When I began to explore the world of home automation and integrated electronics back in the 1990’s, “futureproofing” was a term that was heard from everyone in the industry.
It was before the Internet became fast and ubiquitous, glowing from everyone’s palm.
Wi-Fi was in its infancy. Bluetooth was still in the labs, and home automation systems were run by dedicated computers in the basement, controlled by touch panels installed in the wall. Voice control was coming along but only if the device was trained to recognize a particular voice.
To pre-wire a home in the world of analog electronics, thick cables containing several smaller cables would be strung through the structure and brought back to a central hub where a tangle was sorted, cut, labelled and connected to a hub. Lighting systems had low voltage cables fed to customized keypads located where the light switch would normally be to convey commands for preset scenes and individual lights. A lot of new technologies were about to be introduced to the market. Proprietary technologies competed for supremacy and it wasn’t easy to predict the future.
Everyone knew big changes were coming but no one could be sure what form they would take or when they would arrive. Futureproofing meant installing a system today that would still be useful in the decades to come, hopefully for the life of the home. It was particularly important at the prewiring stage because the change from analog (voltage variations) to digital (computer data) was just beginning to crest the horizon.
Someday everything might be digital and that would mean a home system of any kind, whether for security, entertainment or automation, would be processing and transporting a lot of computer data.
We had to try to anticipate the changes and make sure what we installed could handle them. That was futureproofing.
Now the future has clearly arrived. Everything is digital, allowing more information to be sent faster and in a smaller wire – or even wirelessly.
Wireless communication has become so sophisticated and secure that it makes a mockery of the hours we used to spend trying to make sure that we pre-wired for all the cables we’d be likely to need in the future. Analytic intelligence imbedded in everyday objects, like doorknobs and garage door openers, can take advantage of efficient wireless transmission to connect with the Internet and communicate directly to the phone in our hand. Voice control is not only flexible enough to interpret most voices, it can link directly to streaming music, TV tuners, search engines and phone lines to do almost any bidding without lifting a finger.
The challenge of futureproofing was mainly in surviving the transition from analog to digital and, along the way, the miniaturization of computer power and reliability of wireless communication. That transition is completed now. The only analog devices still in use are legacy components, like turntables, tube amps and VCR’s. These still have value to many people and so the challenge now, much smaller in scale, is past-proofing.
But there is a new “futureproofing” now to consider. It is how the home will work for the future of the homeowners, how it can enhance their independence as they age happily at home.
As I have adapted my business to serve regular everyday people rather than early adopter millionaires, I’ve continued to develop my ideas about what makes an ideal home. Before I ventured into electronics I spent a couple of decades working as an insurance restoration contractor, repairing property damage. It was that experience that led me to a deep appreciation of how personal and central home is to each of us. It led me to an interest in electronic devices for the home that could be used for more than just entertainment. I could appreciate how electronic enhancements could make a home respond precisely to the lifestyle needs of the resident.
Working here in Georgian Bay I’ve seen people who have successfully retired to a beautiful home, having overcome life’s obstacles except for the one that remains to every successful person: growing old.
A successful home for retirement should in every way be able to allow for the challenges of aging in order to provide a lifestyle support that can change as the years pass.
There are a lot of things that go into making a home someplace that a person can grow old in, not all of them electronic. You want rooms with space to move around and things to hang on to, rooms that are well-lit, with a lot of natural light. A home to age in should be easily maintained and easily navigated, safe and accessible, where comfort and convenience live alongside treasured memories and friends.
Because people are living longer and remaining active, a lot of research is going into aspects of aging to determine what’s required for a supportive environment. Much of this research is applied to institutional residences and now it’s being adapted to develop safe and happy ways for people to live out their lives in their own homes.
Making a home, whatever the age of the present residents, a place in which someone could live comfortably and safely to an advanced age is the new “futureproofing”.
I know electronics can play a big part in it. It’s easy to imagine how a self-monitoring smart home would be safer and more convenient, and how accurate and universal voice control would be a boon to someone with stiff fingers and blurry eyesight. Electronics personal monitoring can be applied either to a personal emergency alarm or to a hub that generates medical updates and sends them directly to the doctor’s office. A video doorbell or remote controlled window coverings and lighting would be a boon to someone who doesn’t get around as fast as they used to. The enhanced security and economy that comes with a smart home would benefit someone even more as they grow older. And there’s more.
There is a place for electronics in providing some of the benefits that science is discovering in the area of “wellness”.
The rising interest in “biophilia” is based on research that indicates our mind, body and spirit thrives much better in a natural setting. We relax and brighten up. The health effects, from improved heart rate to a therapeutic effect on dementia, are so embedded in our DNA that we can gain benefits from imitations of nature when the real thing is not available. Today’s entertainment systems capable of ultra high-definition video and totally immersive audio can do a pretty good job of imitating nature. Tuning in to a high-def video of a forest stream can bring the health benefits of biophilia indoors.
Today’s smart light bulbs can change hue so they can be programmed to imitate the circadian cycle of how the light changes naturally in the course of the day.
Even if we don’t notice it, our bodies do and it improves both our energy through the day and our sleep at night.
Dedicated cameras can provide a video link, operable by a voice command, for an instant connection between aging parents and their concerned children or caregivers.
The evolution of smart home electronics and high-speed Internet communication has opened up the possibility of living in a home which is so safe and self-regulated that it can protect us as we grow older and give us the freedom to make the most of every day that remains to us, living happily in our own home. Anticipating how our needs and preferences will change as we get older and allowing for a home that will support those changes is now the essence of futureproofing.
Most of us will live longer than our parents did and we will each age in a unique way. We can anticipate that our eyesight and hearing will diminish, we will get more forgetful, we will move around more slowly. Everybody does. Anticipating the challenges of the coming years by building aging-in-place into the design and construction of a home not only future-proofs it, it makes a safer, more comfortable and economical home to raise children in.