Building the House of Tomorrow

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By Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / Published by Dwell
Is the age of designing homes for connectivity finally here?

Today’s cars are technological marvels. They can be started remotely and use cameras in reverse—some even drive themselves. But when it comes to our homes, why do we still turn a metal key to get inside, exert ourselves to open windows, and walk to the door to see who’s there? The auto industry is just a software chip away from creating the KITT of our 1980s dreams. Meanwhile, the Jetsons are laughing at us from the Skypad Apartments. This inequality is about to change, however, thanks to something the automotive star of Knight Rider introduced us to: voice control.

"We think voice is the future—we believe it will fundamentally improve the way people interact with technology," says Daniel Rausch, VP of Smart Home at Amazon, whose Alexa voice assistant is a leader in home voice control. "It’s the simplest, most natural, and most convenient way to control the home." 

"Modern life can be chaotic, especially if you have kids or a demanding job," notes Stuart Lombard, president and CEO of Ecobee, a smart-home company whose new thermostat comes with Alexa voice service. "Technology can take away some of that friction." 

But all too often technology adds friction. "Customers struggle with the complexity of the smart home," says Rausch. "There are devices from many different makers, and it’s not always clear what works with what. Customers end up having multiple apps on their phones to control different devices. [Voice control] cuts through that complexity." But it is just one piece of the smart home puzzle that firms such as Apple, Amazon, and Google are racing to complete, putting voice assistants in smart speakers, like the HomePod, Echo, and Google Home. Their ultimate goal is to create the ecosystem through which you will manage your entire life. 

The best place to see this future in action is in new construction. "New construction really eliminates consumer frustration by considering technology as we build, so it all just works," says David Kaiserman, president of Lennar Ventures, a division of the nationwide homebuilder Lennar. In June, Lennar announced that it will begin selling new homes that are equipped with connected devices, supported by enterprise-grade, whole-home WiFi, and integrated with Alexa voice control. Rausch expects the partnership between Amazon and Lennar will "bring the smart home to thousands of people around the country." 

In May, Canada-based builder Brookfield Residential announced that connected lights, locks, and thermostats supported by Apple’s HomeKit will go into all its new Southern California homes. "[These] give you the ability to do things that could be game-changing," says Adrian Foley, COO of the builder’s California division. "Your home recognizes you when you pull up, it recognizes you when you say good morning, it will shut down at night." 

"We are on the precipice of a completely different way of living," says Kaiserman. "Once people see it, it will have a ripple effect into the general marketplace." This new way of living is a home controlled by advanced software systems, using machine learning and artificial intelligence. Voice assistants will no longer live in cylindrical speakers, but in thermostats, light switches, and smoke alarms. "We envision a home where you speak to lots of things," says Rausch. 

As intuitive and useful as voice control is today, it’s just the gateway to the new smart home. "The future connected home is one that responds to your habits and behaviors and gives you guidance and knowledge," says Foley. He sees the home as evolving in the same way the car has, becoming completely computerized. "I fully expect us to be able to walk up to a house, plug in a dongle, get a diagnostic report, and be able to fix it." 

Or, in other words, one day your home’s intelligence may rival KITT’s. One day your house may be able to fix itself.