After decades of dreaming, home automation is now a practical reality. The technology no longer sucks! Home automation is still nowhere close to reaching its potential, though. We have a long way to go before reaching the level of intelligent automation we see in movies like Iron Man or Star Trek. The good news is that the really cool and fancy technologies are coming, and they are coming fast.
What will this stuff look like? Well, it’s always a dodgy deal when trying to predict the future. Half the technology stuff we take for granted today was on nobody’s radar ten years ago, but that doesn’t mean we can’t dream, and that’s exactly what I try to do here. Just where is all this home automation tech going? Let’s daydream a bit about it, shall we?
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
One of the biggest problems we have with home automation today is that there is so much stuff that simply won’t talk to each other. This is the same issue we had with lots of new technologies over the years. HD-DVD and Blu Ray, VHS and Betamax. Companies and consortia fight for control of the standard because, well, money talks.
Today that’s where home automation is at. Every company from Apple to Google wants you to buy into their special home automation sauce.
On top of that, some home automation devices don’t talk to anything other than the internet. They automate something and they are “smart”, but it’s not one cohesive system.
That’s one of the main things that will change about home automation in the future. Everything will speak to everything and custom behaviors will be easy to program. We have something like that today in the form of IFTTT, which I have written an article about, but you have to have some real technical chops in order to make it all work. In the future you’ll have the ability to program complex automated behavior without having to touch a line of code.
Speaking of which, AI is going to have a big impact on home automation. Just by living your life the way you normally do, the AI learns your routines and preferences and adjusts your systems accordingly.
At some point over the next few decades we’ll come to just accept that things happen in anticipation of what we want. When you feel like having a bath, the water will already be drawn. When you wake up, your favorite TV episode will already be showing.
Our homes will be like living entities that don’t just do what they are told (in natural language), but will think about what we might want it to do and do it before we realize it.
Hopefully we won’t end up with a HAL situation where the computer refuses to open the pod bay door. That’s the garage, I guess.
Robots are probably the one thing in home automation that is most sorely missed today. We have robot vacuums and mowers, but beyond that we still basically have nothing. We were promised household robots already! Where the heck are they?
The news on that front is actually quite good. There’s a huge push to create generally useful household robots. Since the 80s, companies like Honda have been making huge investments in general purpose household robots. The modern day ASIMO is one result of that. Japan still leads these efforts and is one of the few countries where you may very well find a robot serving you in a restaurant, hospital, or shop. There’s no doubt in my mind, however, that we’ll be seeing more of both purpose-built domestic robots and general purpose ones that will do all sorts of things around the home.
The big question is whether these robots will be controlled by a central cloud intelligence or if it will have local, offline intelligence too.
Cloudy or Stormy?
That question is actually important for the whole future of home automation. Currently the big tech players are creating automation systems that have almost all of their intelligence in the cloud. What this means is that the automation logic, the rules that make things happen in your house, run on a computer far away under someone else’s control.
The cloud and the whole internet of things movement is important and necessary for home automation to reach its potential, but I hope sanity prevails and enough intelligence is built into the coming generations of hardware so that your automation services don’t just stop working when the lights go out.
This is literally a fight for who has control of your home. Either you will be subject to the whim of an unseen corporation which has ultimate control of all your stuff, or you will have the big “off” button yourself.
The Self-Sufficient Home
Home automation may go beyond having fridges that order new milk and a robot that mows your lawn for you while you laze in a deckchair. Future homes may become self sufficient with the technologies that come after present day solar and battery storage systems.
Think about a combination of robots, 3D-printers, and energy harvesting systems. You may have small wind turbines or solar panels that are managed by your home automation system.
You could even have a food-producing garden that is tended to by your home automation system. 3D printer technology is also moving towards creating foods and using materials other than plastic. The future home may even have the ability to make itself larger or do renovations.
It may sound pretty crazy, but imagine how insane the idea of a fuzzy logic washing machine would have sounded to someone from 200 years ago. At least we have a clear idea of how all of this can be achieved. We’ve also seen some massively fast tech development in the last 30 years, so don’t get too comfortable in thinking this future is still very far away.
It’s Been A Long Road
Some of this stuff is right around the corner and some of it we probably won’t see in our lifetimes, but all of it is possible and I’d like to think most of it is coming at some point. For those of us who are home automation enthusiasts it’s an awesome experience to think about what we’ll be able to do in the future. We also have to think about how we can best use what we already have to get as close to that ideal future as possible. The most important tool in this regard is just our imaginations. It’s really the ingenuity of the home automation community that drives this tech forward and gives the companies that make the equipment guidance on where they should go next.