The kitchen and bathroom are still works in progress, as companies struggle to convince consumers there is a benefit to having a refrigerator that automatically orders milk when the carton is empty, or a bathroom that weighs you when you step out of the bath and scrolls diet suggestions on the mirror. Nevertheless, the ultimate goal for almost every room is to deliver what Dutch giant Philips Electronics calls “ambient intelligence.” As devices get smarter, they can identify and adapt to individual users in a household, potentially making suggestions on everything from what to eat to how to dress. “Think of it as the electronic equivalent of an English butler,” says Emile Aarts, vice-president and scientific program director at Philips Research Laboratories inEindhoven. Those concepts may seem pie-in-the-sky now, but many are being tested in corporate labs — and some are nearing commercialization.
Consider Philips’ Mirror TV, which was rushed from lab to market after a delirious reaction from human guinea pigs, who volunteer to hang out in the company’s HomeLab test facility inEindhoven. Installed in a bathroom or hung on a wall, Mirror TV seems just like a normal looking glass. But at the touch of a button, it becomes a flat-panel display that can show everything from traffic and weather reports to a two-minute cartoon that teaches small kids how to brush their teeth. Philips says hotels are already lining up to buy the magic mirror, which saves space while letting them show useful info to guests.