IDTechEx investigates building the house of the future
Smart homes have started with add-on appliances like Google home, smart fridges, or ring doorbells. These plug-in features are helpful to personalise a house to the needs of the inhabitants but can be clunky, with outlets used up and unsightly wiring across walls and floors. Coming next is built-in technology, ubiquitous throughout the building and, eventually, the neighbourhood.
The built-in technologies can create a house that interacts and communicates with the inhabitants in a number of ways. The house could assist with care for the vulnerable; pressure sensors in the floor could analyse gait to tell if the inhabitants fall or seem to be limping and could alert family, friends, or support services.
In a lower-stakes adaptation, a table with built-in electronics could sense the temperature of the drink you place down on it and heat or cool just that portion of the surface to maintain the drink's temperature.
There are many exciting companies in this area, which show where the concept is at right now. While these projected technologies are still at an add-on stage, these add-ons clearly show the way toward ubiquitous technology.
Laiier are focusing on leak sensing. Sensing leaks early would make a huge financial difference to the inhabitants' lives. Laiier utilizes low-cost capacitive sensors based on carbon conductive. Capacitive sensors are especially sensitive to proximity to aqueous materials: this is why most smartphone screens cannot be used in the rain and why this technology is suited to a specialisation in leak detection – though there are many other potential applications.
While this technology is not currently built into the property's structure, the thin-film, large-area nature of the sensors enables them to be placed underneath appliances such as dishwashers, washing machines, and boilers. The sensors can also be produced in tape format, which enables them to be installed at a low cost without any specific expertise – another money-saver for inhabitants! For more information on this topic, please see IDTechEx’s report on the topic, “Printed and Flexible Sensors 2022-2032: Technologies, Players, Markets“.
Similarly, Invisense produce a thin-film moisture sensor. It determines humidity using a printed antenna detected remotely by anRFIDreader. The usual method for measuring is to remove tiles to see if water is leaking through them – this new method prevents such damage. The main application is thus placing the sensor behind waterproof building materials to check the efficacy of the waterproofing in showers.
Sensors such as these built into houses from the start could detect leaks before they become visible and, within a smart home, could even shut off water and call for a plumber. This would prevent large-scale damage and save money for the homeowner.
With energy costs a hot topic right now, The Warming Surfaces Company has partnered with Portuguese high-pressure laminate company Soforma to develop prototypes of a film that, when integrated into laminate, can enable surfaces to provide heating. This can be used for underfloor heating, heated walls, and integrating into furniture. Furthermore, individual areas can be separately controlled to keep the kitchen cool during cooking while the lounge stays cozy.
The social distancing requirements associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have motivated the development of smart floormats and carpets by InnovationLab.
Initially, this was a simple binary device that just detected whether pressure was being applied - the signal was then used to address a traffic light to let customers know whether it was safe to proceed to the counter. Recently, however, the system has been significantly upgraded. By training an artificial intelligence algorithm and placing the smart floormat by the store entrance, the system can now determine (and thus display) the number of customers in the store at any time on an anonymous basis. Furthermore, the system can discriminate between customers and trollies/carts to improve accuracy.
This technology could one day be used in applications such as care homes and assisted living to alert medical staff to the progress of patients and potential injuries and hazards.
Fumbling for the light switch could become a thing of the past. Lighting is, of course, already built into most homes, but printed electronics offer visuals with a twist.
Tactotek outlined that as smart homes become increasingly established, product developers have to meet the challenge of how to fit more electronics into products without sacrificing beauty and style. Examples include incorporating electronic functionality below wooden veneers and within thin plastic layers. For more information on this topic, please see IDTechEx’s report on the topic, “In-Mold Electronics 2022-2032: Technology, Market Forecasts, Players“.
All of these growing technologies paint a picture of the house of the future. Pressure sensors interacting with heating, lighting, and moisture sensors could make the reality of a house with integrated lighting that could react to the time of day and turn itself off when a person leaves the room. Ultra-effective underfloor heating that could follow a person around a room and heated surfaces to keep food and drink hot and cold as needed. A house that senses leaks, falls, and hazards, catering to the inhabitant’s safety as much as comfort.