Coming Soon to a Home Near You

June 26, 2019

I took a trip down memory lane to compare my house thirty years ago to what it is now and what it will become with the growth of smart technology. I found myself thinking, what consequences will these changes have on electricity consumption and the environment?

artificial model of a smart house

I am old enough to remember my grandmothers’ home in Liskeard, Cornwall in the 70s. She had a wood-burning oven, a pantry with a slab of marble to keep the meat cool and a large bucket and - later - a fridge. In case you were wondering what the bucket was for, it was to wash clothes in using a washing dolly. She then used a mangle to remove the water from the clothes. This physical effort to perform what is now considered a basic and automated task was probably why she lived healthily to 92.

I also remember my mum buying her first fridge and freezer in the late ‘70s and the time we first got a TV with a remote control. I no longer had to get up and change one of the three channels available for my parents!

Another thing that has changed drastically is communications. My dad worked overseas most of the time and, if we were to call him, we had to book a slot with the operator a week in advance. Now you can just take it for granted that you can communicate with anyone at any time from anywhere.

All of this was a mere thirty to forty years ago. To some of you, this might sound like a long time ago, but my grandmother’s method of doing things hadn’t changed much from previous centuries. This means that, in the last few decades, centuries-old methods of doing things have changed beyond recognition.

Home Is Where the Tech Is

Mobile and internet technologies have boosted the rapid advance of smart technology in the home. And, with the advent of Internet of Things (IoT) and smart devices, we will find our homes ever more awash with technology. You can already turn on your heating, lighting or A/C from an app. Next, the fridge will order your shopping and your washing machine will select the best wash based on an automatic analysis of the material of your clothes.

There is more. I expect my fridge might even let me know what food is about to go off and recommend a recipe to use up items and avoid waste. It might even tell my oven to speak to my car, bike or smartphone, so that it can preheat itself when I am an appropriate distance from home. When I leave work, my fridge might tell me that I need some more milk for the cup of tea I plan to have when I get home. My smart house and car might keep me abreast of my fitness, pulse and blood pressure, preparing a bespoke fitness regime and diet appropriate for my lifestyle.

When you look at domestic appliances, they haven’t really changed that much in their inner workings and operations. However artificial intelligence (AI) will be a game changer when it comes to how we interact with domestic appliances. We already have video doorbells and, in the future when someone approaches my home, an AI engine might recognise the person and tell me who it is when they press: “Hi Matt, your friend John is approaching the house, shall I open the door and welcome him?”.

My home will also probably know when I need to leave for work based on traffic and weather conditions. It might wake me up earlier or later depending on these things. It can then order me a one-seater electric car to pick me up and take me to work. Because it woke me earlier than normal, if it’s smart, it will heal my mood as I travel to work.

In terms of smart home security, your home may send an image of a person to the police based on the boundaries and alarms you set when you are not at home. This already happens with remote viewing of security cameras but, at the moment, it is still manual and reactive. AI engines at police headquarters should be able to identify threats much faster when individuals are approaching your home, either warning you or locking down your home.

All of this may sound like Star Trek, but great leaps in engineering science are being made on a regular basis. In some cases, it is already no longer a fantasy and a new reality is dawning.

The Costs Behind Technology

As a society, we too often take for granted how easy our lives have become and how entirely reliant we are on electricity. We have some very tough questions to ask ourselves about the ways in which we live and the way we consume natural resources. As we consume and use more, energy demands will often increase, and this will make its way on to our energy bills.

Which leads me to a question: with so much new technology will our energy bill cost a fortune? And what consequences will these developments have on the environment?

There is sometimes an apathy to energy consumption and the environment right now and, in reality, energy is quite cheap. If energy was expensive and we were really concerned about our health, our energy bills and the environment, we would be less wasteful.

As natural resources decline, expenses will increase and smart technology will help control this by making us more efficient. There will be more pressure from us as consumers to adopt technologies that reduces our bills and help us to manage costs.

We are seeing some very interesting work being done by independent suppliers delivering green tariffs. These are tariffs that supply energy from renewable sources. This is a great start and is encouraging investment in green tech while educating the public on how these systems will help build a better future.

We also need to protect our energy supply and this will happen - in part - by being more efficient and green in our approach to energy production. Over the next few decades, smart technology will have a big role to play by turning devices off as soon as we’ve finished using them.

For appliance manufacturers, the smart meter network could allow access to the performance data of every machine they have ever made. This will provide invaluable insights and enable engineers to develop much more efficient and desirable products.

On the consumer side, being able to track instantaneous changes in energy consumption with smart meters will allow better decision making on energy use and cost-effectiveness.

I am looking forward to a time when I can take advantage of an energy supplier tariff that is exclusively for a single domestic appliance, like my washing machine. In this future, my washing machine will be smart enough to go and find the single cheapest tariff based on the time I typically wash my clothes and for how long I wash them, saving me money. The same will be possible for other appliances too, like my cooker and oven.

What Next?

Things really are changing, and very fast. I believe someone once said that technology is outpacing humanity, so I think we may need time to adjust. Meanwhile, AI and robotics will lead us to ask some tough questions.

There is massive growth in robotics and it is not inconceivable that in the next couple of decades we will have a smart home that will interact with a domestic robot. Yes, a robot that will cook, clean and manage your home and life. Psychologists are even asking the question of whether we will become emotionally attached to them.

I firmly believe technology and - in particular smart technology - will give us an opportunity to reflect on society. Technology is changing and changing us with it and we will have no alternative but to revaluate our role as humans and how we interact with the world around us.

Remember, it was only 30 years ago that technology really began to change how we do things from centuries of traditional methods. It has been less than 15 years since we dramatically changed the way we communicate, compared to the 25,000 years before that. We need time to adjust to the new world promised by all of this technology and to start thinking smarter about how we use it for the best.

by Matt Dillane

Business Development Manager