A couple of weeks ago, while visiting Microsoft HQ in Redmond, I got the chance to tour Microsoft’s Home of the Future. What an amazing experience!
Microsoft first built the Home of the Future in 1994 by Microsoft’s Research and Strategy Department, as a way to envision the future of technology 5-10 years from now. The home receives a significant refresh every two years, and every five years is completely rebuilt from the ground up. The home is closed to the public, but Microsoft employees and other IT celebrities like me J are able to spend time in the home, immersed in this vision of the future. The only ground rules are that the technology must have a possibility of becoming reality and affordable for an average homeowner within the next 10 years.
Headed towards the home, my expectation was to see integrated LCD displays all over the home – so you can imagine my surprise when I found NONE! Everything in the home was projection based, using Microsoft’s vision of a light-bulb form factor device that contains a projector, microphone and optical scanners (think Kinect). All over the house were screens that would turn on and off as needed, controllable by voice, by gestures, and by tags located in everything in your home.
These tags are similar in function to current RFID tags but quite different in technology. They will be ubiquitous – in appliances, food, clothing, and all other household goods. Imagine placing a mixing bowl and the bag of flour on your kitchen counter, and up pops a warning that you are out of chocolate chips. However, make a gesture and you will receive your favorite recipes that you can make with ingredients on-hand. At the grocery store and you can’t remember if you need cheese? Pull up a current inventory on your cell phone – although you’ll probably be shopping with a list the computer built for you based on your usage trends and desires. Not sure if your favorite shirt is clean or dirty or your sister “borrowed” it? You can find it with a click.
Health care will change significantly well. In the Microsoft home every resident wears a watch that logs your heart rate, temp, activity level and other basic info. This info is uploaded to your personal health file, along with diet information obtained from the kitchen! Your doctor can make recommendations based on your actual history, and the computer can help you stay on track (maybe it notes on your shopping list that instead of chocolate chip cookies you should be looking at apples)!
The teenager’s bedroom had different “themes” – you could redecorate your room every 5 minutes. Picture a morning mode, homework, party, etc. Facebook status changes appear on the wall, along with pictures, posters and artwork. Similarly, you can setup your dining room for a birthday party, or the entire house for Labor Day. One of the benefits of this projection based system is you can simply turn off all of the technology and unwind!
A few questions come straight to mind, the first one being “has anything in the Microsoft home come to fruition?” While many things certainly come about over the past 17 years, a clear example is digital picture frames. First conceptualized in a speech by Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s Chief Research & Strategy Officer, the team took apart a laptop and built one from scratch, and of course they are very popular today. “Has anything in the home turned out to be a dud?” Again many things have fallen by the wayside, but a clear example is the front door. The first Microsoft home was built with an eye scanner to identify users and unlock the door – but in this prototype environment, Microsoft found that most people didn’t want to have their eye scanned. It was simply an intrusive and somewhat scary proposition. Today the door lock uses a palm scanner.
My trip to the Microsoft Home of the Future was an exciting glimpse into the future! I can’t wait to see it again. If you would like more info, check out these links: