It’s always been difficult to forecast quite how technology will evolve. The head of IBM once predicted a global market for “about five computers”, while BBC’s Tomorrow’s World showed 21st century families being served their breakfast by wheeled robots resembling a cross between Mr Blobby and a Dalek. Conversely, while tablet computers and voice-controlled TVs would have seemed fanciful as the new millennium dawned, they’re very much part of the mainstream now.
Perhaps surprisingly, many of tomorrow’s technological trends are already with us in one form or another. The smart home of 2030 won’t represent an evolutionary leap from Siri and Amazon Dash buttons, but it will be far more cohesive and intuitive…
Cloudy with a chance of mainframes
One of the big advances in domestic technology will involve the development of cloud networks. These will bring together trillions of smart devices under the Internet of Things umbrella, collectively comprising the majority of internet traffic. Today, most homes have one or two IoT devices, such as smart bathroom scales. By 2030, fridges will be able to reorder groceries and email us a photo of their contents. Cars will monitor their own fluid levels and mechanical condition, and booking a service if sensors detect a problem. They might even drive themselves to the garage, if today’s breakneck pace of vehicular automation is maintained through the next decade.
Dependable automation requires constant internet connectivity, and our patchy broadband network will need to be improved with ultra-fast fibre cables in every corner of the UK. By 2030, development of 6G will be underway, though 5G should provide sufficient bandwidth to support every aspect of smart homes with no downtime. Wi-Fi may evolve into Li-Fi, with rapidly-flickering ceiling lights (undetectable to the naked eye) distributing huge volumes of data within line-of-sight environments.
How may I help you?
Many IoT devices will be governed by a voice-controlled virtual assistant – an advanced version of Cortana or Alexa that will gradually supplant today’s welter of smartphone apps. Chatbot hardware is presently geared around entertainment, but its potential for monitoring and managing our homes is obvious. From lights and curtains to temperature and ventilation, voice activation will also abolish the forest of switches and wall-mounted interfaces cluttering up our plasterboard.
Living spaces will centre on full-frame 4K TVs hanging from the wall by a single nail, offering petabyte recording storage and voice control. These all-in-one media centres will handle all our communications and gaming needs, eliminating the remote controls and black boxes that populate modern lounges and bedrooms.
TVs may also provide a visual interface for the domestic chatbot assistants outlined above. These will seem more personable as their software adapts to the characteristics of individual users, like Jarvis in the Iron Man movies. Local accents and slang words won’t be impediments as algorithms become more sophisticated, and these voice-controlled assistants could even provide companionship to elderly or isolated users.
Security is another industry where smart home technology will improve our lives. Passive alarms will be replaced by biometric entry systems that automatically arm themselves when we go out. Being able to upload CCTV footage or thermal imaging into the cloud will ensure any nefarious activity is captured in real time. A system detecting a break-in might turn on every light in the house and even contact the police, who could then watch live streams of the burglars in action. And since technology like smart water and biometric identification will go mainstream by 2030, the thief’s swag bag is unlikely to be of much value.
Domestic appliances won’t just be more secure, they’ll become more efficient, too. Clothing companies are experimenting with self-cleaning fabrics, where magnetism expels particles of dirt. Even if these fabrics remain on the drawing board rather than the ironing board, washing machines and dishwashers may use lasers or compressed air to cut down on water consumption. Recirculating showers will do likewise, while super-efficient ovens may heat up far more quickly to lower energy usage.
It’s fanciful to imagine we’ll all have solar panels on our roofs, particularly given unresolved legal issues regarding ownership and airspace. Similarly, wind turbines are too visually controversial and dependent on optimal weather conditions. Nonetheless, new homes will be packed with insulation and clever technologies like ground source heat pumps to slash utility bills. Triple glazing is already being fitted by forward-thinking housebuilders, with glass manufacturers working on transitional windows that darken in direct sunlight to regulate temperature and brightness levels.
Greater efficiency will apply to handheld devices, too. Today’s forest of incompatible cabling and leads will be obliterated by wireless connectivity and charging, with internal batteries lasting far longer between charges than modern technology allows. The hot swap batteries being proposed for electric vehicles are already proving their value with SLR cameras and certain brands of smartphone.
Here’s one I made earlier
We won’t just reduce our need for natural resources through energy efficiency, we’ll also be more self-sufficient. The driving force for this is 3D printing, which can already produce anything from a shower head to a spanner within minutes. Following another decade of development and plummeting operational costs, 3D printers should be able to generate furniture or replacement engine parts with equal ease. Some industry observers have suggested that a handheld molecular scanner will check items around the home, confirming whether they can be recreated from a block of resin.
The overarching theme of tomorrow’s smart homes will be simplification, which is a goal modern proprietary apps and incompatible cloud devices are possibly working against. A light switch won’t be needed if a motion sensor in the bulb automatically turns it on whenever movement is detected. It also won’t be necessary to lock the front door if a biometric door handle recognises your fingerprints while you’re pulling it shut. And everything will be underpinned by the internet of things – reflecting the importance of dependable internet access, and the value of secure data centres where reams of domestic information can be uploaded and processed.