The high-tech "home of tomorrow" long has been a staple of futurists and science-fiction writers.
Digital technology, so the thinking goes, one day will revolutionize the residence, turning it into a kind of electronic cottage filled with technological conveniences.
Over the past decade or so, we've seen some pieces of that vision become reality. Home computers, broadband connections, DVD players and audio CDs have indeed transformed entertainment and communications. There's surely more to come.
As we continue to plow through the early days of the 21st century, many other forms of home technology still seem like solutions in search of a problem.
Not that developers have been loafing. A recent tour of home automation and technology sites shows that the people who dream up home automation gizmos have been hard at work, inventing new technologies and updating the old.
They've got remote controls that allow you to raise the temperature in your Jacuzzi from the other end of the house. They've got systems that let you turn on the lights and heat in your house via cell phone as you drive into the neighborhood.
Remote digital cameras let you call up on your television a real-time look at who's ringing your doorbell. Other systems let you close the window shades, crank up the stereo and activate the alarm system from your armchair.
Then there's the world of home robotics. Newsweek recently featured the latest attempt at robotic vacuum cleaners. And the United Nations followed with a report suggesting that homeowners soon will use robots for many more household tasks.
Yet surprisingly, our technological advances have done little to make home automation a compelling consumer choice now. In fact, most home automation products seem expensive and, too often, just plain silly.
I mean, how hard is it to get up from the sofa and answer the doorbell? Why not just flip on the light switch with your finger? Is opening the window shades by remote control really easier than doing so by hand?
The truth is that "smart" houses aren't really that much smarter than the old-fashioned dumb ones. For all their processing power and advanced technology, automated homes as yet are no match for the ordinary human when it comes to running the household.
That's not a knock on the people trying to improve the home automation experience. Their efforts and insights one day may bear amazing fruit.
The most promising areas for home technology appear to be in management of heating, air conditioning and electricity. I'd love to be able to easily integrate my heating and cooling systems with my personal computer to get detailed records and sophisticated control.
I'd also like a better handle on what appliances are using electricity and when, so I could cut down on power consumption. Alas, the technology for sophisticated energy monitoring remains hard to come by.
So for now, at least, the high-tech "home of tomorrow" remains just that.
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