Note: This post is cross-posted from TheGoodHome.org
While in Milan to bring The Good Home to Fuori Salone, we tried to find some time to see what else is happening around connected homes. Turns out, a lot and not a lot at the same time.
Let me explain.
Every major exhibitor (kitchen manufacturers, etc.) has smart appliances of course – fridges, ovens, you name it. Also, smart lighting. Overall, a lot of home automation. Which is in the brief window of “kinda exciting” before, I suspect, going straight into banal in a very, very short time.
Going through the motions
But for all the novelty, overall it feels a bit like the big companies are merely going throught the motions. As if they’re ticking boxes off their bucket list: Smart light, check. Connected fridge, check.
I expect there’s a lot more interesting stuff coming up in a second wave of smart home products. For now, it seems there’s a lot of engineering and design power thrown at fairly minor problems.
At a (somewhat sterile, but very well done) corporate smart home exhibit in Puorta Nuova for example there was a touchscreen-equipped oven. When you pull up a recipe it can check in with the fridge to see if you have all the ingredients stocked. Interesting and convenient? Sure! Could I imagine using it? Maybe. Is it revolutionary? Hardly.
Smart homes crash
More importantly, at this same exhibit plenty of the exhibits wouldn’t work. They had crashed in the way that exhibits at fairs have always crashed. Only here it seems like it might not be a fair-specific issue but one with the whole category of product: If it’s connected, if it runs on a computer, it can and will crash. If the thing that crashes is an essential thing of our home, it sucks.
When we think of infrastructure in the context of connectedness, security, and reliability we tend to think of “high risk” infrastructure: dams, power plants, public transport. This is the kind of connected infrastructure that gets a lot of attention in terms of security and quality assurance.
In the consumer space safety, security, and reliability is a different story with different (worse!) financial incentives to put as much effort into failsafes. Who’d pay twice the price for their kitchen appliance on the basis of security features after all?
However, I expect we’ll see a rethinking of that space. As we see more and more failures, as you hear of friends who can’t eat dinner because of a failed software upgrade or your fridge mis-orders food from Amazon or your heating will switch off in mid-winter because your wifi router goes down, we’ll start rethinking what infrastructure means in the home. After all, for decades we just assumed the appliances in our homes worked no matter what, because usually they did. (The occasional power outage is the exception that proves the rule. I still vividly remember a Christmas dinner during a storm-related power outage that we prepared in the fireplace – we were lucky we had one at the time!)
For now my impression is that the connected home is still in its infancy. This also means it’s a great time for our contribution through The Good Home. There’s much to be gained, many ideas to explored.
Data Domestication. Data Domestication uses the metaphor of pets to explore environmental sensors in the domestic environment. For example, the Air-quality Birdcage takes inspiration on how canaries were used as measuring systems for air quality in the past.
Home Totem. The Home Totem physically represents the owner’s privacy and sharing preferences within their home. Think dietary requirements, energy consumption profiles, records of former home ownership and the like.
Internet Adhesives. Internet Adhesives explores how to append the internet to everyday objects. This project argues that people shouldn’t have to buy a new object in order to get it talking with the web. It also argues that being able to open and modify an object is an important part of owning it.
Privacy Dimmer. The privacy dimmer can be regulated so that privacy in the connected home is controlled across a spectrum instead of just on/off. It consists of a set of two objects: a dimmer installed in the room, and a keyfob.
Recipes. Turn everyday objects into ingredients that you can use in recipes to control interactions in your home. Each visitor explores the kinds of objects they would want to be connected in their home and designs the interactions that they want–on their terms.
Home Sweet. Home Sweet sketches how we bring our own data to a home’s data and what kind of data service that could create. A new inhabitant could learn the history of the building, pending issues, and any local information that they may want to be aware of as they join a new neighbourhood.
Trickle. Trickle looks at how we might use motion and moveable home structures to interact differently with water. It enables us to make explicit decisions to throw water away or reuse it through a simple filtration unit.
You can find photos for all project in our The Good Home Fuori Salone album on Flickr.
At this year’s Mozfest, Alexandra (designswarm) and I teamed up and, with support from the excellent Marcel & Harm (The Incredible Machine) joined the BBC R&D Homelab with #homelabkitchen, creating our own kitchen area at Mozfest’s Global Village. I was wearing the ThingsCon hat mostly, whereas Marcel & Harm focused on the IoT Manifesto and how to apply the insights to the kitchen in particular.
We set it up as a series of workshops to explore questions around domesticity, gender roles, and overall needs around a 21st century home and kitchen.
We also used the occasion to launch thegoodhome.org, where we’ll continue to explore these quesitions.
Below, some impressions from day 1.