Imagine you’ve been transported back to the ‘60s. As President Kennedy’s voice plays from your radio, you tend a pot of soup on the stove. You wish you had a microwave, and your tiny freezer is frosted over. Despite those setbacks, you put dinner together pretty easily.
Imagine instead that your time machine takes you back 60 years further. The only media around is a newspaper, which you can’t read while you cook. Speaking of cooking, what’s the iron contraption where the oven should be? And where’s the fridge? You can’t even find the lights — your home doesn’t even have electricity.
Putting the Test to the Test
That thought experiment is economist Paul Krugman’s kitchen test. Despite the advance of AI and miniaturization of computers, Krugman suggests that technological change has slowed. The average American household, he claims, enjoyed less innovation in the last half-century than the one prior.
At first, Krugman’s argument seems plausible. While today’s household devices may be physically similar to their predecessors, however, they’re far different in an experiential sense. A connected coffee maker brews the same drink as a decades-old one, for instance, but only the contemporary version can greet the consumer with a cup when he gets out of bed.
But the story goes beyond smart coffee makers. The following startups are putting Krugman’s kitchen test to bed:
Remember the ‘90s, when homes had one online device? Despite its wired connection, the desktop computer took hours to load some webpages. And any time someone picked up the phone, the person surfing the internet had to restart the whole process when the call was over.
Imagine telling someone from the ‘90s that not only is the internet wireless, but it’s connected to every appliance, light bulb, and doorbell in the home. She’d be floored to learn that Plume’s service puts users in control of all of their devices while maintaining seamless connectivity. She probably wouldn’t believe that Plume helps parents control what kind of content their kids can access, self-optimizes devices’ Wi-Fi signal, and even helps keep IoT devices safe from hackers.
Until recently, scheduling your shades to close when you’re away from home meant calling a friend for a favor. Geofencing was a concept that nobody outside of the military had even heard of. Preparing a room to watch a movie was a matter of manually adjusting the lights and blinds.
Today, Lutron’s Caséta can tackle all that and more while you’re away. Caséta can be set to control the lights based on your location, such as turning them off as you leave for work in the morning. Shades can be set via voice controls to open in the morning and shut before dinner. The Caséta Advisor can even suggest dimmers and additional devices to maximize a home’s appeal.
Not that long ago, recycling was hard work. Aluminum and steel cans were recyclable almost everywhere, but what about plastic No. 5? What about a paper container with plastic seals? Unless you happened to have a friend at the waste management facility, you essentially had to guess whether or not something should be trashed or recycled.
Now, French startup Uzer’s Eugène simplifies and gamifies recycling. For an enormous range of products, Eugène scans barcodes, looks up local recycling options, and provides an assessment. European users even earn “Gen’s” for each product they scan, which they can redeem for Euros to cut down the cost of their next grocery bill.
How, before Awair, did you know when it was time to change your home’s air filters? You either started sneezing frequently or took a peek at them and decided they looked dirty. Neither method was scientific, and the first could be downright dangerous for individuals with respiratory disorders.
Not only does Await track dust, which is about all most home air filters actually catch, but it also keeps an eye on household humidity, carbon dioxide, and airborne chemicals. Through an associated app, it provides personalized suggestions to improve the quality of your home’s air. Nest, Alexa, and Google Home users can even connect their smart hub to Awair, which can trigger devices like fans and air conditioners if certain contaminants rise above acceptable levels.
Text-to-speech engines were next to useless before the 2010s, and wearable technology simply didn’t exist. Imagine, then, showing someone from 30 years ago a ring he could use to control almost any device in his home with hand gestures. He’d probably think it was stolen from a wizard.
In reality, it’d probably be a prototype from Talon. The smart ring can control everything from smartphones to virtual reality devices to connected coffeemakers. With a nine-axis motion sensor and natural feel, Talon is multifunctional and wearable all day. It can click a link with just a tap, while a wave of the hand works like a swipe with most devices.
Krugman may or may not have a smart home, but surely he can see the leap household tech has taken in the past 30 years alone. Always-on wireless internet is galaxies ahead of dial-up. Unless parents count, recycling advisors don’t even have an analogue from the ‘90s. In fact, just about the only thing today’s tech can’t do is predict what home life will be like in 2050.