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Post-Pandemic Scenarios – XXI – How smart can a smart home become?

A wall of your living room covered with LED tiles that can change their colours to match your mood and create a new ambiance every day. Image credit: Nanoleaf

Smart, smart home

Using smart materials it will be possible to build walls that change their characteristics, like become more or less insulating depending on the inside-outside temperature and the one we feel comfortable, thus decreasing the use of heating/cooling. They can also change their surface reflectivity, again to improve insulation as well as to change their appearance. What if we already have a wall? New technologies can let us change its characteristics, at least to a certain extent.  Look at the figure. Nanoleaf has demonstrated at CES 2020, and is now selling, tiles that can be glued on a wall to create light patterns. The tiles can be controlled by an application (of course they provide you with an app for your smartphone) that can change the colour and light intensity of single tiles to create any type of patterns. The app can also offer you some pre-defined patterns that are supposed to “create and atmosphere” and can learn over time what your tastes are. Connected to Alexa it can work out, using Alexa capability of assessing your mood,  the light patterns that would create a fitting ambience for your mood (or, even better, to improve it!).

Expect to see evolution of these tiles: in the coming years they will get smaller and smaller (and cheaper of course) to increase the resolution of patterns to the point of becoming a screen. Once that happens your walls can become windows extending your room into the cyberspace, into a virtual reality that can take your room everywhere. You may want to wake up on the seaside looking at waves gently rolling up to the foot of your bed (without splashing it!) or you can have your living room right by a waterhole in Zambia to watch wild animals drinking -and unaware of being watched by you. You already have several webcams providing hi res video streams from several water-holes, I just finished watching a herd of elephants at the Tau Waterhole on my laptop as I was preparing for this post.

Of course these screen-walls will extend your living room to the one of your friends once you decide for a remote, but intimate reunion. It is like video conference on steroids. The big difference is the perception it creates of sharing an ambient. I guess this will become a standard feature of homes in the next decade as our ever larger television screens will end up merging into the wall.

Sensors will increase in number and in quality making the home more and more aware through intelligent applications that will be in connection with the dwellers digital twins, thus customising the home to the specific need of each dwellers (and solving conflicts when two of them are sharing the same space…). Most importantly the software will be able to monitor, from an healthcare standpoint, each dweller, picking up telltale signs of potential problems. Going to a hospital for testing will become rarer and rarer, whilst, at the same time, testing will become a daily (unperceived) occurrence. Future homes will be hubs for personal healthcare. Notice the use of the word “hub”. It will no longer be a place for “tele-medicine”, rather healthcare is local -particularly the proactive part- and connection to remote sites is used to bring in what is needed rather than to have remote expertise monitor what is going on. The personal digital twins will have a major role in this transformation.

One of the application of the increased flexibility of the home will be used to morph some of its spaces into an office that will aggregate, in the cyberspace, with other colleagues offices and with clients’ spaces providing a real sense of co-presence.

Of course, this enhanced flexibility needs orchestration and companies like Amazon are well positioned to play the orchestrator role, as foreseen in the FTI’s report. The orchestrator is bridging the house characteristics into the home for that specific dweller(s). The more the services we will enjoy in our home will be provided through the cyberspace, the more we can “port” these services from one house to another, taking the “home” along with us as we change our physical location. This is the harbinger for a revolution in the concept and perception of “home”.

Imagine a time (some 10 years from now) when AR devices will be seamless . The digital twin of your home, along with the digital twin of yourself, could recreate on spot whatever type of home decor you may like, paintings from Van Gogh hanging (virtually) from the living room wall, a cinema size screen in front of you -at the appropriate distance – as you sit on the couch. You may share this augmented view with your guests while your children may play around seeng a completely different ambient that fits their fantasy… If you want to go deeper into what this evolution may lead to … take a look at this article. It does not really seem plausible to be imagining, as discussed in that article, that the value will be shifting from the physical house to the digital home that some service provider would be able to deliver to you using various forms of AR. It seems too far fetched. Yet, part of that vision may become reality as we are shifting from today’s Reality to tomorrow’s Digital Reality.

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.

2 comments

  1. I had to read it twice. Very nice.

  2. Hello Roberto,

    thanks for the interesting text!

    Alexa, Siri and other personal assistants are in many households to find, as part of a smart phone or independent device. Their creators’ idea is to implement such a device as intelligent heart of the smart home. So far, the AI can be empathic, but the hardware is still not supporting this impression. The next generation of smart devices want to close this gap. Toyota started the sale of their “Kirobo Mini”, a “compact and cuddlesome” mini robot with the following functions:
    • More than just passively answering to the user’s questions, the device defines itself as casual interlocutor, including to respond to emotions.
    • The integrated AI learns the user’s preferences and can use this information for predictions.
    • With a size of only 10cm, it is transportable and due to this, not only can act as the brain of the house, but also connect to the smart car.
    • With these abilities, Kirobo’s AI connects direct information from the user with smart data receiving from the house and vehicle. The robot is the face to control the complex structures.