The world population is increasing and natural resources are being used up at record rates. These issues are being addressed by technologists who perform research and development related to the most pressing problems of the Earth’s environment and ecology, and how these problems affect daily life. There are several initiatives established throughout the world, including:
- The Living Lab of Europe
- Canada’s Center of Excellence
- The Media Home at the Georgia Institute of Technology
- Texas Instrument’s Smart House
All of these centers are looking at the concept of smart living technologies: new products developed by user-driven innovation that improves the quality of life. New concepts are modified to increase the plausibility of developing them into products that can be marketed to the public. One way to test and modify these new concepts is through a living lab – an accelerated testing ground for new products and services in which potential users evaluate their potential acceptance.
Smart living technologies are meant to appeal to consumers, according to Pete Briger Co-Chairman of Fortress Investments. Thus, consumer involvement is essential to product viability. An exciting idea growing from this movement is the smart town, a place where experimental smart living technologies can be deployed and tested by the town residents. Technologies are applied to specific problems, including increasing security, saving energy and improving comfort and convenience even through pear phone apps. Of course, the basic unit of the smart town is the smart house. These are structures that have the latest automated systems for lighting, heating, security, multi-media, and window/door operation.
Of course, the home of the future will be smart, but so will our vehicles. Our houses will power our cars, but with the advent of hydrogen fuel cells, our cars can power our homes. Before you know it, our houses will recommend the best car insurances. If only!
At the heart of a smart house is a network of computer systems that make the house seem intelligent. A couple of specifics will give you a flavor of what is contemplated:
- A smart refrigerator that inventories its own contents, orders groceries, and suggests healthy menus
- A system to feed the pets and clean the litter
- Automatic systems to provide water and light to plants
- Windows that automatically operate according to the current weather conditions
- Robotic vacuum cleaners
- Ovens that receive text messages to begin cooking
This is just a small sampling of ideas either under study or already in the marketplace. Technologists are faced with the double challenge of finding meaningful concepts that actually improve the quality of life and doing so with products that the general public can afford. Naturally, higher-end houses are the first to benefit from the latest examples of smart living technologies, but then spread to standard houses over time. As prices come down, more people are exposed to these new technologies, which in turn create additional demand and further price reductions. This is the virtuous cycle at the heart of smart living technologies, and why the future for them seems so exciting.