Home is where the web is: The growing role of the net in domestic life

Jonathan Weinberg

Take a look at the home around you and consider how much technology has changed it over the past few decades.

From black and white to 3D TV to a host of energy-saving appliances, there's been a constant, and often, dramatic leap in the way we live. Now futurologists believe that pace is set to pick up even faster over the next 10-15 years. And at the heart of this is the internet.

In a report out today experts predict a wealth of web-connected smart appliances taking over our homes, talking to each other to get even the most tedious of chores finished without you needing to break a sweat.There's also the promise of a toilet that monitors the waste you flush down it, analysing it via a connected computer to check your health.

Robotic work by the likes of Honda with its Asimo humanoid is also paving the way for the kind of robot servant that has always been the stuff of sci-fi movies.

But with 8.43million adults in the UK still never having used the internet, the starting point and challenge is to connect their homes to broadband - and this is already a key priority for both the Government and communications experts.

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Dr Frank Shaw, foresight director of the Centre for Future Studies, said: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot access the internet.”

The future home report for broadband firm Plusnet shows exactly why a connection to cyberspace will be so key.

There will be front doors that work by face recognition, running strangers faces through a criminal record check to vast hidden networking systems and controlling everything from the TV to the kettle. The common thread is broadband. This itself is something which has changed out of all recognition during the past decade.

Jamie Ford, CEO of Plusnet, said: "Since our launch 15 years ago we’ve moved from dial-up services to wireless connection transmitted through fibre optics at superfast speeds."

With the days of creaking dial-up well behind us, those speeds are also destined to become even faster as BT and Virgin Media invest in new fibre broadband technology and the Government offer licences to the providers of new wireless 4G mobile broadband which is set to hit the airwaves in the next couple of years.

This in turn will open up greater control of our homes to our smartphones and tablets while cupboards and fridges will sense when you're running low on your favourite foods and automatically order them from the supermarket.

The report also predicts walls, ceilings and floors will turn into interactive screens using a mix of augmented and virtual reality - while it won't just be movies and music you can download through that ultra-fast broadband, it will be sensory experiences too to fill a room with sights and sounds that make you feel like a different person or take you into a whole new world completely.

You won't even need to queue up at the doctor's surgery for an appointment, instead they'll be beamed into your living room with sensors across the home keeping a close eye on the health of the whole family.

Voice control will be standard and if you're prone to losing things, then there's good news. The home of the future will automatically sense everything that comes in and out and be able to locate it. Even down the back of that new sofa, which of course, recognises who is sitting on it.

The research is backed up by a similar report from The Future Laboratory, commissioned by IKEA.

 It predicts the kitchen, being the hub of the home, will be transformed by technology, with the fridge selecting the best food to suit your mood and a holographic chef on hand to provide some cooking inspiration. Aromatherapy-infused walls could also pump smells into the home to calm you down or recognise when you need a lift.

The report predicts that by 2040 over a third of the UK population won’t have to cook for themselves.

Microsoft is another company working on technology for smart homes of the future. Its Surface device could eventually turn a normal table into a computerised panel to control every little corner of your home.

It's a similar concept to the Smart Window shown off by Samsung at the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas earlier this year. At first glance that see-thru pane is simply a window but with a quick swipe of a finger it could be electronically transformed into a blackout panel to sleep at night, a TV screen or a touch-sensitive information display full of the latest news, weather and gossip.

Bathroom company Ideal Standard is another pointing to technological change built around broadband connectivity.

Its own futuristic research believes facial recognition will allow all aspects of your bathroom to remember who you are and deliver specific pre-set preferences when you stumble in there each morning, such as your favourite shower temperature, water pressure and even a personalised floor texture to make it feel as if you were walking on the beach.

But with all these increase in technology comes one downside - a surge in the use of electricity.

Which is why power firm E.ON has launched its own contest to discover innovations to change the face of our home living while naturally saving energy at the same time. The competition at www.eon-innovation.com is open until April 9 and is themed around rest, work, play, food and wellbeing.

In keeping with the connected idea, entrants will even be able to "co-create" with others by commenting on their submissions and voting for the best.

 Phil Gilbert, E.ON’s head of innovation, said: "It’s vital that everyone understands the importance of using energy efficiently and that’s why we’re challenging the UK public to come up with cutting edge ideas, which will provide new and unique ways to use and save energy."

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