Page last updated at 12:18 GMT, Wednesday, 1 June 2005 13:18 UK

Imagining homes of the future

Woman watching wall-mounted screen in her bath
Will we have screens on every wall?
A unique project is under way in Sheffield to monitor the movements of a family living in a futuristic home packed with the latest technological innovations.

The aim is to help house builders predict how we will want to use our homes 10 or 20 years from now.

But what will the homes of the future be like?

Experts Christopher Sanderson, of The Future Laboratory and Richard Brindley, of the Royal Institute of British Architects, outline their visions of what might be to come.

CLIMATE EXTREMES

One of the major factors affecting home design in the future will be our changing climate, with hotter summers, colder winters and floods predicted for the UK.

Mr Brindley says houses will be built with better insulation and old houses will have to have it installed.

They will also need ways of keeping cool in hot weather, whether that's air conditioning or more shading of windows.

"Things like blinds, shades and canopies are going to become much more important," he adds.

SLIDING WALLS

C3PO and R2D2 from Star Wars
Robots are more likely to clean our toilets than be our friends
Mr Brindley predicts overcrowding will get worse in areas such as south-east England, forcing more people into small homes and flats.

With space at a premium, he says homes will have to be adaptable, with the same rooms used for many purposes.

The technology already exists to build houses with moveable walls which run on tracks to enable the same space to be arranged in different ways for different functions.

Glass technology is also changing, so you will have glass which is clear but turns opaque when you run an electrical current through it, which could be used to close areas off.

Small homes will need more adaptable furniture, such as convertible sofa-beds and furniture which can be neatly stacked away when not in use.

'HOMETAINMENT'

Both experts predict ever-more elaborate home entertainment systems, or "hometainment" as Mr Sanderson calls it, making staying in as fun as going out.

These too will double up to perform several functions.

Mr Brindley says: "A flat screen on your wall could double up as your front door intercom, your computer and be used to watch films.

"You will also be able to do things like switch machinery in the home on and off from on holiday and that sort of thing."

THE NEW WATER

Shower head - generic
Could showers soon be a thing of the past?
Mr Sanderson predicts a significant decrease in the amount of water used in the home, with sound wave technology harnessed to replace it for cleaning jobs.

He said: "Water is now known to be a pretty inefficient cleaner - sound waves can clean a lot better, more sensitively and more healthily than water or other cleaning materials."

Contact lens cleaners which use sound waves to shake off dirt are already on the market and the technology is being explored for dishwashers and washing machines.

Mr Sanderson takes it one step further, asking: "In the future, if you're taking a shower, will you take it with water, or with sound waves?"

'PRO-AM' APPLIANCES

Short for professional-amateur, the pro-am trend is already with us in the shape of outsized, professional standard cookers and ranges designed for domestic kitchens.

Mr Sanderson predicts this will expand to other areas of domestic life, with manufacturers like Whirlpool and Electrolux already working to develop pro-am cleaning systems that can dry-clean clothes to a professional standard in the home.

He says: "A lot of large scale houses will start using this kind of technology, so services you would normally have to outsource can be performed at home."

CLEVER FRIDGES

Food in fridge
"May I suggest a lasagne, Sir?"
Mr Sanderson expects Radio Frequency Identification technology (RFID), already used to security tag items in shops, to be extended to food packets.

Small transmitters fitted in the packaging will transmit information which can be read by fridges or cupboards and then alert the cook when products are about to go off.

Your fridge could also suggest recipes using the item, possibly paired with other items on its shelves, or suggest complementary items for a shopping list.

ROBOTS

Mr Sanderson says robots look likely to start appearing in our homes quiet soon, with models ranging from Sony's childlike Qrio and robot pet dog to robotic vacuum cleaners already in development.

But Mr Brindley expects most robots to be more functional than lifelike.

"They will mostly be small, inbuilt silent little robots sorting out your fridge or opening and closing your blinds than Jeeves the butler-like robots wandering around with dusters.

"There will be micro-robots designed to carry out specific tasks such as cleaning toilets or drains." He also foresees new materials for buildings and appliances which can repair and regenerate themselves, or which change shape when an electrical current is passed through them.

SEE ALSO
Qrio the robot makes acting debut
16 Jan 04 |  Technology

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