A Brief History of Smart Homes

You’ve seen the Jetsons, but do you know the history of the smart home? Let’s take a journey back to the first appliances to start our story. They may be a far cry from home automation, as we know it, but certainly these time-saving devices were the tangible beginning to automating tasks around the home.

Picture 1901, when cleaning the home and caring for the family consumes people the whole day through. The vacuum is invented, and, though not readily affordable to everyone, it was the beginning of a technological evolution in the home. Slowly came the clothes washer and dryer, refrigerator, toaster, iron, and more.

Picture of the layout of a Living Room

“Homes of Tomorrow”

Today when we talk about the homes of tomorrow, we talk about something like a next generation Nest or enhanced iPhone thermostat control. In 1933 they were talking about the Alpha the robot, which was a robot assistant on display at the Chicago World’s Fair. Ideas of robot assistants came up at other World’s Fairs after this, but, by 1950, the first truly “smart” home idea was introduced. This home was called Push Button Manor and was featured in Popular Mechanics. The home was created and lived in by Emil Mathias Jackson. In his home, many of the everyday chores could be completed by pushing a button. Some of these tasks were curtains that could be closed and a wind-powered coffee grinder. This invention, however, was not for sale to the public.

Disney and Monsanto Team Up for the Future

Just a mere seven years later, Disney and Monsanto had people talking about what houses would be like in 1986. It was on display at Disneyland from 1957 to 1967. This House of the Future, as it was called, featured a microwave and ultrasonic dishwasher. Almost everything had an adjustable height, and many things were made of easy to clean plastic materials. As it turns out, many of their predictions did ring true.

It Was All About the Kitchen

In 1969 they were thinking about kitchen computing, not about home video surveillance systems. The Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog offered a kitchen computer created by Honeywell that year. The kitchen computer was never actually sold, but the idea was a computer that could store recipes. Similarly, there was the ECHO IV, which could be considered the first smart device. Though it was never sold commercially, the ECHO could calculate shopping lists, turn appliances on and off, and control the temperature of the home.

Tech for Aging

While tech for aging, also known as gerontechnology, isn’t officially about smart homes, it still brings smart to the home. Much like home surveillance or lighting control, Life Alert made the home safer for an aging population.

Thermostat dial

The Age of Home Automation

The 1980s brought programmable thermostats and home computing. The American Association of House Builders adopted the term smart house in 1984. Movies began to portray our ideas of what this meant. Kissimmee Xanadu house was created by the architect Roy Mason had a series of “robot minds” to help you through your day. There was a computer for cooking, and one to monitor your health; a gardener, a weather reporter, and more. This project was envisioned for 1000 houses, but never made it past the one.

As we moved into the 1990s, electronic devices became smarter. The Walkman turned into the portable CD player, and then the mp3 player. Computers shrank, and mobile phones came into their own. Then, in 1999, Microsoft introduced their vision of the smart home. The home was powered by the Pocket PC and included everything from smart locks, lighting, and environmental controls, a CCTV home monitoring system, and even a barcode scanner to help create an online shopping list. By far, this vision was the first time a company had hit the mark on what the future would hold.

Looking to Tomorrow and Beyond

We’ve come such a long way from the engine powered vacuum. In today’s world we can monitor our home from anywhere. We can adjust the temperature of any room with our smart phone, or listen to our favorite radio station anywhere in the house. Lights, outlets, and electronics can be controlled remotely via the internet. We live in a future where we can protect our family from anywhere, be energy-efficient, and be comfortable with just one button. Tunnel Vision Technology isn’t just the future: it’s your future.

Picture of a man looking at his phone

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