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Post-Pandemic Scenarios – XX – Smart home construction

The future of smart home will be characterised by seamless smart interfaces. This one was proposed at CES 2020 providing the possibility to interact with a glass wall. Image credit: Telstra Exchange

We spend a good portion of our life at home, we are there for shelter, for entertainment, for care and of course to eat and rest. No wonder that there is a lot of effort in making homes better and better. We have technology today, like 3D printing, that can enable the customised construction of a home in less than a week (the “box” can be built in 24 hours, the other 5 days ore for trimmings and decoration…). In building a home from scratch we can use advanced materials and design the best infrastructure lay-out.

Building a home with 3D printing technology started as a way to build quickly and cheaply and was targeting developing countries where 3D printed homes are targeted to replace shacks and huts. As 3D technology progressed better results can be obtained and just two months ago, in February 2021, a US company started to build custom made homes using 3D printing technology to deliver high quality dwellings (watch the clip).

We can expect further, and rapid, progress of this technology because it results in a construction that is:

  • cheaper
  • faster
  • highly customisable

The 3D printing of a home requires only 3 people supervising the machine. A small basic quality home may cost as little as 10,000$, the one in the clip was sold for 300,000 (much more but still half the price of an equivalent -size/quality- home). For a few examples and related cost look here.

What can be expected is that these new way of construction will deliver homes that embeds a variety of sensors, that are fully wired as they are built, resulting in a new generation of smart buildings, at first in developed Countries where price is not critical, and then, as technology price decreases, also in many more areas. This is what can be called a top down approach: you build a smart home from scratch.

However, by far, most of the time the point is not building a new home, rather refurbishing the one we have. The life time of our homes is measured in decades (I am living in a house that was built in 1861 and when I was in Venice I lived in a house built in 1468!). Hence, we cannot look at smart houses by building them from scratch.

What is being done, in these last years and for the coming decades, is turning an existing home into a smart home from inside out. We start by buying smart appliances (here the life time is measured in years, not in decades) and as orchestrator we turn to software (here the life time is measured in months).

By placing sensors in our home we can harvest the data and have some software to make sense of them providing insights and intelligence and making us aware of what is going on and what could be improved. What kind of sensors? We can start from the ones we have, like ambient temperature, humidity, light sensors (we have light sensors in our television, in our computers, in our smartphone), image sensors, vibration (we have this kind of sensors in our smartphone), intrusion control, …. Actually, our smartphone has plenty of sensors that could be harvested, including its microphone. Expect over the coming years to see these sensors becoming accessible by apps in our smartphone.

In this early stage the possibility of influencing our home will be limited, again our smartphone (apps) may connect to some of the home appliances to regulate the temperature, humidity, light, … but most likely it will be us that can take action. As more appliances and home infrastructures become interconnected and can be controlled from the network, the more the intelligence gathered from data will be enacted automatically.

As shown in the photo, we can expect better and better interface to display the status of our homes and to let us interact with its various components from everywhere in the home as well as from outside the home.  Some of the appliances are already making use of AI to understand our habits and adapt to them (like the robot vacuum cleaner that can spring to action cleaning the kitchen once we are done with the dinner and there are likely a bit of crumbles on the floor…). As mentioned in the previous post, the control of appliances through an orchestrator, using natural language interaction, is already a possibility and will likely become the standard way to communicate with appliances in the coming years,

However a smart home in the next decade will be much much more as I will discuss in the next post in this series.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.