomes morosely fishing in ponds. Michelangelo’s David or the Trevi Fountain will be able to appear in your garden at the flick of a switch. That might be a bit tacky, mind you.

6 Your new reality won’t just be visual. Summer sounds will be able to wash over your garden in the depths of winter if you choose, and you will be able to wake to the sounds of a tropical waterfall outside your window even if you live in a shoebox on a barren stretch of the M50. It will all be make-believe, but it will look and sound real – and isn’t that what matters?

7 Gardening will be a doddle, thanks to finely tuned devices telling you when you have gone wrong and why. Machines will keep tabs on how damp the soil is here and how chalky it is over there. Messages will be sent to your phone telling you when to plant certain things and what works best where. You will be able to buy the plants with an app, and they will be delivered within an hour by a drone. Sensors will give the plants exactly the amount of water they need once they hit the soil. It will all be so easy you’ll never have to put on a pair of gardening gloves again. Or even go into the garden, to be honest.

8 A self-driving car will be parked in your driveway. Ford, Volvo, Google and Microsoft are all spending big money developing autonomous cars. So far Google has made the biggest inroads; its cars have travelled millions of kilometres with very few incidents reported so far. Most have been blamed on other-driver error. The cars of the future will be safer, more ecofriendly and funkier than what we drive today. In the first wave of our driverless future, we will most likely have to rent, but eventually driverless cars will be commonplace.

9 Letter boxes will be replaced by mini helipads to allow the aforementioned drones to securely drop off all your shopping.

10 Once the car has dropped you off, you will enter your home using biometrics to gain admission. You might be able to lose a key, but hopefully you will not misplace your eyeballs.

11 You won’t just say goodbye to your keys, you will say goodbye to curtains and hello to digital images of rainforests and unicorns that can be changed at the flick of a switch. Or maybe you would prefer plain blackout blinds? Whatever you want will be there for you.

12 Not long back Pricewatch was playing the auld fella and telling its children how tough times used to be when it were a lad. “We’d only the one channel and the television was black-and-white and there was no such thing as a remote control,” we said. The response? “But how did you pause the cartoons when you wanted to pee?” Cartoons? Pausing live telly? In the 1970s? Pah! All we had was Upstairs Downstairs, the test card and the odd Harold Lloyd short to keep us entertained. But in the years to come, future Pricewatch generations will marvel at the rudimentary nature of early 21st-century television. If they can pull themselves out of the virtual-reality headsets that will make nights in seem like nights out and allow everyone to (pretend to) explore the world without getting off their couches. Body analysers will not appreciate this sedentary approach to adventure, however.

13 It won’t be all headsets. There will be holograms too. And they will bring characters and objects straight into your living room. You won’t just watch Strictly Come Dancing, you will be able to take part – and dance with your favourite contestant, in a virtual way. In short there will never be a need to leave the house, so real will all the make-believe seem.

14 Recently we came across a vacuum cleaner from Dyson that seemed smarter than we are. The 360 Eye uses maths, geometry, probability theory and trigonometry to navigate a room. It knows where it is, where it has come from and where it needs to go next. And it is also wise enough to recognise when it is running out of power and can scurry back to its charging deck when it needs a boost. And it can do all of this when you are out of the house.

15 Everyone will be a Masterchef in the future. And food will never spoil in the back of fridges or in cupboards because clever cameras will be on hand to tell us what we have and what we need to do with it.

16 Many people have already dispensed with cookery books and instead use YouTube when cooking new things. Soon chefs will appear, via holograms – yes, we love the notion of holograms and have mentioned them three times already – into our kitchens to give us regular masterclasses. Although we might not need such classes, because our smart ovens will most likely know what we put in them and how to cook it best.

17 Bedroom mirrors will double as latter-day Gok Wans and offer flawless advice on what clothes look best on us and what ones are a complete no-no.

18 Sleeping will be smarter in the home of the future. Your duvet – or whatever they will call it then – and your mattress will come together to keep a close eye on your sleep patterns and the rate at which your heart beats and how much you sweat. The sweat and the heart rate will be analysed and sent to the virtual GP in your phone on a nightly basis.

19 If you snore, you will be gently nudged into a nonsnoring position.

20 Oh, and the bed of the future will make itself. And what’s not to love about that?

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