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Homes of the future: new technology poised to make life that much more exciting – and romantic

Hi-tech developments include mattresses that can remind couples to rekindle their romance and windows that can actually be a TV

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 July, 2016, 9:41am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2016, 10:16am

Things might not be quite as they seem in the smart home of the future.

That picture window in your living room might actually be a power generator, or a large-screen TV. A light bulb could transmit your data, rendering Wi-fi, as we know it, redundant.

The bathroom mirror transforms into an interactive screen, displaying news, weather and traffic information – or even provides hair and make-up tips for the day ahead.

Your floor rug plays music (high quality, of course). And your bed becomes a relationship counsellor, nudging you when some intimate time is in order. Really?

Let’s start with what’s happening with windows. Like many living in a dense urban environment, you might not have a pretty view to look out to. Panasonic’s idea (still under development, though unveiled at recent technology shows) is to make that ugly next door building disappear, and replace it with a scene of your choice – a lush forest, for instance, or an underwater seascape.

Google engineer Max Braun couldn’t buy a smart mirror which did quite what he wanted it to – deliver the morning news and weather updates – so he built one himself. Publishing his story on Medium, Braun explains that it’s made from readily available materials: a two-way mirror, a display panel and a control board, “plus a bunch of components and arts & craft supplies”.

Beyond the basic weather updates and news services, “other concepts I’m playing with are traffic, reminders, and essentially anything that has a Google Now card,” Braun says. The idea is that you don’t need to interact with this UI (user interface), he adds. “Instead, it updates automatically and there’s an open-ended voice search interface for anything else.”

Panasonic is also developing a smart mirror with a built-in hidden high-definition camera, and face-analysing technology. The augmented-reality portal within the brand’s Interactive mirror points out every flaw on the skin (yikes!) with suggestions on how to fix them. It also lets the user try out different make-up styles, and view their hair-do from the sides and back.

Panasonic is also building speakers into carpet, which can detect where people are sitting or standing and direct the sound towards them.

Meanwhile, a discovery by researchers at the University of British Columbia takes ordinary windows one step closer to doubling, say, as a giant thermostat or big-screen TV. They found that coating small pieces of glass with extremely thin layers of metal like silver enhances the amount of light passing through. This, coupled with the fact that metals naturally conduct electricity, may make it possible to add advanced technologies to windowpanes and other glass objects.

“Engineers are constantly trying to expand the scope of materials that they can use for display technologies, and having thin, inexpensive, see-through components that conduct electricity will be huge,” says UBC associate professor and lead investigator Kenneth Chau. “I think one of the most important implications of this research is the potential to integrate electronic capabilities into windows and make them smart.”

And how about the internet-enabled light bulb? The hitherto sci-fi notion of Li-fi ­– a wireless technology that transmits high-speed data using visible light communication (VLC) – is moving closer to commercial reality, via LED bulbs fitted with a microchip which turns them into a hotspot. The Li-fi (short for light fidelity) has a speed of lightning – reportedly up to 100 times faster than Wi-fi.

According to French start-up Oledcomm, which demonstrated the technology at the world's biggest mobile fair, Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona, Spain this year, laboratory tests have shown theoretical speeds of over 200 gbps — fast enough to "download the equivalent of 23 DVDs in one second". Now, that’s a breakthrough.

And oh yes, that bed. Beyond the sleep patterns that smart mattresses of the future will be able to track, imagine a mattress that can detect whether sleep is the only thing that happens night after night. It will send a couple push notifications suggesting ways to rekindle their romance. The Listen to Your-Mattress campaign attributed to British manufacturer Dunlopillo might be tongue-in-cheek, but considering the way the Internet of Things is moving, is it really so far-fetched?