The Housing Chronicles Blog: Home of the Future -- at Disneyland

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Home of the Future -- at Disneyland

Back in 2000 I started a building industry-related Technology Task Force, and always thought that a great idea would be a living museum of home technology open to the public. It could demonstrate the benefits of technology and provide maps to new home communities which were embracing emerging technologies other than Cat 5 wiring and home theater systems. Of course back then the market for new homes was starting to rebound after years in the doldrums, and builders were more interested in volume than new technology. But I still thought it was a great idea!

Disneyland -- where I worked very hard one summer at the Carnation Cafe on Main Street in between my freshman and sophomore years of college (I was the clumsy guy who dropped dishes in between giving smart-ass answers to tourists and cleaning up partially digested meals usually donated by naseous children) -- also had a similar idea soon after it opened in the late 1950s, but its 'home of the future' -- which closed in 1967 -- was criticized as too sterile and cold, encased in a Jetsons-like plastic and not even remotely connected with how people really lived at the time.

Now Disney -- along with Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and the newly rechristened Taylor Morrison Homes -- will be offering an updated version of a futuristic home to visitors at Disneyland's Tomorrowland. But this time actors will demonstrate how technology can make life easier -- and instead of a plastic pod, this time the architecture will look much more familiar:

The 5,000-square-foot home, scheduled to open in May, will look like a suburban tract home outside. But inside it will feature hardware, software and touch-screen systems that could simplify everyday living.

Lights and thermostats will automatically adjust when people walk into a room. Closets will help pick out the right dress for a party. Countertops will be able to identify groceries set on them and make menu suggestions.

The $15 million Innoventions Dream Home is a collaboration of The Walt Disney Co., Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., software maker LifeWare and homebuilder Taylor Morrison.

Visitors will experience the look of tomorrow by watching Disney actors playing a family of four preparing for a trip to China...

The actors will be in a flurry of cooking, packing and picture-taking designed to emphasize cutting-edge features in the home's two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, dining room, study and back yard...

Much of the project will showcase a network that makes the house "smart" and follows family members from room to room — even adjusting artwork to preset personal preferences.

When a resident clicks a TV remote, for example, lights will dim, music will shut off and the shades will draw as the network realizes a movie is about to start.

The system will allow residents to transfer digital photos, videos and music among televisions and computers in different rooms at the click of a button. Other applications still in development could include touch-screen technology built into appliances, furniture and countertops, said Joe Belfiore, Microsoft's vice president for entertainment services.

In the kitchen, for example, touchpad software on the countertop would be able to identify groceries and produce recipes and meal suggestions. Similar programs could turn a desktop into a computer screen, allowing residents to load photos, music or e-mail onto a cell phone by placing it on the desk...

Microsoft has a similar hi-tech home on its campus, as well as one at Hewlett-Packard's headquarters, he said. Neither are open to the public, however, and Microsoft has struggled to find a way to excite consumers about upcoming products without retail stores.

"I don't think Microsoft wants to get directly into retail but it looks like these types of demonstrations are a way for it to get its brand in front of the public," he said. "It's an audience that's there to be entertained and specifically coming to see these kinds of things."

When it comes to aesthetics, designers decided to stray from the Jetsons-style House of the Future — an all-plastic cross design with four wing-shaped bays that appeared to float. The house was so tough that wrecking balls bounced off it when Disney ripped it down in 1967.

The new home will be made of wood and steel and finished in muted browns and beiges, said Sheryl Palmer, president and chief executive of Taylor Morrison in North America.

"The 1950s home didn't look like anything, anywhere. It was space-age and kind of cold," she said. "We didn't want the (new) home to intimidate the visitors. We want the house to be real accessible to our guests."

FINALLY, someone actually gets it! And Disneyland seems like a great place to start.

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