People have fantasized about reducing the chores and laborious tasks that go hand in hand with maintaining a home. In the late 1800s and early 1900s when electricity found its way into homes, people became accustomed to the idea that technological devices could relieve them of the drudgery they had just accepted until then.
We may not think of vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, and washing machines as high-tech automation devices, but when they became commonplace they had a major impact on people’s lifestyles.
Imagine that you had to spend hours every day washing clothes manually and suddenly there was a machine which could complete that task on your behalf while only requiring minutes of your time and attention.
Many visions of the future across the decades have shown us a world where human beings don’t have to spent their limited time doing repetitive manual labor. One of the most famous examples has to be the Hannah Barbera cartoon The Jetsons. In this children’s show we see robots and other smart machines taking care of every possible tasks: cooking, cleaning, answering the phone, and much more.
It’s likely that the Jetsons (among others) had a significant impact on the current generation of scientists and engineers, entering the collective consciousness and emerging now as products that are enabled by new technological progress.
The vision of technological home automation lives on in our current media as well. Films like Iron Man with Tony Stark’s AI assistant Jarvis continue to fire the imagination of the public and help to drive market demand for better automation systems and products.
In the Beginning
The early days of labor-saving technology came in the late 1800s and early 1900s. These machines were powered by gas or electricity. In the 1900s built-in electricity became viable and widespread, opening the market for large and small appliances.
These devices sped up labor and removed or reduced the physical requirements to do the work, but any automation that there was in their operation came from simple electromechanical methods. A human being’s intelligence was still needed to operate or oversee the technology.
This was all before there was even a notion of digital technology, or at least digital technology that would be small and cheap enough to ever fit in a home. That did not stop people from working on early robots such as Alpha, a crude robotic device that was shown off at the 1933 World’s Fair.
Alpha could respond to a very limited set of commands, which included firing a pistol – which it promptly used to shoot its creator, but that’s a story for another day.
The Thrilling 50s
The first model that sort of resembled the modern conception of an automated home was probably the “Push Button Manor”. This was an actual place created by a Michigan resident named Emil Mathias. Mathias actually lived in the Push Button Manor. The manor was set up in such a way that most daily tasks could be completed with the push of a single button. It was clunky, impossibly expensive, and not for sale.
In 1957 Monsanto showed off their house of the future at Disneyland. According to their vision everything would be made of plastic. Everything.
It had an ultrasonic dishwasher and a sink that would adjust to your height. All in all in it was a pretty successful exhibit.