The House of the Future at Grand Designs Live

Back in the eighties we were often treated to visions of what the house of the future might look like. Opinions varied but normally seemed to revolve around skin tight jumpsuits, pills replacing food and, more often than not, rocket packs. By 2010, we were told, we’d all be taking weekend trips to the moon.

It was all very adventurous and looking back you can’t help but wonder if they were taking it entirely seriously? However, these days we know better. We don’t want jet packs or rocket ships or even laser guided bread knives. What we need is the same tech as today only very slightly better. And that’s exactly what you’ll find if you head to Grand Designs Live this May.


The House of the Future Exhibition presented by Phillips promises to showcase the best the world has to offer in consumer domestic technology. There will be more gadgets than we could possibly hope to cover here, but let’s give it a go anyway.

The headline act looks set to be WiPower; the futuristic technology that promises to free us from the tyranny of plugs. Yes electricity has gone wireless. The boffins behind WiPower have been wowing audiences around the world with there cable free light bulbs. Now it is London’s turn and the results look to be truly amazing.

Elsewhere the emphasis is on intelligence. We have intelligent wardrobes, a smart oven that knows when to open and even an image conscious mirror that knows how to flatter its owner.

It comes from Phillips and makes use of the latest LED technology to shed a flattering light on even the most unappealing forms. The reflection panel is made up of lots of small Organic LEDs (OLEDs). As you pass in front these dim transforming them, for a brief moment into a mirror. The OLEDs that do stay lit subsequently bathe you in a warm and flattering light. So if you want to see yourself as you do, rather than the world does, this is for you.

Of course no house of the future would be complete without a few gadgets designed to deal with the coming environmental apocalypse. Global warming is on its way. Water in the future will be scarce. However, should the worst come to pass fear not. Electrolux will be showcasing a waterless washing machine that uses negative ions to wash nano coated clothes. All it does is lie on top of them and physics does the rest.

So there you have it. What a brave new world we’re getting into. So if you want a glimpse at what the future might bring head along to ExCel in Docklands, London, between May 1st and May 9th.

Samsung Navibot: New breed of cleaning robot

I confess it: here at Latest, we’re not always interested in domestic appliances. I mean, until someone put an internet connection in a toaster, I’d never cooked bread. So when we go out of our way to visit the launch party of a vacuum cleaner – the Samsung Navibot – it had better be a really special one.

And it was. The Navibot is the most technologically advanced robot vacuum in the world, boasting 36 sensors, a camera capable of capturing 30 frames a second (or 110,000 an hour) and a 167 degree viewing angle. And with a small form and cute circular case, the device impresses aesthetically as well as on paper. It was almost like meeting Wall-E’s great-great-grandfather.


All that technology is squeezed into the Navibot’s small shell so that the device can be packed with more features than some computers. For instance, the device boasts six cleaning modes – Automatic, where on the touch of a button (or a touchscreen, on the premium model) the device sets about vacuuming the room. Set it to Max, and the little dirt-warrior will begin cleaning your house non-stop until it runs out of battery – perfect for those of us with mansions or neuroses.

However, a dead battery is a rarity, because the device boasts a range of 100 square metres before needing a recharge. Even if it does need to recharge, it will return to the docking station, charge up, and then start cleaning from where it left off. According to Samsung’s tests, it finds its way home 99% of the time – better than most pets.

Other modes include Schedule, in which you can programme the Navibot to carry out your cleaning bidding at set times, Spot Clean, where the device cleans the nearest 1.5m, Edge, where small brushes come out the side and sweep dust towards the main suction unit, and my favourite, Manual, where you can control the toy vacuum from a supplied remote control.

The Navibot achieves these feats of cleanliness due to Samsung’s “Visionary Mapping System” which dynamically maps your room, allowing the little beast to work out where it is, where it has been, where it needs to go and what it needs to drive around. This system is powered by IR sensors that detect near-by bumps, and a camera aimed at the ceiling, used to work out how much space it has to clean.

As far as sucking-up dust goes, the unit picked up everything I saw it roll over, has a HEPA filter, a bagless 0.6 litre capacity with quick-empty (you can suck out the dirt using another hoover, but only on the premium model), the ability to detect edges and avoid falling down the stairs, and, in an example of supreme innovation, an anti-tangle technology, so if the device picks up a trailing cable, it will reverse until the cable has unwound itself, and then avoid that location.

At £399 and £449 for the basic and premium models, the unit itself isn’t super cheap – but it does undercut existing remote vacuums as well as boasting a whole lot more features. However, if you feel that isn’t enough of an expense, opulent buyers can purchase the optional “Virtual Guard” add-on, which is two mini-towers that send an anti-Navibot signal between them, creating an invisible wall that the device will never pass.

Electrolux’s futuristic ‘Heart of the Home’ kitchen table

The kitchen can be a veritable hotbed of technology.  From the first labour-saving appliances, such as the washing machine, to more recent interactive devices, such as fridges that contact you when you’re running out of milk, we are always looking for ways to make day-to-day life more efficient.  With this in mind, Electrolux has developed its new design concept, the ‘Heart of the Home’ – a futuristic kitchen table combined with a cooking surface.

Unveiled earlier this month, the key feature of the appliance is its adaptability: its surface physically changes to suit your cooking preferences and its hi-tech interactivity has it offering ideas to boost your culinary expertise.

If you’re a beans-on-toast kind of chef, you can get inspiration for dinner by simply placing a bunch of ingredients on the surface.  The appliance analyses them and suggests a few recipes.  Pick one that you fancy, then mark out the cooking area with your hand and press down the malleable surface to create a ‘pan’.  When the surface is the right size and shape, you can set the correct temperature and timings with the touch of a finger.

Because it combines the functions of table and oven – and even has a small sink area – it takes up a lot less space in the home than separate appliances.  This makes it perfect for city flats or social kitchens that are a magnet to friends and family.  The recipe suggestions will help eliminate food waste, and the lack of pots and pans will reduce the amount of washing up, saving water and detergents.

However, you’ll still have to wash your plates, and of course clean the surface of the appliance.  The malleable surface also sounds like it might be prone to accidents if you accidentally lean on the wrong area and morph the shape of your ‘pan’ while it’s in use.  And it might not be ideal if you want to cook but your child needs to use the table to do their homework.

So will this really be the way we do things in the future?  Given that more people now live in cities than in rural areas, and the number of urbanites is expected to rise to 74 per cent of the population by 2050, streamlined and multifunction appliances will certainly make the most of limited space.  Flexibility is key and this idea certainly ticks those boxes, as well as being a talking point and fun to use.

As a design concept, it’s a beauty, but there is no launch date and no price tag so who knows whether or not it will become part of our lives.  But it’s a fabulous idea and one that can give us all hope that one day we’ll be able to spontaneously whip up something delicious from the contents of the cupboard when unexpected guests pop round for dinner.

View more images in the Electrolux Picasa album

Three of the best: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) lights

SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – is a condition where the ‘winter blues’, can cause stress, depression and and considerable disruption to a sufferer’s life. However, the condition is treatable and can be combated in a number of ways. One of the most common is to use a SAD lighting product such as a special lamp or lighting device. SAD lights work by emulating natural light, in order to boost the levels of serotonin in the brain, as it’s when these levels get too low that SAD can really take hold.

Here’s a round-up of the three of the best SAD-beating lights currently on the market.

The Philips GoLite Blu,  around £128
This energy lamp emits a subtle, refreshing, ‘skylight’, which helps to regulate the mood and encourage pro-activity. It uses blue LEDs which, based on average use of 30 minutes a day, can last for an impressive 50 years. Its compact size also makes it ideal for travelling. The GoLite Blu is a good, long-term investment, perhaps best suited to those who take their light therapy very seriously and who are looking for reliable results from a trusted brand name.

The Quincom Lightsleeper, around £125
This egg-shaped, futuristic-looking gadget is billed as a sleeping aid, rather than a energy-booster. However, the low, natural glow the light emits could also prove beneficial to stressed-out SAD sufferers who are having trouble switching off at night. It works by projecting light in a circular, controlled manner aimed at boosting relaxation and soothing you to sleep. For a basic sleeping device, it’s a pricey purchase, but the product is practical, mobile and simplistic. It also very discrete, as it can be used without disturbing other people in the room and is programmed to switch off every 30 minutes.

Naturebright PER3 Deluxe 3-in-1 SAD therapy lamp, around £143
This is the perfect option if you’re looking for a multi-functional SAD product.  It combines a light therapy lamp, with a body clock, built-in digital alarm and a daylight reading lamp. The device is fully portable and the therapy lamp is fitted with a swivel head. It works by mimicking the gradual light of a natural dawn, which is designed to be less harsh on the eyes. It also comes with glare-free daylight rendered LED bulbs that stay cool and use only a tenth of the power of normal bulbs, yet are ten times brighter. A great all-rounder, with an eco-friendly edge.

Bang & Olufsen BeoCom5 – back to the landline?

With Mobile World Congress poised to present the latest in cell phone innovation, you may be surprised to find us making a reverse-charge back into the world of the humble landline. But this chic cordless from sound-system heavyweight Bang & Olufsen more than merits a passing comment. The elegant BeoCom5 uses the same acoustics as the company’s famous loudspeakers to promise surround-sound audio.

Bang & Olufsen has certainly earned its stripes in the surround-sound arena, so transferring this thinking to BeoCom5 can’t have been much of a stretch. The platform for this is the striking speakerphone, an aluminium shield of supersonics with a new definition for the word “cordless”. Simply take the surround-sound unit with you between rooms, handset held fast with a built-in battery, to summon the boardroom or long-overdue family reunion into your living space.

It may be cutting a trend with the acoustics, but BeoCom5 takes a more conventional approach to fashion than its banana-like predecessor BeoCom 2. In fact, when removed from its surround-sound / charger unit it appears quite plain and, dare I say, sensible. But beyond its highly-presentable black casing with daring aluminium scrollwheel, the phone itself has hidden dimensions.

Clearly happiest as part of a crowd, this sociable speakerphone lets you customise each handset’s 2-inch LCD display with a unique colour pattern to suit individual family members or match the décor of your rooms. Once happy with the aesthetics, you can even tweak the tones for further customisation.

If you’ve got the space – and ears – available, you can add up to eight handsets for the one phone. Now unless you’re rattling around in a B&O-bedecked commune, this may seem a little excessive, but when you learn that a single BeoCom5 unit can handle two separate external lines as well as VoIP and limitless internal calls, it may not be quite so outrageous. With all lines buzzing and phone book bulging, you’ll be relieved to learn you can save up to 400 contacts in the base unit – convenient for assembling an audience ahead of an impromptu group pow-wow.

Yes, the BeoCom5 is impressive and hands-down the smartest thing that’s ever going to grace my lounge, but is it enough to singly revive mass interest in the landline? Bang & Olufsen has clearly delivered another cutting-edge piece of kit, but whether it can bring the cordless back from the brink remains to be seen.

Missing pet? Pawtrax to the rescue!

We’ve seen plenty of pet tracker gadgets in the past. Some use tags, others radio signals. However, PATmicro is part of a new breed that use a combination of GPS and mobile technology.

Its makers, Pawtrax, first appeared four years ago as web resource for missing pets. They had no problem attracting users. Almost four million pets went missing in the last five years, according to research from Sainsbury’s Finance. Before long they were inundated with reports from owners whose dogs had run off never to be seen again.

PATmicro is their solution. After two years of research and development it finally made its bow to an excited industry at Discover Dogs in November.

It works very simply. A small device fits onto the collar of the pet. Owners track its location by sending a text message to Pawtrax. They get a reply detailing the position in the form of Googlemaps co-ordinates.

You can get the information in a number of ways. The ‘Find’ function gives a one-off location. Alternatively the ‘Track’ utility provides regular updates when you’re in pursuit.

Finally, you can use a ‘Secure’ mechanism that creates an invisible geo-fence. If your pet strays beyond it you get an alert on your mobile. It all seems straightforward enough, but does it work?

Success in this marketplace depends on usability and reliability, both of which PATmicro has in spades. It is small – no bigger than a matchbox – and weighs only 30g. Fitted onto the collar the animal will hardly notice it.

Using GPS also greatly expands the range compared with, for instance, locator tags. With GPS you should be able to find your pet literally anywhere in the world.

The only question mark is price. At slightly less than £150 some will see this as the kind of luxury credit crunch Britain can’t afford. Some people – cold heartless people – will point out you could simply buy another pet for the same price (several in fact).

But that ignores the deep bond that exists between pet and owner and that’s what this product helps preserve. It offers peace of mind; the knowledge that, even if your pet does decide to go walkabout, you’ll be able to track it down with just a single text. For any owner who’s suffered the agony of losing their beloved companion, that will be worth a King’s ransom.

Yoomi self-warming baby feeding bottle

It’s 4.30am and you’ve been woken for the fourth time tonight. You can’t remember the last time you slept for a full eight hours and at this exact point in time you’d consider selling your first born in exchange for a decent night’s kip.

The result of all your sleep deprivation has turned your brain to mush, and even the simplest tasks feel more akin to trying to fix the Large Hadron Collider. Simple, but essential tasks, like getting your baby its milk.

Step in parents Jim and Farah Shaikh, inventors of the Yoomi Baby Bottle. They have created a bottle that heats baby formula or breast milk in just 60 seconds to 32-34 degrees centigrade; the ideal temperature for baby milk. All you need to do is prepare the formula a maximum of four hours prior to use, store it in the Yoomi bottle in the fridge, then push a button on the Yoomi bottle to re-heat  it. That makes it to date the quickest and easiest way to deliver pre-heated milk to your bundle of joy. Cue a host of industry awards and the eternal gratefulness of millions of parents worldwide.

The Yoomi Baby Bottle works in a similar way to gel hand-warmers. The orange button triggers a non-chemical solution to turn from liquid to solid, giving off heat. After 30 seconds the button turns blue. You then put the cap on and turn the bottle upside down for a further 30 seconds. That’s it. The cold milk flows through heated channels to get it to the ideal temperature. It can be recharged up to 100 times.

The bottle disassembles into about five parts which can be easily washed and sterilised using conventional methods.  Recharging it is as straightforward as using it. The easiest way is to put the warmer in a pan of boiling water for 25 minutes. Alternatively, a steam steriliser also does the job, but it requires four times more water than a normal sterilisation cycle. You have to leave it to cool for at least 75 minutes after recharging.

The compact size makes it also ideal for travelling or bringing to cafes and restaurants – so there’s no longer any need to emotionally blackmail a grumpy waiter to get you hot water to warm your bottle. The only question this leaves is why wasn’t it invented sooner!

Electrolux UltraSilencer vacuum – Music Edition?

Have you ever started carrying out a mundane household chore, such as hoovering and found yourself unable to muster any kind of enthusiasm for the long task ahead?

If so, the Electrolux Silence Amplified vacuum cleaner could be the answer to all your housework-related prayers. It’s a hi-tech appliance fitted with an iPod dock and a powerful set of speakers embedded on the front of the machine. This combined with an ultra-quiet engine (the sound produced by the vacuum cleaner amounts to about 68 decibels, equivalent to the noise level of a normal conversation), is apparently the secret to turning a simple cleaning gadget into a multi-sensory entertainment station. And not only is the model virtually soundless, its patented optimised air flow and suction mechanism also help make it an eco-friendly option.

This all sounds like good, clean fun, but is the whole concept just a bit too wacky to work? Well, the company have certainly done their housework, er, homework. They’ve conducted rigorous studies in a test lab where volunteers had their hoovering prowess monitored while they listened music using the machines.

These experiments produced some interesting genre-specific results: jazz made the test vacuumers more thorough, while hard rock and heavy metal helped them get the job done faster. In addition, vacuuming assisted by music of any kind increased the number of nozzle sweeps, which in turn improved overall cleaning performance.

So while the idea might sound a bit far-out, it is based on genuine science. And as the second largest manufacturer of home appliances in the world, Electrolux’s technological expertise is certainly not to be sniffed at.

At the moment the Electrolux Silence Amplified vacuum cleaner is just a prototype, but the company claim to be able to mass produce the product to meet consumer demand. So it’s quite possible this lean, green cleaning machine could be coming to a living room near you early in the new year. And if you’re looking for a vacuum with va-va voom, it might be the neatest purchase you ever make.