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The Intuitive Home Slowly Becomes Reality

October 8, 2012 | Comments

Imagine living in a home that adapts to your preferences and automatically adjusts things such as lighting, temperature and music to create a specific atmosphere when you walk through the front door.

This might sound far-fetched, but the seeds of the "intuitive home" already exist in a new generation of intelligent products, many of which were demonstrated at The Future Technology Pavilion at the CEDIA EXPO 2012.

The writing is on the wall: Life at home will become increasingly automated as a new breed of smart technology that manages electronic devices without human interaction slowly makes its way into our homes.

In a recent article in The Futurist, Innovaro's Chris Carbone and Kristin Nauth of Foresight Alliance identified several "technology trajectories" that will play a role in reshaping the way we live at home in the coming decade.

  • Adaptive environments. Objects, surfaces and coatings will gain the ability to adapt to changing conditions or the needs of family members. "The built environment will no longer be simply structural and passive; it will become adaptive, functional, and smart."
  • Cloud intelligence. "The cloud will evolve from being a static repository of data into an active resource that people rely on throughout their daily lives."
  • Interface, anywhere, any way. Intuitive interfaces will become the norm, giving us the ability to "interact with the digital world anywhere - and any way - using a combination of gesture, touch, verbal commands, and targeted use of traditional interfaces."
  • Social networked stuff. "Many of our possessions will interact with each other and with the broader digital infrastructure," creating a world of socially networked stuff that can actively sense, communicate, share data and work in concert for our benefit.

Putting these themes in perspective, Carbone and Nauth suggest that home systems could become far more aware, adaptive, and responsive to family members. "New interfaces, for instance, will make home technology more ubiquitous, as flexible displays finally reach commercialization. Nearly any home surface could become a touch screen…Interfaces will also be more intuitive, with voice control, eye-tracking, and even emotion analysis that monitors facial expressions to help determine what the user wants."

Intelligent home-automation systems might monitor you walking through the door after a long day at work, interpreting body language and looking for clues on how to serve your needs, the Futurist authors continued. Sensing that you have just worked overtime, the system would dim the lights, play soft music and display carry-out food options on a screen in your kitchen. "Vending kiosks in Japan are already using sensors to detect age, gender, and emotional state to offer shoppers a more targeted selection of products," they wrote.

"New materials and power technologies may also change the way homes look and feel. LED wall coatings will change colors or designs to match the season or holiday-or show a movie or ballgame during dinner. A wave of the hand might turn any part of a kitchen counter into an induction cook top."

Carbone believes the intuitive interface is likely to see significant innovation in just the next five years. "The shift to a post-PC world where computing resides in our phones, TVs, tablets, and cars will drive the adoption of gesture, multi-touch and voice interfaces," he says, pointing to innovative products like Leap and the new generation of smart TVs as early examples. Millennials who grew up with Siri, Wii and Microsoft Kinect will expect this sort of functionality in their homes.

The growing population of baby boomers who are entering a new life stage and the deinstitutionalization of senior care will push development of the intuitive home. "The home will become a more important locus of care in the future and these kinds of technologies can really help support that," Carbone observes. One wildcard is whether people will be able to afford "home of the future" technology.

A New Way of Interacting With Technology

Central to the intuitive home is a change in how we interact with technology-a shift from command and control based on the capabilities of the devices, according to Henry Holtzman, chief knowledge officer at the MIT Media Laboratory. "That's the old way of thinking about it," he says. "The new way is being able to express our goals and desires and having the technology to figure out how to meet them."

The Nest thermostat and Apple's Siri voice app are examples of intuitive technology. "You say to Siri, 'Wake me at 3." Holtzman explained. "That's very different than finding the On button, launching the timing application and selecting alarm clock. You're communicating with the device around its capabilities rather than communicating with the device around your goals. And that's what artificial intelligence does for us. There was a time when AI seemed to be about trying to recreate human intelligence in machines. But I think it is now more about creating machines that can understand people's goals and react appropriately."

The Future Comes into Focus

So just how close are we to the intuitive home? If the Future Technology Pavilion at the recent CEDIA EXPO 2012 is any indication, closer than you might think. The exhibit featured demonstrations of technologies that are currently available or imminent, according to Dave Pedigo, CEDIA's senior director of technology. Let's take a tour.

Foyer. You're greeted by a wall-mounted touch panel that presides over a network of security cameras and sensors, including motion sensors and "asset protection" sensors that guard paintings and other valuables. Music is playing from invisible speakers that are literally embedded in the walls.

CEDIA Future Technology Pavilion Foyer

Home office. The centerpiece is a video tiling iPad interface for managing up to nine video windows on the largest of three screens. You can drag and drop images or use pinching gestures to resize windows. A telepresence camera facilitates real-time, high-definition video conferencing, and to answer a video call you simply tap your foot on a sensor in the floor.

Exercise room. When you walk in, an occupancy sensor triggers a sequence of events: The lights brighten, an accent light on the wall changes color, the TV turns on and pulsating music starts playing, creating the perfect workout environment.

Kitchen. The first thing you notice is the "digital backsplash" - a side-by-side pair of video displays above the counter where you can display artwork, pull up a recipe, watch TV or surf the web. An iPad in the wall displays an energy-management dashboard that tracks electricity usage in real-time and provides tools to reduce consumption. Embedded voice control software also makes it possible to change moods by simply speaking. "Romance," for example, dims the lights and fills the room with soft music.

Bedroom. The heart of the room is a home health system that can measure blood pressure, glucose levels, weight and more - ideal for an elderly parent. Step on the scale and your weight is recorded and automatically sent to the doctor. A pill dispenser with an embedded motion sensor detects when the bottle is opened. "If it isn't opened at a certain time, Grandma gets a call telling her it's time to take her pill," Pedigo explained.

Keypads are passé. Instead, a fingerprint scanner provides entry into the bedroom. Biometric scanners could be used to keep an elderly parent with Alzheimers out of harm's way by restricting access to certain areas in the home, Pedigo noted.

Fingerprint scanner at CEDIA Future Technology Pavilion

Living room. An iPad controls a 90-inch TV for now but, eventually, a list of your favorite channels will automatically appear on screen courtesy of cameras and facial recognition software in the TV.

Living room with iPad control and 80 inch TV screen

Temperature control is governed by artificial intelligence in the Nest thermostat. "You program the temperature the way you like it and after a week it understands your preferences and you don't have to touch it any more," Pedigo explained.

Video art on the wall can be quickly replaced with other artwork, photos or videos by tapping a menu bar on the touch-screen "canvas."

Video art at CEDIA EXPO 2012


Home Theater/Virtual Reality Room. Three screens arranged in an arc produce a breathtaking panoramic video experience while in-wall speakers contribute immersive surround sound, providing yet another sampling of intuitive home living.

Immersive panoramic home theater display

To learn more about home technology options of today and tomorrow, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member electronic systems contractors in your area.