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Home as machine for living

Earlier this week I wrote a post talking about how maybe developers need to position their homes as more of a “product”. After that post, somebody asked me about my thoughts on home automation and how I thought technology was going to creep into the home.

Then today, I came across this networked washing machine prototype from the folks over at Berg. If you can’t see the video below, click here.

Just like Nest, this is the start of taking really unsexy home devices—thermostats, smoke alarms and washing machines—and making them sexy and networked. The “internet of things” is a trend that I think we’ll definitely see a lot more of.

Because more broadly speaking, our homes today are actually really dumb machines. Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier used to refer to the home as a “machine for living”, but the thermostat is really the only adaptive device most people have in their homes. And it’s not even very good.

When the temperature drops, most homes have one sensor (the thermostat) to tell the mechanical equipment that it should flip on the heat. It could be incredibly hot upstairs or in another room, but your home has no understanding of that. The decision is binary: heat on or heat off.

There’s a lot more we could do.

Zoned heating and cooling is an obvious solution, but I’m also imagining buildings that physically adapt and change to their environment. Designing buildings for climates like Toronto’s—where we have both extreme heat and cold—is incredibly challenging, particularly because our buildings are so static (other than operable windows in most cases).

So while I do think that networked devices are great progress, I also think that we need to be looking at the bigger picture. Let’s think about the actual architecture of our homes and how we can truly make them responsive machines for living.

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