In just a decade, our homes will become more intelligent than ever

Ten years from now, we will use sonic cleaning, 3D holographic TVs, self-cleaning fridges that create their on recipes and "intelligent beds". Tony Glover looks at the digitsed home of 2022.

A smartphone sends instructions to an oven using LG's Smart ThinQ technology. Ethan Miller / Getty
Powered by automated translation

Ten years from now, our homes will have washing machines that clean clothes with sound rather than detergent, self-cleaning fridges that make up their own recipes, three-dimensional (3D) holographic television screens and "intelligent beds".

The information industry's next big target market after the revolution in portable communications is networked intelligent domestic devices. Telecoms companies, IT makers, energy suppliers and domestic-appliance manufacturers are joining forces to enable truly 21st-century living. People may soon be able to enjoy a rich and varied existence without ever crossing their thresholds.

But today's "home of the future" reflects very different values and interests than earlier predictions. In the 1950s and 1960s - and even into the 1970s - there was little regard for the environmental impact of designer living. Prototype homes on stilts appeared to be made of white plastic, as though the formica used on kitchen surfaces had spread to the rest of the home, including the exterior. These homes of the future used copious amounts of electrical power with no regard for alternative energy sources. True 21st-century living demands a more environmentally sensitive approach.

"Smart heating and air-conditioning systems will become increasingly sophisticated over the next decade as environmental pressure forces people to try use less energy," says Paul O'Donovan, an analyst at Gartner, the international research firm. "This is particularly important in cities such as Abu Dhabi, where buildings demand constant air conditioning for much of the year.

"Solar energy will play a major part in the effort to cool homes in the future. If the sun is the cause of your home heating up, then it can also supply the electricity to cool it."

The key to 21st-century living is wireless networking over the internet - and not only the cooling systems will be digitally managed.

"People currently carry a lot of data and media entertainment around with them on personal devices such as smartphones and tablet computers such as iPads," Mr O'Donovan says. "Soon, this will be networked around the home via devices such as the TV."

Instead of a flat two-dimensional screen, it is predicted that a new generation of televisions will project lifelike 3D images direct into the living room. Unlike the 3D televisions coming onto the market now, they will use holographic images that do not require the use of special goggles or glasses.

Holographic technology is already being used for this purpose in the corporate world. Communications companies, including Cisco, the US networking corporation, are using holographic images in business-to-business conferencing to enable realistically lifelike conferences between people who may physically be continents apart.

But the main opportunity for 3D holographic technology is the domestic market and researchers believe that consumer-friendly holography for the home will become available over the coming decade. The companies that stand to benefit most from this technology are not business communications specialists, but consumer electronics makers such as Samsung and Apple. Holographic images could be beamed from different angles around the room, from under tabletop surfaces for example, to generate realistic 3D images.

According to Bloomberg Business News, a new Apple television could be available by Christmas. Last year, Apple was also granted a new patent relating to holographic images and some Silicon Valley industry watchers are predicting the rapid arrival of holographic televisions. There is also speculation that the arrival of interactive holographic television technology will mean a boom in telecommuting and remote working and a reduction in air travel.

Apple already has a lead over other electronics manufacturers in the race to dominate the new era of 3D television. The success of its iPhone smartphones and iPad computer tablets means that many consumers already rely on Apple compatible devices to access their digital communications and entertainment.

Companies such as Apple also have a huge advantage over traditional electronics manufacturers when it comes to introducing new technologies to the home. Renewal cycles come around far faster in the world of digital communications than they do for traditional television makers. Innovations such as 3D will drive faster production cycles in the television industry, favouring IT companies.

But some analysts believe that television set makers are already catching up fast in the IT market. Samsung, for example, has announced the sale of five million of its Galaxy Note smartphones in the five months since the product launched.

"Although Apple appears to be about to come early to this market, it is unlikely it will be able to dominate the TV market as it has the tablet computing market," Mr O'Donovan says.

He believes that Apple will provide televisions to a top-end slice of customers, the sort of consumer who already uses an expensive Apple laptop, while traditional electronics manufacturers will come to dominate the mass market.

"Just as with Apple Macs and PCs, where Apple has a niche space, while PCs from electronics makers dominate, some loyal Apple fans will have an Apple TV but most will probably opt for 'smart' TV sets from existing TV makers," says Mr Donovan.

But not all modern living rooms will easily accommodate, for instance, a holographic 3D rendition of blockbuster movies such as Titanic.

"I do not believe that holographs, while they may have a role within 3D cinemas, will make much of an appearance in people's living rooms due to lack of space, furniture and other clutter," Mr O'Donovan says.

"What is more likely is that, in well-designed homes in about 10 years' time, the TV screen may roll down from the ceiling or appear to be a painting on the wall when not turned on."

Most predictions of the way we might live in the future generally reflect the eras in which they were made. In the heavily industrialised 1950s, for example, western futurologists predicted that homes would be staffed by metal robots designed to walk and move like humans.

But there is no more reason to believe that 21st-century living will mean existing in a glorified iPad just as it was back in the 1950s, when people thought they'd have a science-fiction robot resembling a suit of armour clunking around their living rooms.

The robots in a well-appointed home 10 years from now will come in the form of consumer-friendly household appliances that use 21st-century technologies and are capable of communicating with external computing banks.

Fridges, for example, will become "intelligent" enough not only to order shopping, but also to scan the bar codes of selected items to alert the user when they are out of date. More importantly, some fridges will also be totally self-cleaning.

A collaboration between the University of Central Lancashire, in the UK, and the online supermarket Ocado is already reported to be developing a fridge that can clean itself, cut down on wasted food, automatically order fresh supplies and help cook meals from any ingredients that happen to be inside it.

Washing machines will also not only be intelligent, but will be based on a total different underlying technology from today's models. Dust particles will be bombarded by special sound frequencies.

"Sonic cleaning is another new technology which should be commonplace in the home within the next 10 years. Ultrasonic noises designed to shift dirt particles mean that dirty clothes only produce dirty water and not environmentally unfriendly detergent," Mr O'Donovan says.

Not even the bedroom is sacrosanct where progress is concerned. Digital technology is about to evade the sleeping area.

"The 'intelligent bed' could be another feature of the digital home," says Asam Ahmad, a spokesman for Virgin Media. "Fully automated, the pod bed has curtains that can automatically close at night or when you fancy enjoying the built-in sound system and projector for music, watching a movie ... or even high-resolution gaming."

Virgin Media is typical of internet and telecoms service providers in its ambition to be the gateway to the digital home.

"The internet-service providers will also move more aggressively into pay TV with the business model moving towards only paying for movies and TV that users actually watch rather than subscribing to a vast array of channels, some of which many users do not bother ever to watch," Mr O'Donovan says.

Virgin Media, which sponsored the Home of the Future 2012 at this year's Ideal Home Show in London, is introducing faster broadband speeds to position itself as the gatekeeper for the kind of digital home that many of us will begin to occupy over the next decade.

But internet service providers and telecoms operators will face fierce competition from companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Samsung and others as they race to deliver the dream of 21st-century living to the world's consumers.

Household items of 2022

The intelligent fridge The fridges in our homes will not only be self-cleaning, they will also be able to scan bar codes, inform the user when food is past its sell-by date, re-order groceries and even suggest recipes to make using their contents

Holographic 3D televisions It is predicted that televisions coming onto the market within the coming decade will use holographic technology to project lifelike 3D images into the living room. Viewers will no longer need to wear special 3D glasses or goggles

'Smart' table tops These will be able to act as a digital interface to access and control the appliances on the domestic network if required. They will also be able to host small holographic projectors do help display realistic 3D television images

Roll-down screens Television screens will no longer be ugly, soon-to-be-outdated technology taking up space when not in use. Instead, they will roll down from the ceiling when required or resemble a painting on the wall when turned off

Sonic washing machines Washing machines now under development use special sound frequencies to bombard dirt particles in clothes, thereby saving the environment from being polluted by household detergents

Solar-powered cooling The need to conserve energy is prompting the development of digitally managed domestic air conditioning using solar panels on the outside of buildings as a clean energy source.

'Intelligent' beds Beds will become available that will be able to offer users a pod-like environment with all the internet-enabled communications and entertainment they could desire.