At the very dawn of automation, systems were used mostly in office buildings and boardrooms. They performed building wide sweeps at the end of the day, turning off lights and setting back thermostats, and during board meetings they simplified the operation of A/V presentation systems. Once the execs got a taste of these conveniences, it wasn’t long before they started asking for similar systems for their homes. Hence, home automation was born.
Like automation, the following five technologies got their start in commercial environments, and while they haven’t hit full stride in the home yet, they’ll likely become increasingly popular amenities in the upcoming years. And like all new technologies, you can expect them to be expensive at first, but gradually drop in price as they take a firm foothold in the home.
1. Biometric Fingerprint Readers
Corporations use these to permit and restrict access onto the property, into buildings and inside certain rooms. The premise is simple: You press your finger to the reader, if it recognizes the imprint it unlocks the door; if not, it keeps the door locked. A lock like this could offer huge benefits to busy households, particularly those with latchkey children, by completely precluding the need for keys or to recall punch codes. Companies like Siedle USA offer residential biometric fingerprint readers in addition to a full line of commercial readers. We’ve seen these readers used to restrict access to wine cellars and other areas in the home.
2. Colored LED Lighting
You’ve seen colored lights in bars and nightclubs, now lighting designers and custom electronics (CE) professionals are starting to use them as a way to accentuate the architecture and design of a homes, as well as decorative elements in rec rooms, home theaters and outdoor entertainment areas. The Philips Hue LED bulb offers an affordable way to experiment with colored lighting, and higher-end fixtures with color-changing LED bulbs are available from Lutron. For even greater impact, CE pros can integrate commercial lighting systems with into home control systems so that the same commands that set up a home theater system can alter the intensity and color of the room lights, for example.
3. Smart Glass
Smart glass—the kind of window that turns from clear to opaque at the touch of a button—has been around for some time. But we’re starting to see more and more applications in the home, as people use smart glass in lieu of motorized window shades. And like everything electronic, it’s being integrated into control systems so that the same button on an iPad app that dims the lights and activates the music system can also frost the windows. There a variety of manufacturers, such as Smart Tint, Research Frontiers, and Sage Electrochromics, each with their own twist on the technology
4. Video Art
Again, here’s another effect that’s used mainly in nightclubs and bars today. Instead of mounting several flat-panel displays on a wall to present ballgames and other content, some establishments are using the flat-panels to display colorful images, essentially turning video walls into works of art. Although this application hasn’t taken off in the home, Planar, a manufacturer of flat-panel displays, offers Mosaic Architectural Video Walls, a product it believes will resonate with homeowners looking for a unique way to add decorative interest to a space.
5. Floor Lighting
If your walls are lit up in color, why not carry it through to the floors? Positioned squarely as a product for hotels and public buildings, illuminated carpet could eventually roll out into homes. Royal Philips and Desso, global leaders in lighting and carpets respectively—have joined forces to develop solutions that combine LED lighting with light transmissive carpet. Both companies say the product isn’t intended for residential use, but if past history of commercial tech gone resi is any indication, interior designers may in the future offer illuminated carpets as a flooring option.
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.