In the 1950s people imagined that by the year 2000 we would have a man-made planet and people would be cruising around in flying cars. While many of their predictions did come true, it is clear that many did not.
Today, people are still asking what will the homes of our grandchildren’s grandchildren look like? Chris Sanderson, co-founder of a consultancy called The Future Laboratory, put forward his predictions in the first episode of Channel 4’s new TV series, Home of the Future.
The first hour-long episode focused on how an average family in Sheffield could use the latest technology to improve their lives. The programme looked at how each member of the family adjusted to their new home, which wouldn’t have looked out of place on the set of a new sci-fi movie.
The home was stripped bare and kitted out with everything from mini power stations in the garage to front door locks that recognise the patterns on your thumb. And to help you ’destress’, there’s things like the mind relaxation game, which is an almost ironic contraption that requires the user to relax their mind with all their might in order to defeat the computerised sun by making it set.
But, will families across the UK really see this kind of technology creeping into their homes? Probably not is the answer. Or at least not yet.
The cost to kit out the Sheffield house was a staggering £250,000 and it’s fair to say that the average UK family doesn’t have the same budget as a Channel 4 production team, who were generously co-funded by technology heavyweights, E-ON.
The cost is one thing but does the technology actually improve people’s standards of living? Certain members of the eight strong Perera family certainly took a while to adjust to their new surroundings. The father for example was unable to open the door due to a skin condition that appeared to leave him with a weak thumb print, while the mother still firmly believes that a simple cup of tea is more relaxing than the mind game.
While all the consumer gadgets and gismos might not have been an instant hit, it’s hard to ignore the cost-saving advantages of the power generating devices.
For example, the BlueGen combined heat and power (CHP) generator that was touched on earlier converts natural gas into electricity with the help of a highly efficient fuel cell.
The developers claim that as a result of the fuel cell’s efficiency, up to 85 per cent of the original fuel energy gets used in the home. Compare this to conventional coal-fired power stations, which are only able to deliver up to 30 per cent of the original fuel energy because of heat losses at cooling towers and further energy losses during transmission and distribution, and the BlueGen unit starts to become more appealing.
While the distributors, Burden Energy, told The Engineer that the price of the unit currently stands at £28,000, the company said they are aiming to bring this down to £12,000 over the next two years.
Nearly all of the technology previewed in the show is likely to remain relatively expensive until it goes into mass production to supply a demand, which currently does not exist because people a) aren’t sure what they want and b) don’t want to let go of what they are used to.