Welcome iHome: The future has arrived with robots that cook and problem-solving TVs
The future has arrived with robots that cook and problem-solving TVs
Imagine that you've got a little robot that sits on the kitchen surface. It's about one foot high with a nice round screen, angled in such a way that it resembles a human face. The screen can rotate and tilt so that it follows you around the room. When you come in, the robot recognises you and greets you by name. It's friendly and polite.
When you talk to it, the robot understands not only the words, but the social context. It passes on your messages and reminds you of your appointments. It can order you a pizza, book your cinema ticket, make a video call, take photographs and tell animated stories to the kids.
It learns to tell the different members of the family apart, so that everyone gets the correct message at the right time. Because it's programmed to learn the dynamics of the family and the characters within it, the robot seems to develop a personality. It becomes something between an interactive device and a favourite family pet.
Or at least that's the hype. This robot doesn't actually exist as a product. Yet. It's called Jibo and is part a crowd-funded project that promises full public release in the summer 2016 (www.jibo.com).
The price point will be around €500. Although sceptics warn that Jibo is unlikely to deliver exactly as promised, it's safe to say that a tabletop robot that offers companionship as well as practical help isn't too far in the future.
It's all part of the movement to integrate design and technology into what has been dubbed the "connected home". "More and more aspects of the home are becoming connected - the fridge, the washing machine, the security system, the lighting - as those come together, they will be combined with artificially intelligent devices like Jibo. That's the next step," says Colin Baker of Back from the Future (www.backfromthefuture.ie).
But maybe the future is already here, as evidenced by the launch by Moley Robotics in the UK this week of the "Robot Kitchen". We're talking proper robot here - human-type metal arms on a unit which can recreate a Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay dish and cook it properly to order by observing and recording you doing it first and then imitating the job over and over. And it doesn't annoy you with shouting or fake eeza geeza comraderie. Moley hopes to have it in the shops within two years for ten grand.
Meanwhile, on a somewhat lesser scale of sci-fi enthrallment, but perhaps more likely to land in our kitchens, are the integration of design and technology at the core of the showhouse at the permanent tsb Ideal Homes Show, which runs this weekend, April 17-19, at the RDS, Simmonscourt (idealhome.ie).
All the technology is supplied by Harvey Norman (harveynorman.ie) and the interior design is by Angela Connolly (conbudesign.com), who finds that an increasing number of female clients are asking for designs that include technology.
"Sometimes they're coming up with products that I haven't even heard of," she says.
The connected home doesn't look geeky. WiFi-based technology is discrete or invisible and doesn't compromise the way an interior looks.
The connected home is not a gendered concept. Baking enthusiasts, both male and female, may well be interested in the Drop connected kitchen scales (€99). If you're making a cake that requires six eggs, but only have five, the scales can adjust the recipe.
The Samsung Robot Vacuum cleaner (€999) can be programmed to clean the house in your absence and seems less liable to get stuck under the sofa than previous models.
"The early ones were a bit random. They wandered around the room making a loud noise and not doing much. The new model maps out the floor and varies in aggression depending what surface it's on. It can lift itself over the edge of a rug or a saddle board and when it runs out of juice it goes back to its charger," Baker explains.
The showhouse includes a Sony 75in Smart Android TV that responds to voice commands. When you're watching a movie and arguing about how old Tom Cruise really is, you can just press a button on the remote and ask the question.
The TV connects to the internet and a speech bubble pops up on the screen with the answer (he's 52).
"Ten years ago, voice recognition software was very basic. Now it can work out the context of what you're saying as well as the actual words," says Baker. "The technology is designed for normal homes, not homes where you have some geek like me managing everything." The Sony 75in Smart Android TV costs a staggering €5,899.
Not all the devices in the showhouse are expensive. The Belkin WeMo app and Smart Plug (€49.99) is a simple plug-in device that connects to an app and enables you to turn any appliance on or off from anywhere in the world.
"I have an office at the back of the garden. It's very useful to be able to turn the heater on without having to go out into the cold," Baker explains. Very useful, too, when you're halfway to the airport and imagine you've left the iron on.
The Nest Learning Thermostat (€219) is a connected thermostat that manages every device in the home. Using motion sensors, it learns the movements and habits of the people who live there.
It finds out how quickly the house warms up, positions itself via geolocation just like a smartphone, and uses the internet to consult the weather forecast.
Once it knows your habits, it will create your own personalised heating schedule, saving an estimated 15 to 24pc on heating bills.
It can also connect with security systems such as the August Smart Lock which allows you to lock and unlock the door remotely and without using a key.
Hmm. I remember the episode where the Simpsons buy an automated upgrade for their home (Treehouse of Horror XXI). The 'Ultrahouse' falls in love with Marge and tries to kill Homer. He retaliates by launching an attack on the house's British Charm Unit. Marge can't quite bring herself to destroy the murderous but charming Ultrahouse, so she gives it to her sisters, Patty and Selma whose conversation drives it to suicide.
Of course there's no real reason to be suspicious of the connected home. Just watch out for anything that comes with a British Charm Unit.