The year 2009, from the point of view of even the most far-sighted people of the 1950s, was impossibly, exotically distant. It looked like it would be a world of robot butlers, unlikely labour-saving devices and garage doors that would open automatically to admit the household's flying car. It didn't quite work out like that, apart from the garage door, but our houses would still probably amaze someone from 50 years ago, from the moment they glimpsed the iPod and the Asus netbook.
But to see further into the future, prototype buildings like the Living Tomorrow project give us a clue of what we can expect. Living Tomorrow is a concept house of the future in Brussels and everything from the "cocoon" bed which doubles as a den with TV and computer to the bathroom with its "smart" mirrors that remind residents to clean their teeth and take their vitamins, is cutting edge.
The house also boasts a kitchen designed by avant-garde architect Zaha Hadid. It features, among many other things, a digital whiteboard. Why bother with Post-It notes when you can have a touch-sensitive screen that has handwriting recognition built in? Instead of writing on paper you use the screen and write on that. The difference is that when you create a shopping list on-screen, it can convert it to a neatly typed page so that everyone can read it. The next step would be to use an internet connection to automatically order your list online from your favoured supermarket. The Living Tomorrow whiteboard also displays extra screens so you can monitor bills, messages and water consumption.
And it's not just concept constructions that are being kitted out with ingenious inventions. Designer Ben Rousseau (www.rousseau.co.uk) specialises in creating bespoke interiors. He says he has seen an increase in clients wanting hi-tech elements incorporated into their homes. "Because so much media is now digital, people are able to easily disguise technology and everything has become more simple and streamlined. One thing that people absolutely love is streaming." Rousseau has installed Crestron systems for a number of customers, which is a control hub that operates lighting, heating and sound. "Houses can be networked so that everything from the bedside lamps to the underfloor heating is controlled centrally." He believes that smart home technology is the shape of things to come. "Products are becoming more advanced but they're easier to use and analogue just doesn't cut it any more."
Companies such as LG and Electrolux obviously agree – both have launched fridges with LCD TV panels so you can leave notes for family members. Three years ago the Electrolux Screenfridge included a broadband connection and microphone and camcorder for video messages. The Screenfridge has a barcode scanner so when you put food into the fridge you can scan items and it takes note, so as to alert you to what's about to spoil.
Sony had its own house of the future on show last year, including a kitchen with a cool induction hob shaped for a wok. The De Dietrich induction hob heats water to steam in seconds while cooling efficiently and instantly when you remove the hob from the heat. Take the wok away and you can touch the hob immediately: it's safely cool again.
The house also featured the Hoverit floating lounger which hung in the air above its frame thanks to a series of powerful magnets, though this seemed cool rather than actually useful and, no, don't get your hopes up for those floating cars.
House-wide tech is also big business, with multi-room music increasingly popular and available now. The leaders here are Philips with its WACS7500 streaming music centre range, Sony's Giga Juke and Sonos with its luxury model, controllable by a remote control app you can download to your iPhone. All mean you can play music around the house, setting it so each room plays the same track, or every room different, or so that the music follows you around the house.
Isobel McKenzie-Price, editorial director of Ideal Home and Homes and Gardens magazine, agrees. "Two areas that we see dominating home over the next couple of years are wireless; whether that's streaming music all around the home (systems like the Phillips Streamium or Sonos system), or watching internet TV via wireless links to the main family screen. There's also a big interest in interactivity – drop-down kitchen TVs that allow you to cook along to TV chef shows and DVDs," she says. "Devices like the iPod are now so essential to everyday life that you'll see them being docked to TVs, and fridges. Everyone wants to be able to access their data, music, viewing in any room at any time, so we're likely to see a big increase in smaller devices that are just access ports to centralised storage."
Away from the homes of the future, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month showed what technology will be in our houses this year. As ever, televisions were the dominant product and CES showed how television is changing. LG displayed a TV with a motion sensor so that if it thought there was nobody in the room, it would turn off. Televisions are still not the wall-sized, wafer-thin panels we've been told to expect from sci-fi movies, but they're not far off. Samsung proudly showed its Luxia TV range, less than 1cm deep while Sony's thinnest model, a small prototype, was almost ten times thinner at 0.9mm.
Finally, Toshiba and Hitachi had gesture-controlled TVs, where waving at the screen turned it on. No good in a melodramatic household, but if you want to see one of these, you'll only have a couple of years to wait, though a remote control is arguably easier. But not every development is set to storm our homes. "One device I can't see catching on is the shower TV," says McKenzie-Price. "I think a woman's bathroom should be her sanctuary. But she might want some wirelessly streamed music in there. Along with her scented candles."Reuse content