The home, household goods & services

Smart homes

The ‘Living tomorrow’ house in Amsterdam (Netherlands) is a show-home put together by Hewlett-Packard, Logica CMG and Unilever to showcase some of the home-based technologies that we can expect see in the next few years. Indeed, its makers’ stress that the showcase is a house of tomorrow rather than a house of the future and the house is due to be closed towards the end of 2008 – when they expect most of the ideas to be reality. The house features some familiar ideas such as biometric security and smart appliances like fridges, ovens and washing machines. Clothing is equipped with RFID tags so your clothes can talk to the washing machine and set their own washing program. The bathroom mirror (that’s also a TV set) uses facial recognition to identify individual family members and adjust the TV channels accordingly. As for the bathroom scales – they can talk to your fridge to stop you opening it if you’ve eaten too much pizza (yeah, that’ll happen!) Meanwhile, in Japan, the Digital Human Research Center at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology is looking at ways to use sensors to track people inside their home to create ‘greater levels of comfort and convenience’. Ideas so far include tracking wheelchair users and sending data to caregivers through to monitoring vibration to warm people if they’re being too noisy and inconsiderate to their neighbours. Meanwhile Bill Gates has a vision of how technology will affect the house of the future. In a recent speech he cited the example of how you’ll be able to transfer the nightly TV news onto your mobile phone so that if the doorbell rings you can answer it without interrupting your viewing. Is it just me or are some of these people on another planet? If this is what the house of the future will look like I’d rather stay home. Then again, maybe that’s the point here. These tech-based companies are building houses but they’re not making homes.
Ref: The Australian (Aus) 29 November 2005, ‘Home smart home, tomorrow’, K.Dearne. www.???Nikkei Weekly (Japan) 7 November 2005, ‘Smart houses close to reality with new wireless sensors’ www.????? See also Business Week (online) 23 January 2006, ‘Eight tech trends for 2006: the war for the digital home’, P. Burrows.
Links: house of the future, future home, houses, homes, home based technology, intelligent appliances, intelligent homes, devices

The power of those little red dots

Here’s another idea that’s hidden in plain sight. If Britons switched off all their electrical appliances (TVs, videos, stereos, computers etc) instead of leaving them in ‘sleep’ mode they’d save 7TWh of energy and stop 800,000 tons of carbon being released into the atmosphere each year. Put into plain language, that’s enough energy to fly the whole population of Glasgow to New York and back every year. And the problem is getting worse. By the year 2020 it’s estimated that there will be 74 million TVs in the UK and most of these will never be switched fully off. According to the Energy Saving Trust, the average house in the UK has 12 gadgets or appliances charging or on stand-by mode at any given time.
Ref: BBC (UK) 22 January 2006, ‘TVs “sleep” button stands accused’, M. Kinver.
Links: energy, electricity, power, energy conservation

Stranger danger

Here’s a perfect example of how technology is being used to address fears – often unfounded – about safety. In Japan DoCoMo (a leading phone company) has launched a range of mobile phones aimed at parents of small children. Each phone features GPS technology so that anxious parents can find out exactly where their child is. Also built into each phone is a cord, which, if pulled, immediately calls three emergency numbers, and sounds a 100-decibel siren. The phone also sends out its position every 15 minutes, even when the phone is switched off. Wouldn't it be a better idea to put this technology inside something the child is less likely to lose - like shoes? In the future we may see parents putting  'chips' inside their children, but perhaps a less expensive solution would simply be sell bracelets or 'dog-tags' with emergency mobile phone numbers on?
Ref: Nikkei Weekly (Japan) 19 December 2005, ‘Kid’s cell phone designed to calm parents’.
Links: technology, GPS, phones, mobiles, cell phones, fear, anxiety, children, kids, danger, location finding

Photonic textiles and fabrics

Scientists at the Philips Electronics laboratory in the Netherlands are working on a range of fabrics (or ‘photonic’ textiles) that emit light. Why? Well apart from being rather fun (think of pillows that glow or change colour), light-emitting fabrics have a number of serious uses. For example, cyclists would presumably benefit from light-emitting garments as would road workers, sailors or anyone else that wants to be seen at night. There are military applications too. The average soldier carries 22 batteries on his or her person so any clothing that can generate its own power (via kinetic energy, for example) is of great interest. Uniforms could even be programmed to change colour according to terrain. On a less serious note, how about dog collars that glow in the dark (powered during the day from solar energy) or perhaps backpacks or wallpaper that owners can personalise on a daily basis according to their mood.
Ref: Sydney Morning Herald (Aus) 31 December 2005, ‘ Light up your life’, L. Timson.
Links: clothing, materials, textiles, enhanced, technology, light, dark, safety

The future of gaming

What’s next in the world of computer gaming? 2006 will witness the consolidation of a number of trends already underway. First, mobile gaming will go mainstream. Second, China will emerge as a major market although the traditional business model will start to look rather tired in this region. Few people in China can afford a US$200 console, instead growth will come from multi-player online games that use a subscription model. Piracy threats will also lead to an increase in the number of companies selling in-game extras to bring in additional revenue. The Hollywood ‘blockbuster’ model will still be a key theme but there will be more games produced using the architecture and principles of the Internet. For example, there will be more user-generated games that are spread virally or sold at a relatively low cost to other users. Finally, there’s the subject of violence. This was a major issue last year with Senator Hillary Clinton and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (ironically) putting legal sanctions in place to restrict the sale of violent content to minors.
Ref: Red Herring (US) 19 December 2005 ‘Top 10 trends: Online games’ and
24 December ‘Top 5 game trends for 2006’.
Links: gaming, video games, china, internet, open source