Future of housing, home automation, green / sustainable design, universal design, assistive technology for elderly, nanotechnology, robotics
Some technological developments in housing may seem far-fetched or unnecessary, such as a chemical that gives you a self-cleaning bathroom, televisions a fraction of an inch thick, or technology that produces a virtual reality setting based on your mood. On the other hand, the basis for the change comes from necessity and comfort. With a lack of transitional care for the elderly, home automation can keep the ageing population as independent as possible while average homeowners use it to control their homes remotely and automatically. Sustainable designs allow us to conserve energy, water, and other resources in our environment, improving our quality of life.
Although new home technology can cause much intimidation, there are already signs that the “coming” is underway. Some creations may seem excessive or useless; however, there are many ways technology can be used to create safer, more convenient lifestyles. Of course it would be interesting to be able to live out a futuristic movie you saw when you were young, but would it make life easier or just more complicated? There are people who believe many of the new technologies are redundant or just useless or will make life even more hectic. Some of the gadgets lying around the houses today are left alone because of lack of understanding of the programming language. It could potentially take an hour to program a remote control—and that is just a remote. On the other hand, there are the believers that technology will improve the way we build our homes, use our appliances, vacation, raise families, and even grow old. The focus is on the transition between the old and the new. What are ways we can ensure the technological advances are aligned with family values?
Imagine what your home might look like in 10-20 years. Will it look the same as it does now? What about your bathroom? Will it have the same clutter on the counter, toiletries surrounding the bathtub and shower, a toilet brush—wait. What is a toilet brush, some kind of disgusting plot to make us buy more useless items for the house? After all, your bathroom is self-cleaning! Where is the television located? How can you use your garage to store clutter and still park two cars inside? These are questions some people ask about the future of housing. How can we create a self-cleaning bathroom, an invisible television, and garage robotics for storage?
There is research underway to use the chemical compound, TiO2 , to create the self-cleaning bathroom. Todras-Whitehill explained (2006) how this compound breaks down organic molecules when exposed to ultraviolet light. If coated on a surface, like a window, it will break down any surface bacteria, dirt, mildew, and also allow the water to sheet across instead of bead since it is hydrophilic, or water loving, in nature. The trick is that it reacts with light and water and releases the broken down organic molecules into the air, however, it only reacts with ultraviolet light. Scientists are trying to manipulate the compound to create the same reaction using only light from the visible spectrum, such as the bathroom light. So, theoretically, you can sanitize your bathroom with the flip of a switch and make that toilet brush a part of history.
Todras-Whitehill also explained how consumers could check food inventory remotely from the grocery store (2006). There are already Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags that track large items in some industrial settings. These items may be used for residential purposes in the next ten years. The tags will be included in all items and scanned by a compatible refrigerator to keep track of all items inside. It is expected that consumers would be able to access the information remotely using cell phones. This can save precious time of a full-time working parent. Consumers could grocery shop more accurately by checking personal inventory from the phone while in the store, or more simply, call the spouse to do it. The consumer could also create recipes according to the ingredients they already have if they are unable to make it to the grocery store. Maybe by using this same technology we can have a complete household inventory list that automatically orders products from stores online and has it shipped or packaged for pick-up. No more waiting in lines at the grocery store either!
As it seems, future technology may allow the freedom to sit back, relax, and turn on the wall. Todras-Whitehill discussed how “advances in organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays will eventually allow large-screen TVs a fraction of an inch thick to unobtrusively blanket your walls” (p. 49). So, find a beautiful piece of artwork to admire as a focal point and say good-bye to the television as the center of attention. This television could save room for additional seating rather than a bulky entertainment center stretched across the living room wall.
Tucker (2006) revealed scenarios in his article on ambient intelligence that makes near future technologies seem like a science fiction movie. Using a Physical Markup Language (PML), likened to HTML, we will eventually have virtual reality settings that are created by biosensors that monitor our bodies and digitally render images that are life-like. Tucker discusses how biosensors embedded in a mattress can monitor your sleep cycle and wake you naturally at a set time by slowly changing the lighting and sounds in the room. The scenery provided is based on your own mood and preference. Another scenario includes tiles on the bathroom floor that display health information on the bathroom mirror. The tiles can monitor weight, protein levels, and other conditions. In addition, all of this technology will be almost invisible, ambient. Tucker claimed, “It hardly feels as though you are interacting with machinery at all, but sensors, bits, and electronics are everywhere” (p. 68).
Although it seems that technology is making great advances, do we really need the changes? Will it actually make life easier for us or just more complicated? There were many great inventions throughout history that have simplified our lives: The first electric light in 1800, the telephone in 1876, the production of the first washing machines in 1904, and the modern pop-up toaster in 1919, only to name a few. At those points in history, these items truly made life easier. When the microwave was invented, some did not see it as a necessity, just as some see technology in its current state. But there are many now who would disagree with that statement. Is there a line that divides the technology that truly is a convenience and the technology that is excessive? According to Franzinger (2002), more than half of the people interviewed said “no” to a home network. A home network is defined as “a series of devices, such as a PC or TV, and services, such as the Internet or cable, that link together through a common network and interact with each other” (p. 62). Franzinger claimed that marketing might be the only way to get networking into homes since over half of the people questioned think it would be more of a hassle than a convenience.
Similarly, in 2004, Blackwell justified that typical household may not benefit from new technologies for the time being. Blackwell discussed how many are using high-tech home networking in their homes; however, these are not the typical homeowners but “manufacturers, wealthy celebrities, gadget-lovers, and researchers” (p. 65). Blackwell explained that extensive home networking would not be as appealing to typical homeowners until there was a more user-friendly interface. Part of the End-User Development (EUD) research includes observations of non-programmers using technological devices and the number of abstract functions. Researchers also created the “Attention Investment model of abstraction use—a precise psychological model of decision processes during programming” (p. 66). A suggested resolution to this problem is the use of Media Cubes. Media Cubes are infrared elements that are symbolic of abstract programming functions. The purpose of the Media Cube is to make programming a simple task for everyone. In addition to more and more computer savvy users, it is inevitable that homes will include more technology as the years progress. With user-friendly software, the change will likely be an easy transition.
Not all future home technology is about convenience or impressing the Jones family next door. Much of the focus is on ageing within the home. As there is a shortage of transitional care between the home and institutional care for the elderly, Barlow and Venables illuminated the need for “Lifetime Homes” because many older people would like to age in place, (2004). Lifetime homes are defined as residential homes that are intentionally created with future uses in mind, such as elevators, wide-entryways—things that become more of a necessity as one ages. Other classifications of these homes are universal designs and open building. Universal design is a design that could be used by as many types of people as possible without assistive technology or could be added later as needed. Open building is basically a space that can accommodate different types of layouts, and more importantly, is easily interchangeable; a space in a shopping mall is used as an example as it can be changed with the needs of the retailer.
Dementia in old age is another issue concerning the structure of the home. In 2006, Torrington explained, “The influence of space on people with dementia is not particularly well understood in the care professions, though it is recognised [sic] in the literature as a significant factor that is likely to have an impact on quality of life” (p.35). To attempt to remediate this problem, there is a CAD system under development that will evaluate needs whether individually or as a group or community and create an environment most conducive to the individual based on the assessment. Researchers completed studies that evaluated the quality of life, job satisfaction, and retention in a variety of settings. Needs were assessed such as space, recreational, personal, likes and dislikes, hobbies, and memory-loss. The purpose of the research is to create a foundation from which to begin the building construction process because “the process needs to take into account the complex interactions between people, support networks, place, technology, and culture” (2006, p. 49).
Not only is the building design important but also the technology used within. Some buildings can be made electronically enhanced and can give “control of visitor access, door opening and closing for wheelchair users, control of furniture and beds, control of the ambient environment, and operation of home entertainment and communications equipment” (Barlow & Venables, 2004, p. 800). Combined with home adaptations, assistive technology can electronically open doors, curtains, and windows as well. Cheek, Nikpour, and Nowlin affirmed the importance of assistive technology in the well-being of frail and older people as “future developments in pervasive and ubiquitous computing would allow applications to be customized to suit the individual’s needs to foster self-worth, independence, safety, and mobility” (2005). Independence and safety are important for psychosocial well-being in elderly people since there has likely been the loss of a spouse, abilities such as vision and hearing, and physical abilities as well. These losses combined with moving into a nursing home and lack of substantial medical care can cause depression and isolation in many elderly patients. Cheek et al. (2005) list some examples of technology, which not only assist elderly people but empower them. “Some examples of this technology include lighting and motion sensors, environmental controls, video cameras, automated timers, emergency assistance and alerts, and wearable body sensors” (p. 330). Wearable body sensors can monitor health indicators and notify authorities in case of an emergency. Assistive technology along with health monitoring and safety devices can have positive psychosocial effects in the elderly.
Aside from the much needed changes to assist our ageing population, there are changes closer to our near future that will bring about helpful innovations for our environment, safety, and comfort. Green technology can be defined as environmentally friendly technology. An example of this can be seen in the sustainable design, which can vary in the extent of its energy efficiency through the use of solar panels, wind turbines, and recycled materials. Considering our economical and environmental situations, present and future, many homeowners are turning to greener technology and the builders are complying (Wardell, 2003). Some examples of changes in homes seen lately are thicker insulation, high-performance windows, and photovoltaic roof panels (PV – solar panels). Such progressive builders are the ones who initiate change. “Shea Homes, for example, one of the nation's largest homebuilders, recently put photovoltaic (PV) roof panels on several San Diego homes, while Boulder (Colorado) builder McStain Neighborhoods offers PVs to many of its buyers and uses recycled materials in every home it builds” (p.86). Wardell also explained that “even average homes are 30% more energy efficient than a few years ago” (p. 86). Some builders are beginning to construct homes with network pre-wiring capabilities as a standard feature. This will encourage more homeowners to use home networking features that can be used with home automation devices.
Moreover, there are energy efficient changes within the home as well, such as in the appliances. According to the Communications of the ACM (2005), the U.S. Department of Energy is working on technologically advanced appliances that can either switch off or conserve electricity, thereby reducing the number of power failures. There have been tests conducted to show the results of the automatic shut-off during a power grid failure. The new developments are expected to save customers billions of dollars since there will be less of a need to build power plants (2005). In the meantime, there are an abundance of energy efficient appliances available that use a fraction of energy compared with older appliances. Newer washing machines can wash a load of clothes using a fraction of the amount of water. In the more distant future, appliances could be created with the same appealing features and yet wash and dry clothes in a fraction of the time.
Although technology can help the physical and emotional well-being in the elderly and also save homeowner’s money with energy efficient appliances, there is also a place for technology in our own homes to provide individuals with added safety and security. Home automation gives homeowners the ability to control their home via the Internet or control functions automatically (HAI, 2006). A homeowner, while on vacation or even before leaving, could access the home and set or adjust the lighting of the home, temperature, and irrigation systems, to name a few. These could provide added security of having the home look occupied yet save on costs. Automation could also handle tasks without a person physically present, such as the irrigation system. The irrigation system could be set to water at certain times while the homeowner is on vacation and changed at a moments notice if there is an unexpected rainfall. Some systems can monitor the amount of water and automatically shut off when the supply is sufficient. Home automation can monitor safety conditions such as carbon monoxide, water leaks, smoke, or fire, and consequently shut off the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning to prevent further circulation of smoke and fire. And just for added convenience, you can have a vehicle detection device to announce visitors, turn on lights, TV, or view the driveway. As a further safety measure, you will never have to get out of your car at night and walk into a dark house.
In conclusion, technology has and will make a difference in our homes and also the lifestyles that go along with it. While it may be intimidating to some, technology provides meaning to others’ lives in the form of safety, security, ability, and independence. Just like the current generations learned to use the Internet and the next generation will likely have to learn to live without it, consumers will adjust to change when it is necessary. Nanotechnology may give us more time with family instead of cleaning the bathroom while robotics organizes our garage. Environmental issues along with economical issues are addressed by technologies that may provide resolutions to problems currently in existence. Energy-saver appliances can save us from building more power plants and lessen concerns of current blackout situations. Then, too, some advances may remind us of futuristic movies. However, these movies usually contain one of the two scenarios, either a peaceful, organized, clean setting, or utter chaos. One way we can ensure that we meet our objective, without technological chaos, is to stay abreast of technological metamorphoses, be critical, and be sure the intent of the manufacturer is aligned with the values of individuals and families.
Barlow, J., & Venables, T. (2004). Will technological innovation create the true lifetime home? Housing Studies, 19( 5), 795-810.
Blackwell, A.F. (2004). End-user developers at home. Communications of the ACM, 47 (9), 65-66.
Cheek, P., Nikpour, L., & Nowlin, H.D. (2005). Aging well with smart technology. Nursing Administration Quarterly, 29 (4), 329-338.
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HAI. (2006). Home Automation, Inc. Retrieved June, 15, 2006, from http://www.homeauto.com/main.asp