Skip to Main Content

Strategic Business Insights (SBI) logo

Connected Homes November 2015 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Kyle M. Whitman

Connected Furniture

By Frederick C. Dopfel
Dopfel is a consultant with expertise in early-stage technology commercialization and the Internet of Things.

Why is this topic significant?

Smart home technology may see use not only in electronics such as thermostats, door locks, and televisions, but also in furniture such as tables, beds, and chairs.

Description

One of the most compelling applications of network connectivity in the home is making "dumb" electronics "smart." However, the majority of possessions in a home are not electronic at all, yet could still provide substantial user benefits through the integration of smart features. Furniture, for example, has often been ignored as a potential host of "smarts" but may provide substantial user benefits from the integration of network-connected electronics.

Many companies are already exploring commercial applications of smart furniture. For example, Ikea sells end tables and lamps with pads for the wireless charging of smartphones. Future smart furnishings could easily integrate speakerphone functionality or notification displays.

Connected beds are also an area of activity. ReST makes a bed that changes firmness based on users' sleep position and weight. Eight is accepting preorders for a mattress cover that warms before users enter the bed; it also measures heart rate, breathing, and rest state, and even wakes the user in the morning near a light-sleep point. Both products record and share data with the user.

New technologies under development by Corning and Google may enable vastly improved user interfaces for connected furniture. Corning Fibrance is a light-diffusing fiber that is thin and highly flexible. The fiber glows when laser light is applied to an end, and can be woven into fabrics and leather. Corning demonstrated this technology on the detailing of car seats, giving the vehicle a science-fiction look similar to that of the Tron movies.

Google's Project Jacquard is an attempt to create touch-sensitive clothing. Resilient conductive threads sewn into a matrix pattern can serve as a touch interface on virtually any textile surface. Although Google is primarily interested in its applications for clothing, the technology may also find use in furniture. Likewise, the conductive thread-sensing elements that power heart-monitoring T-shirts such as those made by OMsignal and Athos may be adapted to beds and chairs to measure the heart rates of people using them.

Implications

Furniture is large, immobile, and bulky, providing flexibility in size and weight for embedded electronics. For example, smart furniture may connect to a wall through a power socket and use that power source to charge other devices. Alternatively, furniture may integrate large batteries that provide years or decades of use before recharging. The large size of furniture allows for large internal antennas, enabling better low-power or long-range wireless communication.

Impacts/Disruptions

Products manufactured with technologies under development could help transform homes into immersive smart spaces. For example, a smart couch might glow green to inform a household member of an incoming phone call. The user could swipe conductive threads in the arm of the couch, remotely triggering his smartphone—which is charging wirelessly on his bedroom nightstand—to accept the call, which then routes automatically through a speakerphone embedded in a reading lamp next to the user. Such interactions could seem effortless and fluid, all while key user-interface elements remain unobtrusive.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 10 Years to 15 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Smart textiles, low-power Bluetooth transceivers, flexible electronics, local-area wireless protocols

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Glanceable Interfaces

By Frederick C. Dopfel
Dopfel is a consultant with expertise in early-stage technology commercialization and the Internet of Things.

Why is this topic significant?

Glanceable interfaces can help home users maintain connectedness with a variety of data sources while freeing them from the necessity of carrying or interacting with devices.

Description

Thanks to smartphones, wearable computing devices, and ubiquitous mobile connectivity, many people now feel a need to remain "connected" at all times. Ironically, one context in which it is sometimes difficult to maintain constant connectedness is within the home. Despite the availability of fast wireless networks and other connectivity solutions to support mobile devices, users may often find themselves separated from those devices for various reasons while at home; for example, a user might need to recharge a smartwatch while at home or might not want to carry a smartphone from room to room while doing chores. Glanceable user interfaces can help such users maintain a sense of "connectedness" in such situations while requiring minimal or no deliberate interactions all while fitting in with a home's décor.

Ambient Devices, founded in 2001 out of MIT's Media Lab, builds connected devices that follow this philosophy, and has sold over a million units. Its first product, the ambient orb, is a frosted glass ball that glows different colors to display information such as traffic conditions, pollen levels, energy price scaling, or other user-selectable data.

More recently, other companies have explored creating devices with glanceable user interfaces. Start-up LaMetric sells the LaMetric Time, a $179 connected clock and "news ticker" that displays notifications to users. The device can connect to IFTTT and SmartThings services, enabling it to act as a notification hub for smart home devices and a variety of cloud services.

Although a ticker may be able to display substantial amounts of information at a glance, many users may prefer simpler interfaces, even if they display less data. For example, the Good Night Lamp, made by a start-up of the same name, is a pair of connected lamps manufactured in the shape of a home icon. The larger of the two lamps has an on/off button on the chimney that simultaneously turns both the large and the little lamp on or off anywhere in the world. The goal of the project is to convey simple one-bit information to family and friends around the world, such as "I am home." A set of connected lamps sells for £299.

Implications

Many glanceable interface devices are born out of private projects in which a designer creates an interface that he or she wants to use personally. For example, Tempescope is a glass prism that displays weather conditions in the form of artificial rain, clouds, lightning, and sunshine inside the prism. Tempescope started as a personal project, but after seeing positive feedback on the internet, the creator began fundraising through the crowdfunding site Indiegogo. Likewise, Cryoscope is a small artificial rock that changes its temperature to match the one reported from a user-selectable weather station. Crowdfunding services may emerge as an important source of creativity in glanceable home interface design.

Impacts/Disruptions

Glanceable user interfaces for connected home devices may enable a home of the future that is much more familiar than the touchscreen-lined rooms of science fiction. Connected devices may eventually come to be viewed as home décor, much like clocks today, and therefore a single product may come in many designs to match the style of a home.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

E-ink displays, web services, modular components

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: