Stuff for the House

(Part of The Future: A Retrospective)


Computerized Home Decorating

Computerized Home Decorating
Odds 100%
Year 1990
Cost N/A

"It's called Design and Decorate, a computer system that will actually let you see 3-D pictures of what your room will look like with different furniture, colors, wallpaper, upholstery, and arrangements."

It's a CD-I! (A CD-I player is like a Playstation: a CD-ROM player with a custom computer built around it.) It uses DVI! Sounds complicated! But don't worry—you won't have to buy a $700/1991 home system "capable of storing the equivalent of 200,000 pages of text." No, you'll go to a home improvement store and use the program on their super-computers.

"Design and Decorate" is a maddeningly difficult name to search for, but it looks like the system models a room in some unknown amount of detail (but including furniture) and then renders it in a 3D environment with various textures and colors. Change stuff around and it re-renders. This 1997 document talks about D&D as though it were new. It was clearly used in a lot of demoes (dynamic re-rendering!), but as often happens I have no proof that anyone ever used it in a commercial setting to do interior design.

Videodisc Publishing, half of the team that wanted to bring you computerized home decorating, is out of business. Intel, the other half, is still around. I looked at a random 3D interior design software for Windows: it costs $45/2007 ($27/1989) on Amazon.


Round Refrigerator

Round Refrigerator
Odds 50%
Year 1997
Cost N/A

Another "kitchen of the future" piece, this one from Electrolux. It does look cool, and it doesn't try to totally reinvent the refrigerator, which is about all you can hope for. The door slides instead of opening on hinges, which saves space when the fridge is open. Killjoy that I am, I must point out that this makes it impossible to stick anything on the refrigerator door with magnets. As Donald Norman would say, it probably won an award.

"The refrigerator is currently shown for display purposes only." And that's the way it's going to stay. More recently, Electrolux introduced the Cyber Fridge. Honestly, if it's not cyber-one thing, it's cyber-another.


Microwave Clothes Dryer

Microwave Clothes Dryer
Odds 99%
Year 1991
Cost $300/1989 ($330/1991, $500/2007)

Micro Dry hopes to bring you a dryer that dries your clothes by bombarding it with microwaves, killing bacteria as it works. "Those first units will be portable and small (about the size of a microwave oven)." Hey, that gives me a great idea!

Not really sure what happened here. There are lots of patents relating to drying clothes with microwaves, which might explain it all by itself, or it might be that the idea isn't practical. Halfbakery has a discussion of the idea.

Micro-Dry, the name of the company that makes the dryer in Future Stuff, shows up on the web as a kind of tennis racket grip.


Solar Roofing Material

Solar Roofing Material
Odds 80%
Year 1995
Cost $8-$10/1989 ($10-$13/1993, $16-21/2007) per square foot

This is a flexible roofing material with photovoltaic properties. It's the brainchild of Dr. Heshmat Laaly, author of two books on roofing and waterproofing and holder of US Patent 4860509.

This is being sold now, but solar power has been sold for decades, and it's still not as cheap as Future Stuff predicts. Solar roof shingles seem to cost about $21/2007 per square foot, and solar roof laminate (similar to those described in FS costs about $30/2007 per square foot.


Refrigerator Cold Saver

Refrigerator Cold Saver
Odds 90%
Year 1991
Cost $15/1989 ($16/1991)

"You've seen them in supermarket freezers—those plastic strips you part to get to the ice cream." In 1991, they will come to your home refriegerator! And the company that will bring them to you? Miro Products of Riverside, IL.

I don't see any reason why this wouldn't have worked in 1991, but it wouldn't have lasted long. Even refrigerators at the supermarket don't have those vinyl strips anymore. You only see them at the doors to walk-in coolers and cold storage rooms. What happened? Maybe the energy savings weren't that great after all? I dunno. Cold storage rooms have their doors open more, what with people driving their forklifts in and out all the time. Vroom!


The Intelligent Toilet

The Intelligent Toilet
Odds 95%
Year 1992
Cost N/A

"The Orient only recently discovered the Western toilet, and—true to form—is already improving on it." Ookay then. The subject here is the Taiwanese Eletto toilet. The only information online I could find about it is this humor page, which covers some of the same features mentioned in Future Stuff to the extent I think both were copied from the same press release:

  1. Button-controlled seat lifting
  2. Seat warmer
  3. Tripping an infrared eye flushes the toilet
  4. UV rays sterilize the seat after you leave (and you, if you didn't actually leave).
  5. Button-activated deodorizer.

#3 is very common nowadays in institutional bathrooms, and you see #5 sometimes, as a feature of the bathroom. But I don't think there are any Asian-Western hybrid toilets in the US, except for a couple at Google HQ.


The More Intelligent Toilet

The More Intelligent Toilet
Odds 80%
Year 1992
Cost As much as $3,600/1989 ($4000/1992, $6000/2007)

In addition to the features of The Intelligent Toilet, TMIT has a bidet. Except Future Stuff explains what a bidet is. These toilets feature "a mechanical arm that appears underneath you after you have completed your business. The arm shoots up a stream of warm water, and follows it with a blast of dry air that can gust for sixty seconds at a time..." OK, I didn't know what a bidet was in 1989 either, but I was a little kid.

"Some of these automated geniuses even play gentle music!" Due to the loss of some obscure national innocence, we no longer refer to something that can play gentle music as an "automated genius."

I'd like to bring back the TOTO toilet company for this entry, because they sell a very cool product for the US market: special toilet seats with bidet, seat heater, etc. built in! No need to buy a whole toilet, then buy another one when you move. Cost: $700-1000/2007. Also a $130/2007 "Portable Washlet" for do-it-yourself bidet action (absolutely not to be used as a sex toy).

One feature not mentioned anywhere in Future Stuff's exhaustive coverage of toilets: "TOTO's SoftClose seat which eliminates annoying 'toilet seat slam'."

Reader Nick, who has considerable experience with toilets of high intelligence, writes in:

The button labels are always amusingly oblique: a picture of (or the kanji for) a woman for the bidet service that only she would need, and "FAMILY" next to the general-purpose bidet service:


Hand-Scanning Lock

Hand-Scanning Lock
Odds 50%
Year 1995
Cost $200/1989 ($250/1995, $330/2007)

"In the future, the front door will unlock automatically by reading your handprint with a digital scanner." Only if the front door is the front door to the chemical research lab, but yes, biometrics became pretty big business starting in the mid-90s. When corporations and governments want to show how little they value or how much they fear you, more and more often they say it with biometrics. Hand geometry turns out not to be as realiable as fingerprint or retina scanning, but there are commercial hand scanners on the market starting from $1000/2007. Finger scanners are a little cheaper.

David Kelley Designs, the company doing the hand scanner mentioned in Future Stuff, merged with another company in 1991 to form the product design company Ideo. I don't know what happend to Biometrics, Inc, the company DKD was working for. Its name is so generic, it could have turned into any of twenty companies, or gone out of business altogehter.

Tom Kelley of DKD sees the product deployed in "high-security offices and... banks," (for ATMs), but then in high-end housing developments. A little searching turned up a recent article about biometric ATMs in India. Also, "biometric" sounds like a made-up Star Trek word.


Privacy Windows

Privacy Windows
Odds 100%
Year 1990
Cost $125/1989 ($130/1990) per square foot

Invented by James Fergason, father of the LCD, these windows are made of two panels with a liquid crystal layer in between. Run electricity through them and the liquid crystal goes opaque. This invention won Fergason a Discover Award in 1992.

They're sometimes used in ambulances, but I can't find the glass for sale anywhere. Given the estimated price, that's not terribly surprising. It's a lot cheaper to make glass opaque (or one-way opaque) all the time. Matt Ruff used privacy windows in Sewer, Gas, and Electric, and mentions an interesting real-life use in his accompanying essay.


Window Shatter Protection

Window Shatter Protection
Odds 100%
Year 1990
Cost $5/1989 per square foot

Treat your windows with Profilon Plus and your windows will "withstand the blast of a hand grenade without shattering." Now it's just called Profilon, and its North American distributor is Security Technologies, not American Armatura. ST's web site says: "If you are reading this page you probably have already identified a concern relating to glass." Yeah, doesn't it... break?

The home-grade Profilon treatment is called "Glass Protect 8" but I can't find a price for it. The closest I can come is that it cost about $25,000/2002 to treat all the windows in the Thurston County Emergency Service Center. At this point I'm sick of reading about Profilon, so I give up.


Solar Windows

Solar Windows
Odds 90%
Year 1992
Cost N/A

Another one used in Sewer, Gas, and Electric. Developed by Sanyo Electric (not to be confused with Sanrio Electric), it's a solar panel with a bunch of holes in it. So many holes that light passes through it.

These exist, and so do alternatives that let visible light through while feeding on UV light, but I can't find pricing information. Even cooler than transparent solar panels is transparent solar panels that can also act as TV screens. In my role as the new future-predictor, I declare that by the year 2010 this stuff will cost only $0.50 a square foot! (Current price: $45/2004 per square foot.)


Expandable Home Steam Room

Expandable Home Steam Room
Odds 100%
Year 1990
Cost $1150/1989 ($1200/1990, $1900/2007)

Not entirely sure "Expandable" needs to be the first word there. Anyway, "the home steam room could be the Jacuzzi of the nineties." And this one's expandable "to accommodate up to eighteen people." From the looks of the design, I think the expansion happens as part of a home-improvement project, not as a ten-minute thing when a bunch of Finnish friends drop over for dinner.

As always when Future Stuff branches into trendcasting, the problem is less that an idea is unfeasible than that it just won't catch on. The Jacuzzi of the nineties turned out to be the Jacuzzi. You can get a home steam room today—in fact, you can turn your bath or shower into a steam room with a $1000/2007 ($600/1989) kit. But I'd never really had that idea until I read Future Stuff.

Calgym New York Fitness International, manufacturer of the expandable home steam room, seems to be out of business. But they judged their target market well: in 1989, they were selling EHSRs through old Future Stuff standby, Hammacher Schlemmer.


This document (source) is part of Crummy, the webspace of Leonard Richardson (contact information). It was last modified on Monday, March 31 2008, 00:26:30 Nowhere Standard Time and last built on Sunday, December 21 2014, 09:00:43 Nowhere Standard Time.

Crummy is © 1996-2014 Leonard Richardson. Unless otherwise noted, all text licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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