Voice-activated music. Touch-screen powered appliances. An omnipotent, but friendly, virtual assistant providing homework help.
When “Smart House” debuted on the Disney Channel in 1999, its portrayal of a family living in a home powered by artificial intelligence seemed far-fetched. Watching it 20 years later, it’s a surprisingly prophetic portrayal of the way technology has become fully integrated into our daily lives.
In case you missed this made-for-TV masterpiece, the plot is simple: A family wins a home featuring an artificial intelligence (AI) system named P.A.T. (Personal Applied Technology). P.A.T. is programmed to take care of everything from house cleaning to meal prep, and can help coordinate outfits, give basketball advice and throw an epic party complete with mood lighting and cleanup. Chaos ensues, though, when P.A.T. is frighteningly overprotective after being reprogrammed to serve as the family’s maternal figure.
In honor of the 20th anniversary of “Smart House,” here’s a look at the technology covered in the film and how it compares to today.
Yep, homes can be controlled by AI
Similar to P.A.T., smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home can control everything from music to lights with a few voice commands (and strategically placed smart plugs, if needed). But whereas P.A.T. was portrayed as the home’s central operating system, today’s smart homes are usually more of a combination of apps, gadgets and high-tech appliances.
The advantage is that homeowners can customize the technology to fit their lifestyle. It also means the tech can typically move with homeowners if they relocate.
Safety technology gives smart-home owners peace of mind
When a misguided P.A.T. attempts to lock the Coopers inside indefinitely, she blocks the windows with steel and adds an electrical force field to the home’s doors.
True, smart-home technology can greatly enhance home security, but it’s much more subtle.
For example, the If This Then That app is able to trigger an empty home’s interior lights as soon as the owner approaches. The Ring video doorbell helps residents monitor (and chat with visitors to) the front door. And many new home security systems, smoke alarms (check out Home Advisor’s breakdown of options), garage doors and surveillance cameras feature a virtual assistant integration, which means they can be controlled and monitored by a phone app or smart speaker.
Even our pets are avid technology enthusiasts
Considering the fact that keeping pooches happy is one of the primary reasons millennials buy homes, the movie’s inclusion of pet technology (the family dog is entertained by P.A.T. while the family’s away) is spot on.
One piece of especially buzzworthy pet technology is Furbo, an interactive pet camera that tosses treats to pets stuck at home. Then there are the pet doors that open only when triggered by an ultrasonic signal emitted from a special collar, blocking access to intruders. The doors can also be programmed to remain locked at certain times of day, keeping Fido and Fluffy inside for the night.
Technology can create the perfect mood
One of P.A.T.’s coolest features in the movie is her use of virtual reality to transport the Coopers to Cape Cod or a serene farm complete with a rooster’s wake-up call. While VR technology gets more sophisticated every year, full-screen virtual experiences don’t come standard in homes just yet. However, several pieces of smart appliances can help change the mood in your home.
Philips Hue is a line of smart lamps and light bulbs that can be timed to adjust from bright to softer lighting as the day goes on, mimicking natural daylight patterns. The Nest thermostat automatically sets the temperature in your home to your desired preferences, turns the temperature down when it senses you leave the home, and can be controlled from an app for on-the-go changes.
One downside of smart home technology? Energy drainage. But there’s even a “smart” solution for that. The Emporia Vue system helps homeowners monitor their energy usage through an app on their phone to reduce monthly costs and identify potential issues before they require major repairs.
Even as our lives become increasingly inseparable from technology, a home is much more than its futuristic appliances. If you’re looking for a home, working with an experienced professional such as myself is a smart move!