I’ve been working with Hive on a project looking at the future of the smart home with particular regard to sustainability. This post forms part of that (paid) project.
Almost 100 years ago, Le Corbusier wrote about the house as a “machine for living in”. It sounds a little cold compared to the cosy visions we have of home. But his ideas of form separated from function continue to shape modern architecture. I wonder whether he would approve of the modern smart home? After all, here we are adding function to a long-established form. We are improving the machine for living in, in many ways.
Every home is getting smarter
The smart home concept has been around a long time. By adding sensors, switches, and computing power, we can make the home more efficient, luxurious, secure, and comfortable. It is only in the last decade though that the smart home has become truly accessible to most people. Before then, it was what I call ‘footballer tech’: only available to those with the disposable income to buy the hardware and pay an expert to do the installation. Today your plumber or electrician can install systems, and many items you can simply pick up and plug in. If you can use a smartphone, you can create a smart home.
The result is that adoption has rocketed. Hive alone has hardware in more than 1.9 million homes across the UK, whether that’s a smart thermostat, smart lights, alarm, or a collection of those devices all controlled by the same app. Over 70% of our survey respondents said they already have some form of smart home tech, and are controlling their homes remotely to give themselves warmth, light and security when they need them, and to ensure they’re not wasting energy when they don’t. But where do we go from here?
Smaller, cheaper, more accessible
My seven predictions for the future smart home are predicated on two simple ideas. First, that digital technology will continue to get smaller, cheaper, and more accessible. This is a safe bet since this pattern has been consistent for the last 60 years Even if we reach the limits of physics in improving our current range of technologies – and we are hitting the limits for silicon chips – there are other technologies on the horizon. As long as manufacturing can keep up with demand, prices will continue to fall.
Every time we make our computers more powerful, we tend to use a good chunk of that power to make them easier to use. Just look at how we communicate with computers today versus sixty years ago. We’ve gone from punched tape, to graphical interfaces, to touchscreens, and now voice control. What next? I suspect we will add even more intelligence into our homes to help them work on our behalf. Why use a voice command when your home just knows what you want?
The second principle behind my predictions is that we as humans love anything that strips the friction from our lives. Rewind three million years and our distant ancestors were already making tools, sharpening stones to make food preparation easier. Throughout human history we have defined each era by its technology – Stone Age, Bronze Age, Steam Age – because technology is so important to us. Because it makes our lives easier.
We will adopt more smart home technology if and when it makes life easier. That it also helps us fulfil our goals for more sustainable living is a huge bonus, and that is something 88% of us are striving for . But that alone is probably not enough. We want easier living so that we can focus our time, energy, and critically, money, on the people and things that are most important to us.
Communes and robots
The way we live, and work is changing, so any smart home must work in that context. We tend to be single until later in life now, sharing homes with friends or family, or increasingly living on build-to-rent campuses. These modern blocks offer smaller apartments with shared facilities for everything you might need: gym, cinema room, café, gardens, workspace. They’re one of the fastest growing types of home in the UK and around the world . And they are all built with integrated smart home technologies.
More and more of us are working remotely, or for ourselves, so workspace is becoming increasingly important. Either some space carved out in our home or shared and sustainable office space nearby. How do we carve out space in homes that are shrinking? The average living room has shrunk by a third since the 70s, so we’re not exactly spoiled for space. One idea is transformers: robotic furniture that can change function at the touch of a button. Kitchen tables become standing desks, shelves swing out into dividers, sofas roll away to free up floor space.
Robotic furniture will also take on more of the chores. We still spend over an hour a day washing and cleaning. Wardrobes that iron and fold are on the fringes right now, but I’m certainly ready for them to go mainstream and I don’t think I’m alone. We might see robots helping with the food too. Maybe not a robot chef just yet, but perhaps an automated hydroponics system to keep you in fresh salad veg.
EVs and virtual power plants
Powering all these robots in a sustainable fashion will fall to a combination of solar cells on the roof and battery storage in the basement – or in your car. With the deadline for the end of petrol and diesel sales approaching in 2030, I estimate perhaps a third of us will be driving electric vehicles by the end of the decade. Nearly two thirds of us have space for home charging . When they’re not on the move, EVs make great energy stores, turning your home into a ‘virtual power plant’, part of a new networked energy grid that can share power with the homes around you or with the rest of the nation.
Underpinned by this sustainable generation and storage, tomorrow’s smart home becomes a greener place to live. But also, an easier place to live, where the machine takes more of the strain.
My full set of predictions are as follows:
1. Smart tech will be the norm: “It’s not that long since smart homes were what I call “footballer tech”, confined to the elite. But in just a small space of time, this has entirely changed. Technology advances at an incredible pace, getting more powerful, cheaper, and most importantly, easier to use. As we continue to innovate, smart home products geared towards sustainability will become the norm in the home. The smart meter rollout continues. Every time people replace their thermostats, lightbulbs, or other home tech, they will find that the obvious options will increasingly be smart ones. By 2030, almost every UK home will have some form of smart tech.”
2. Semi-communal living will become increasingly popular: “As we look to prioritise sustainability, and people continue to live in shared accommodation well into their 30s, there will be a rise in semi-communal living: smaller private homes with a lot of shared spaces. With homes shrinking and more of us working remotely, this is a good model for a more sustainable future: modern, well-insulated and sustainably heated homes with access to amenities – including remote working spaces – all within walking distance.* Smart tech will play a key role in helping us to make the most of shared spaces, managing access, setting heat and lighting to our preferences, and ensuring security. As well as people sharing more spaces, we’ll also see a rise in micro grids, especially in new builds, where you can share energy within the community. This means energy can easily be transferred to different homes, instead of wasted.”
3. The home will take part in the future energy system: “More homes in the future will generate and store energy and will be rewarded for making their homes part of the energy grid. Around a million homes in the UK have solar photovoltaics today – and that number is growing. Though the percentage of individual households adding small (sub 4kw) solar installations is only increasing at about 3.6% per year, the next class of installation (4-10kw) seems to be growing much faster.** But it’s not just solar power that is set to increase, we’re also likely to see more and more people using other technology and taking part in the future energy system, be it smart water tanks, heat pumps, EV chargers and home batteries.”
4. 15-20% of the UK will continue to work from home: “Over 40% of the UK worked remotely in lockdown. This is likely to drop back to around 15-20% as we exit this period, but then start to climb again towards 2030. Our homes are poorly insulated compared to modern offices, so those choosing to remain at home, may look to make savings from commuting on retrofitting their home, better insulation, ventilation, and sound-proofing – all of which have added green benefits. Using one centralised app, such as the Hive app, we’ll see more people linking their devices together in one eco-system to better manage their heating and electricity bills. For example, ensuring lights only turn on when someone is in the room, or linking their smart thermostat such as Hive Active Heating to Hive radiator valves to have greater control over the heating in individual rooms.”***
5. Suburban office shares to take the load off the home: “With more of us working remotely, and a lot more freelance workers, suburban office shares will be in demand. Lockdown has seen couples and flatmates arguing over who gets the kitchen table and the biggest share of the broadband. With our smaller homes, people will be seeking out extra space – especially the 20% of the workforce I estimate might be self-employed by 2030. Users of these spaces will be looking for somewhere warm and light, but also somewhere with good sustainable characteristics.”
6. The electric vehicle revolution will be driven into force: “As we edge closer to new legislation banning diesel and petrol cars coming into play, the number of electric vehicles on the road is set to grow fast. Based on the typical replacement rate for cars in the UK, and the rapid growth of EV sales, I estimate around a third of all UK cars will be electric by 2030. Electric vehicle prices will continue to fall, and the technology will continue to improve. More brands will open up charging at home as part of a wider eco-system of smart tech, including Hive, adding convenience, and integrating energy storage into your smart home.” ****
7. One giant computer: robot furniture and cleaners “Computers are making their way into everything, turning the home into one giant computer – a true ‘machine designed for living’, as Corbusier would have called it. We’ll see more robot furniture that can transform at the touch of a button to make the best use of your living space. Robot wardrobes that press and fold your clothes. And smaller, sleeker, and cheaper robot mops and vacuums. Smart hydroponics systems, to give you a constant supply of salad veg will be more mainstream.”
To hear more about Hive’s eco-system of smart products visit: https://www.hivehome.com/