I am a gadget lover. I’ve spent too many dollars on such items as a novelty old-typewriter keyboard for my iPad (Google qwerkywriter), a frightening number of digital music players over the years (“Now able to store 12 songs!” turning into “Now able to store 50,000 songs!”) and all kinds of memory-stick innovations.
So it follows that my house should be only a step or two short of The Jetsons’ place, or maybe the spacecraft run by the cantankerous Hal 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But it’s not, because, to be honest, a lot of the time even a gadget-freak like myself has to pose the one damning question: “Why exactly would I need to be able to talk to a device?”
Talk to my fridge
I have friends, so do I need to be on conversational terms with my refrigerator? I am old enough not to need to tell my mother where I am, so why does my house need to know, albeit via a nifty smartphone app, that I’m within five kilometres? Am I ready to embrace the concept of my toilet using e-water (Toto’s revolutionary antibacterial electrolysed water), possibly with accompanying UV radiation and incorporating zirconium, post flush? And is it just possible that houseguests might be uncomfortable with my impressive internal ‘security’ system, a series of extremely discreet HD cameras (packed with infrared and night vision in case the action is after hours) uploading video of every movement in the house to the Cloud, for me to play back later? In the wrong hands, that sounds slightly creepy.
Welcome to new world of technology
Welcome to the new world, loaded with incredible technology but also questions. A place where houses must be connected and the most basic appliance can no longer just quietly go about its business.
I have a vision of crazy-haired scientists in white coats in mysterious laboratories, maybe outside of Zurich, standing with furrowed brows, stroking chins with hands and muttering: “Cushions? How do we wifi cushions?”
The fact is, some of the emerging connected house science is astonishing and will change the way we live, can make your home much more environmentally friendly and save you money. Connected lightbulbs, such as the LIFX (which has its own Twitter account, of course) or the Philips Hue, take the humble globe way beyond ‘off’ or ‘on’. Suddenly you can shift a room’s lighting in colour, brightness and mood, driven by an app.
Full house strategy
Even better, a home-wide system such as Nest can connect all the lightbulbs for a full house strategy, while also nonchalantly hooking up with your Kwikset Kevo, a Bluetooth-enabled door lock that can be opened or shut with the touch of a finger if you’re carrying the lock’s accompanying fob. Leaving the house and locking the front door can auto-instruct Nest to switch the home from warm and bright mode into power-saving, energy-saving cooler ‘away’ mode. That is undeniably useful.
The key is to sort the viable, affordable and necessary from the technologies that, well, aren’t.
One man, Brendan Condon, is the master of finding the good tech and then crafting it into a genuine world of tomorrow.
Build the world you want to see
Brendan spent his formative years getting into trouble with the law for protesting for the survival of the Franklin River and other environmental causes, before he had a (non-connected) lightbulb moment. He decided that if he could create environmentally better, smarter, and cheaper ways to do things, the old ways would become obsolete. “I thought to myself, ‘Let’s get off my soapbox and show what can be done’,” he says. “You’ve got to start building the world you want to see.”
And so we find ourselves on the coast at Cape Paterson, just past Phillip Island and, with delicious irony, only several hundred metres from the state’s first coal mine.
Cape Paterson housing development
The Cape housing development is Brendan’s ultimate retort to the old-energy industries. On a parcel of land with direct access to a beach, without a road separating homes from the sand, Brendan and his partners have begun building the ultimate green development. For a cheaper purchase and construction price than many standard houses, The Cape’s properties will be fossil fuel-free, feature net-zero carbon output, have an annual utility bill roughly 85 per cent cheaper than a ‘normal house’ and feature environmental and sustainable technology from foundations to ceiling, from solar panels to rainwater tanks to seven-star air-conditioning units to electric car power-ports in the garage. Glazing, orientation, installation methods, LED lighting, sustainable timber, water-efficient taps, high-performance kitchens: everything plays a role. Fibre optic cabling ensures the NBN speed makes it all the way into the house.
The development includes a huge communal garden, allowing The Cape’s residents to grow much more than a token amount of vegetables and herbs.
“It’s taken us 12 years to get to this point, but there’s an upside to the fact it took so long to get council approvals for the estate,” Brendan Condon says. “In that time, the cost of solar panels has dropped 80-90 per cent, their efficiency has jumped 50%, mass production of environmentally sound housing systems has driven down costs, and meanwhile gas prices are up 50 per cent and the cost of electricity has doubled. Ten years ago, to create these houses, we would have had to subsidise them, but now they are ultra-high-performance and at a lower cost than a ‘normal house’.
“There has been a ‘ships in the night’ moment. In 20 years’ time, when others are paying $8000 a year difference in running costs, the resale on our houses will be even better.”
The Cape is harnessing so much that's exciting about connected houses and making it seem essential rather than optional or a cute smartphone accessory. Brendan remains adamant that the technologies will just get smarter and cheaper, even though they’re already cheaper than traditional methods, and so his development should become less remarkable as other developers follow.
He estimates that within a decade electric cars will be an everyday reality, having smashed through the barriers of initial expense and limited range, and it goes without saying that, by then, as you drive your electric car to your wifi-enabled garage, you will have already voice-activated your kitchen’s Smarter Coffee Maker to have your brew ready the moment you finger-touch your way through the door.
All that will be left is to say hello to your stove, fridge, mop, sink, TV and partner, before grabbing your smartphone one more time to adjust the heating, tweak the lighting and take an Instagram photo of your cat riding around the e-loungeroom on the Roomba vacuum robot.
Has the future ever looked so bright?
Published in RoyalAuto Aug 2016
How the internet of things will change your life
The totally connected community, joined through the Internet of Things, billions of things from embedded sensors in human bodies to cars, clothing, biometric security screens, microwaves, TVs, and even your dog, all talking digitally to each other, is arriving. Everything is going to change, not in a torrent, but soon and steadily. And, just as we embraced the smartphone and the tablet so will we be joined at our collective, connected hip by technology in the home, the community, the nation and the world.
Five ways our lives will be changed
1. With wearable devices – watches, devices embedded like pacemakers, and biometric sensors on walls and in furniture able to recognise eyes, fingerprints, voices and even heartbeats – homes will know who is there and whether the body in the room is you, your family or an intruder. If it’s burglars the house will alert police or security and using facial recognition even identify them to police.
2. Smart devices in the home, connected via the Internet of Things to huge data centres, will monitor your health, manage your diet, measure your stress and sleep patterns and alert healthcare agencies to any dangers. They could even, linking with a smart toilet, check your urine or your stool; no more embarrassing little package to take to the doctor.
3. The connected home will collect and distribute data on water and energy usage, generation of waste, traffic, noise and all the other factors impacting daily life; even tell your doctor if you are taking the pills regularly.
4. By 2025 or so autonomous cars will be common, travelling under automatic control on dedicated lanes in “platoons” at 120 kph or more. Your house system will wake you, prepare a breakfast, download the news to your tablet, remind you of your schedule, and ensure the autonomous car previously booked to take you to your meeting is on the way and knows where to take you.
5. The smart phone and its apps will be all-powerful. Working with the house’s central monitoring system, it will know if you failed to lock doors or windows, have left lights or appliances on and, having warned you, will be able to put things to rights remotely.