Over the last three generations housework has changed from a full time job to an occasional chore. The 63 hours we used to spend each week on cleaning and washing is now just two hours per week for the average Brit.
These figures come from research conducted on behalf of LG Electronics for a campaign on the ‘Evolution of Domesticity’. As well as looking backwards the research looked to the future, asking people what technology they want to see in the home. I participated in the campaign, explaining to the media which of people’s desires were practical and which might remain science fiction.
For me those remaining hours of housework look pretty intractable. Barring the introduction of robot vacuum cleaners — number four on people’s wish list and something I think will be increasingly commonplace in the next few years — it is going to be hard to automate the remaining tasks. We will still need to load and unload the dishwasher and washing machine for example, however good those devices get.
Instead the next few years of evolution will be about reducing waste and improving quality of life in other ways.
Take for example the number item on the public’s wishlist: a fridge that can keep food fresh for longer. This sounds a little mundane but given that we waste around 20% of the food we buy, pretty sensible. Modern fridges have already advanced a long way, becoming quieter and lower maintenance; when did you last have to defrost a freezer compartment? But now companies like LG are adding features like vacuum compartments, minimising oxidisation and contaminants to enable foods to last even longer. Combine this with high efficiency pumps, more eco-friendly materials and improved insulation and you can see how new appliances can be shaped to save us money — and reduce environmental impact — in a number of ways.
In addition to this focus on efficiency, there will be one major addition to appliances in the next few years. Or more precisely three:
- Awareness: Devices will be equipped with more and more sensors so that can collect information about their environment.
- Intelligence: Devices will be increasingly smart so that they can make better decisions based on the data they collect.
- Connectivity: Devices will be able to communicate with us and each other in a number of ways.
The classic example of these features is the ‘internet fridge’ — a bit of a running cliché in technology circles when discussing the home of the future, but one that has become a reality in other parts of the world.
Sensors tell the fridge about the food it contains. Intelligence allows it to track when things are due to run out or go off. And an internet connection allows it to order replacements, alert you or add things to your shopping list.
This type of aware, connected intelligence could help you to use up food before it goes off, or make sure you never again have that moment where you make a brew only to find the milk has turned lumpy.
Vint Cerf, one of the contributors to the creation of the internet, has estimated that it now costs less than one pound to put a connected computer into an appliance. Expect to see more smart, aware and connected devices in your home over the next 20 years.