Today, almost everything in the industrialized world we can cook in a dinner in minutes, with a microwave; or schedule a washing machine to wash and dry our clothes; or use a dishwasher so the dishes are not clean. Just 150 years ago there were almost no devices that helped us in our tasks.
Without gas or electricity, domestic chores had to be done by hand, and it took a long time. To wash clothes, you had to cut wood, light a fire to heat water, scrub and wash clothes by hand. Every day of the week he used to dedicate himself to a specific task, such as washing, ironing, baking or cleaning the house. Most tasks required more physical effort and left little time for other activities.
The arrival of electricity in homes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, led to the creation of many household appliances designed to make life easier, from the toaster to the washing machine. Electric motors of small size and high speed allowed the development of washing machines, refrigerators and light vacuum cleaners. Not only domestic work lightened, but also households gained cleanliness and hygiene.
In the second half of the 20th century, new technologies continued to influence the home: The magnetron, a vacuum tube used in radar systems, allowed the development of the microwave oven. By the end of the century, many household appliances, including ovens and dishwashers, had timers and programming devices controlled by microprocessors. The food could be prepared quickly and easily. Many tasks could be done automatically and simultaneously, with just one or two buttons.
Our way of life has been totally altered by household appliances. The time that was needed for housework has been drastically reduced and our leisure time has increased. However, this has a cost. Much of the electricity that feeds our appliances comes from the burning of oil, coal or gas. Burning these fuels releases gases into the atmosphere, which are responsible for climate change, one of the threats facing our planet today.
One way to reduce electricity consumption is to make our homes and appliances more efficient: if washing machines use less water and houses effectively conserve heat, we will reduce the amount of energy we use. Technologies that encourage the use of alternative energies, such as solar cells and wind turbines, are also being developed. A clean energy and lower consumption can be the key to the future of our planet.
“Tasks that used to require a lot of time and effort today can be done at the touch of a button”.
In a few years, we may be wearing clothes with computers, communication devices and integrated heating systems. New synthetic fibers and new ways to combine traditional fabrics with high-tech materials, such as airgel, lighten clothes, make our bodies more easily and easier to clean.
The development of new materials will greatly affect our homes. Walls and windows will use airgel insulation, a very light and fireproof material. We will need less energy to warm up, which will reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. Perhaps millions of households use solar panels to collect energy; panels manufactured with a film sensitive to infrared light, which can be applied on any surface and which would convert solar energy into electricity even on cloudy days.
A new science, biomimicry, observes nature in search of solutions for human problems. After 3,800 million years of evolution, nature has designed some very ingenious and effective solutions. Architects, designers and engineers are inspired by biomimetics, which could lead to the development of new technologies. For example, walls could be created that mimic the surface of the lotus leaves, which would be cleaned with rainwater, instead of getting dirty. The colors of objects such as vehicles, clothes or walls of houses, could change according to the intensity of natural light reflected, like the feathers of a peacock in the light. And perhaps the adhesive tape would mimic the hair of a salamanquesa paw, which produces static electricity to facilitate its adhesion to the walls.
Our homes will respond to our needs. Almost all appliances or other objects can be made “smarter” by providing them with sensors and microchips. These tiny devices will be found in all the rooms, working without being seen. It is what is called “ubiquitous computing”. The washing machines will know if they have a fault or you have to change them some piece and they will contact the technician, with a complete report. The bathroom cabinets could warn us that a medication is running out; the refrigerators would make the orders to the supermarket alone. Smart homes could help even the elderly and the sick: sleep sensors, for example, could detect if they have fallen and warn an emergency service or a family member.
At the end of this century we could make many of the articles we use daily at home. Copier machines, which are already being developed, will “print” pieces made of resin, according to instructions stored on a computer. Later, we would assemble the pieces to create furniture, kitchen utensils, plates or cups, and even other copying machines. These machines would have an affordable price or would be available to the majority, in the same way that computers have become popular today.