The home, household goods & services

Home Energy Monitoring

Nissan, the Japanese carmaker, has found that when fuel-efficiency gauges are added to dashboards, fuel consumption typically falls by 10%. So why not add similar devices or dashboards to houses? Indeed, what if you could monitor energy consumption in real time to learn about what is using electricity at an alarming rate and what isn’t, and then adjust your consumption patterns as a result? Well you can. Simple devices can be connected between say, a heater, and the socket to tell you how much power is being used. More sophisticated devices, something called the Owl for example, allow you to connect to the main supply and then wirelessly beam consumption data back to a portable display unit. Better still there’s something called the Wattson. This rather stylish little device works in a similar manner but it can store up to four weeks’ worth of data that can be downloaded into a computer for analysis and the device can also be set to glow blue or red depending on whether energy consumption is high or low. What happens when you use devices such as these? You become acutely aware of just how much energy is being consumed by appliances like dishwashers, washing machines or air-conditioning units – even in stand-by mode. Will we see more of devices like these in the future? You betcha. There is a novelty element here, of course, but saving money and saving the planet at the same time is surely a no brainer.
Ref: The Economist Technology Quarterly (UK). 8 March 2008, ‘Power plays’.
Search words: Energy, sustainability, power consumption
Trend tags: Dashboards, measurement, energy efficiency
Source integrity: *****

Digital Walls

According to Bill Gates, all walls and flat surfaces will be touch sensitive computers in the future – or at least they will have the potential to be. At the moment these 6-foot x 4-foot ‘walls’ cost around $10,000 each and, if a recent demonstration at a CEO summit was anything to go by, they don’t work. But give it time. Meanwhile, over in Japan, people are putting their minds together to work out how to de-clutter the average home. Rather than fill up valuable floor space with televisions, music centres and computers why not simply put them all on a single wall? At first glance the prototype by Matsushta Electric Industrial Co looks just like a piece of glass on a black wall. But switch the 4.5 metre x 1.6 metre wall on and it changes into a giant screen with images of a ball, a piano and a photo album. Touch any of these and they start to behave like the real thing. The photo album can be flicked through, the ball can be played with and the piano can be played. The future? Bills says ‘yes’. I think not.
Ref: Digital (US), 14 May 2008, ‘Bill Gates: Walls Should Be Computers’, A. Baker. See also Nikkei Weekly (Japan), 10 September 2007, ‘Creating lifestyles with new technology’,
Search words:
Trend tags:
Source integrity: **

Roll Up, Roll Up...

If there is one area of household goods that is ripe for innovation then surely it is the humble toilet roll. To date innovations have been fairly bog standard – largely limited to materials innovation (paper). In Germany you can get black toilet rolls but the inventor was hardly flushed with success. Over in Japan things are slightly more interesting. The latest trend in toilet rolls is products printed with trivia or popular comic characters. Most of this is rather silly and faddish but the museum shop at the National Museum for Emerging Science and Innovation sells rolls printed with astronomical charts. So what’s next, novels and magazines? One of the problems with printing copyrighted material on toilet rolls is that the copyright holders generally think that the product association is rather negative.
Ref: Nikkei Weekly (Japan), 17 March 2008, ‘Changing role of the toilet roll’,
N. Nagai.
Search words: Toilets, toilet rolls, paper, copyright
Trend tags: -
Source integrity: ****

Slums of the Future

According to Richard Rogers, one of Britain’s leading architects, the rush to build 3 million new homes across England by the year 2020 is resulting in architecture that looks indistinguishable from projects from Beijing to Buenos Aires. The result could be that we are building the slums of tomorrow. Part of the problem is rootlessness – a lack of clear provenance and identity – but the problem is also related to the time it takes to plan and build major developments or redevelopments. For example, London’s Terminal 5, which opened recently at Heathrow airport, was being discussed 19 years ago.
Ref: The Independent (UK), 29 March 2008, ‘Urban regeneration may create slums of future, says Rogers’, C. Milmo.
Search words: Cities, architecture
Trend tags: Provenance, localisation
Source integrity: ***

Sharing the Future

The high cost of real estate in some countries is creating an interest in space sharing.In Japan the trend is particularly advanced because the shrinking size of families and the declining birth-rate. Japan’s rapidly ageing population is also creating an interest not only in condo sharing but in shared detached houses also. Students are obviously familiar with sharing real estate costs but there are certain advantages for slightly older people too. Things like security can be shared and the house can be looked after when one or more resident is away. From a social development point of view, sharing also makes sense because individuals can learn from and stimulate each other and there is the opportunity for the generational exchange of wisdom if age groups vary. There are obviously issues with landlords, who are traditionally against such ‘open house’ living, but it seems fairly certain that the trend towards communal living will be big in the future.
Ref: Nikkei Weekly (Japan), 18 February 2008, ‘Learning to share’,
Search words: Sharing, housing
Trend tags: Community, connectedness
Source integrity: ****

Extreme Security

Wealthy residents in cities such as London and New York are building apartments with ‘sky garages’ – private ensuite car elevators that negate the need to get out of the car to get into the apartment. Other high security measures that are being added to homes include doors that only allow access between certain times and retina scans and voice recognition door entry systems. A few years ago installations such as this would have been considered rather sci-fi but with growing wealth comes additional paranoia so everything from hidden cameras to panic rooms and now practically standard in developments such as Montpelier Hall in Knightsbridge (London) and the Trump development in Boca Raton (US). Other developments include linking home security surveillance to Blackberries and conducting risk assessment on potential properties prior to rental or purchase. Somehow life seemed much easier when all you had to worry about was losing your front door key.
Ref: Financial Times (UK), 3-4 May 2008, Everything but a drawbridge’,
N. Swengley.
Search words: Security, monitoring
Trend tags: Anxiety, security
Source integrity: *****