Toilets in the bathroom and intercoms on the front door were the innovations of yesterday. In future, our houses will be equipped with a degree of convenience that still seems like Science Fiction from todayâ€™s perspective. The computer system that experts say is destined to automate a vast array of very different functions goes by the name of bus. Even today, household appliances deploy a good deal of high-tech to save energy and make our lives easier. Central control will hugely increase that potential. Trend researchers and industry experts have no doubts that the bus will come. It might be a little late â€“ but it will definitely come. And its first stop will be the kitchen.
Itâ€™s 7:30 on a winterâ€™s morning. Itâ€™s still dark outside. The indirect lighting in the bedroom gradually comes on to the gentle sound of the Kings of Convenience. The bathroom has already been heated to a cosy 21Â° C, a tempting smell of freshly brewed coffee issues from the kitchen and the rolls are already baking in the oven.
And yet thereâ€™s nobody in the kitchen to make breakfast. Everything thatâ€™s happening is fully automated by the EIB system, the European Installation Bus, a control system for the home.
In public spaces, bus systems and control technology lost their foreign sound long ago. The lighting and heating in big building complexes are controlled by computer and even refrigerated counters in supermarkets report malfunctions straight to the maintenance service. But in private households itâ€™s still a very different story: Here the bus is not yet fully established and it will probably take another few years before the lighting, heating and blinds are controlled from one central site and saving energy becomes an experience. Then rooms will only be heated if there is somebody in them. Sensors on the roof and walls will measure brightness and temperature. If it gets too warm, the blinds will descend and protect the plants on the window sill. As dusk falls, the lights in the house will gradually come on with increasing intensity.
The kitchen will do the thinking for us
Perhaps surprisingly, it is the kitchen that has been chosen as the control centre and not the living room. It will become the focal point of domestic life. For there is far more to our bus journey than merely switching the appliances on and off: In future, kitchen technology will assist us with the cooking itself in whatever way it can. The hob, for instance, will set itself at the optimal temperature to ensure nothing burns and consume as little energy as possible. The oven and cooker will be programmed to make sure the roast is crisp on the outside and tender on the inside or that the steak is fried to perfection â€“ regardless of whether we prefer it medium or rare.
Some of the future scenarios even go so far as to do virtually all the kitchen-related thinking for us. Then it will no longer be we who decide whether or not the cheese and milk are still fit for consumption but the fridge, which makes its decision on the basis of a chip that tells it the best-before date. Hooked up to an automatic shopping system, our cooling live-in friend orders the frozen pizzas for us as soon as stocks drop below a certain level. The PC complete with touchscreen monitor hangs beneath the wall cabinets next to the cooker, giving us convenient access to recipes while weâ€™re cooking. By communicating with the refrigerator, it can not only put a meal together out of what weâ€™ve got in stock but provide the cooking instructions into the bargain.
The kitchen as cybercafÃ© and administrative headquarters
But the kitchen PC of the future wonâ€™t just be responsible for shopping and organising recipes. While weâ€™re enjoying a leisurely breakfast or just grabbing a quick coffee, we will be able to read our e-mails and check our appointments. Text messages or telephone calls will also be immediately redirected to the control centre. It will serve as a TV set and radio and manage our music collection â€“ with an iPod docking station and high-end sound thrown in for good measure. Even the lighting scenarios can be controlled from here in keeping with the occasion and time of day, as can the management of the entire house. Household appliances communicate with one another and make our work easier. The vacuum cleaner switches itself off when the phone rings, the television pauses the show weâ€™re watching when dinner is ready. Automatic load management ensures even power consumption spread throughout the day. And if you leave the house, a sensor in the keyhole monitors whether any electrical appliances need to be switched off. Malfunctions are immediately sent to your mobile phone.
Bus control makes many things easier â€“ especially for seniors and people with a certain disability. The intercom can be operated from the kitchen or the wall cupboards lowered at the push of a button. The modular concepts can be individually adapted to different needs and modified at any time. An automatic absence detector memorises the occupantsâ€™ normal living patterns. When they are away on holiday, it can be programmed to repeat the usual procedures: lighting sequences in various rooms and raised or lowered blinds simulate an occupied house.
The green kitchen communicates too
Lowering energy consumption and saving resources will also play an important role in the kitchen of the future. Here too, interaction between the various appliances can help. For despite the progressive and economical technology of todayâ€™s white goods, kitchen appliances still number amongst the main energy consumers in the household â€“ even though smart technology is already in place. Sensor technology, for instance, has found its way into the dishwasher. As well as the type and amount of dishes to be washed, the electronic eye can also detect how dirty the water is. The amount of water and power consumption are automatically regulated. The appliance switches itself off as soon as the dishes are clean and no longer runs the complete cycle.
Even today, the latest-generation appliances have flexible induction zones on which pots and pans can be pushed back and forth at will and the pot only has to cover a certain point on the hob rather than being placed on a ring. The industry is already investigating technologies that use sensors to measure the depth of water in the pan and keep it exactly at boiling point. And something that already works wonderfully on the roof of the house is to be transferred to the kitchen. The idea of using solar collectors to heat water for the dishwasher and washing machine is no longer wishful thinking and may well become reality in the near future. The amount of electricity that still comes out of the power socket can be gauged by means of the recently launched smart grid technology, which allows the user to see exactly how much energy he is using. Terminal devices that communicate with the power grid switch on automatically when the least expensive tariff kicks in.
Even so, we will probably continue to do the cooking ourselves whenever we happen to feel hungry and turn the heating on spontaneously when weâ€™re freezing. But even then, programmable little helpers can make our lives easier â€“ at the push of a button.
Itâ€™s 6 oâ€™clock on a winterâ€™s evening and work is finished for the day. Controlled via the mobile phone, the heating switches itself on, the bathwater starts running and the cooker sets to work. As you put your key in the lock, the lights switch to the preset scenario. The bus has arrived.