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Last Updated: Friday, 3 December, 2004, 15:44 GMT
Hearth, home and hub
By David Reid
BBC Click Online

Future home
Architecture meets technology in the home of the future

David Reid reports from house proud Italy, where IT companies are showing that, in the years to come, technology begins at home.

There is a curious kind of nostalgia in looking back on how we once saw the future, a future which, let us face it, never quite turns out the way we thought it would.

But finally it seems that the present is catching up with the future.

For years style gurus have tried to sell us their image of the shape of things to come, and it seems that technology has only now reached a stage where the reality can at least touch the designer's dream.

Wake up to the latest movie blasted across your bedroom wall accompanied by the sound of the coffee-maker bubbling away on the bed-side.

Radio, lights, in fact almost anything electrical can be centrally controlled in the smart home.

Such is the case with a mocked up 'Future Home' at Smau, Italy's IT trade fair.

Convenience

What is more, appliances are also connected to the telephone system, so you can get your pasta on the boil, heating on and shower running, even as you are on your way back from work.

Francesco Orofino
Usually when you leave the house you have to turn off the gas, close the shutters... Now these things are associated together
Francesco Orofino, Architect
Nor would you need to send a text message to each appliance in turn.

Here instructions can be grouped together so that with one word your entire house jumps into action as Francesco Orofino, an architect explains:

"Usually when you leave the house you have to turn off the gas, close the shutters, set the burglar alarm, turn off all the lights and lock up.

"Now these things are associated together, so by pressing the function 'Going Out' all these things can be done at the same time, all for security."

The creators of this house say that what they have put together is no idle pipe-dream, but that everything featured in their 'Next Home' is currently available off the shelf.

Gimmick

However, there is a danger that same shelf could become stuffed with gimmickry.

It is the sort of thing that gets architects and designers hot under the collar.

Many fear that the future home could mean gadgets elbowing out good design as people pursue technology for its own sake as Piero Lissoni, an architect and designer claims:

"I think it is like fashion. The big mistake is [to think] that technology is the solution, and I think that technology is just one part of the solution.

"For me the correct vision of the future is that we design good architecture, a good interior, we design good furniture because we have a good feeling about that, with or without technology."

The eager uptake of broadband internet, mobile phones and, in particular, home wireless networks means that the smart home is not just futuristic folly, but to a certain extent, inevitable.

Digital dwelling

Linksys, a subdivision of Cisco Systems, has put together a flat in Milan which gives a good idea of what a digital dwelling might look like.

Robert Auci
At the end of the day people are going to be looking for things that make their lives easier not more complex
Robert Auci, Linksys
They have been no-nonsense in their approach. The kitchen, the usual repository for state-of-the-art gimmickry, is almost entirely gadgetless.

Robert Auci of Linksys claims: "There's a lot of gimmickry out there: the broadband refrigerator or the networked coffee-maker. At the end of the day people are going to be looking for things that make their lives easier not more complex.

"Our feeling is that we are going to try and lead this whole industry in transforming from data networking into some of the areas that, piece by piece, start to build a more useful environment for the users to work in."

The security system means that you can see into every room and check, for example, if there are any burglars in your apartment.

What is more useful is that you can monitor what is going on remotely over the internet and be alerted by text message to any intruders while you are out.

Compatibility

However, when you are at home and safely tucked up, you can listen to MP3s, browse your snaps or even watch movies. It all means that a pad like this needs plenty of storage, so very soon home may be where the server is.

But for all this there is still a large question mark hovering over the issue of compatibility.

Industry standards for wireless networking are in the process of being fought over and there is still no guarantee that appliances from different manufacturers will actually be able to communicate with one another.

Smart consumers may choose to wait for that battle to be fought and won before fitting out their smart homes.


Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at 2030, Sunday at 0430 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. A short version is also shown on BBC Two: Saturday at 0645 and BBC One: Sunday at 0730 . Also BBC World.

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