UNLESS A MANUFACTURER pulls a huge surprise out of the hat, the year will end and once again we will not see practical futuristic building products—you know, “Jetsons”-type stuff. And don't expect to see these gizmos anytime soon. True, we now have a TV refrigerator, a refrigerated range, and ovens that can cook at the speed of light, but this type of rapid-fire innovation is unlikely to continue.
So then, what will the future hold for products? Will we be inundated by transparent concrete, indestructible paint, and talking appliances? This past April at the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, many manufacturers unveiled prototype products and ideas that indicate slower but steady advancement into the future.
“Our opinion is that there could be room for appliances that are e-enabled, but customers have not seen the benefits,” says Brian Maynard, director of integrated marketing for Benton Harbor, Mich.–based KitchenAid, a division of Whirlpool. Rather, says Maynard, we will see moderate advancement and the proliferation of smarter appliances. Kitchen-Aid already has a dishwasher that skims off dirty water during the cycle and replaces it with clean water, and Louisville, Ky.–based GE's Harmony washer and dryer “talk” to each other for optimum washing results.
The good folks at Greenwood, Miss.–based Viking see more cooking options. Much like the American two-party system, consumers can have any cooking technology they want so long as it's gas or electric. Viking is set to introduce induction on a wide scale. Induction uses electromagnetic energy as its fuel so the pot gets hot but the heating element stays (relatively) cool to the touch. Though induction is not new, this complex technology is hardly used. “We are the only one producing products on a wide scale because the technology is very complicated,” says Cary New, communications coordinator. Other manufacturers eying the technology ultimately abandoned their efforts. But Viking believes that induction's efficiency and its safety will make it a hit.
Building systems are likely to change. Many architects see modularization and panelization as the next big thing, particularly in tight labor markets. Used only in modest numbers today, structural insulated panels and prefabricated components require less skilled labor and are assembled faster so builders save money.
Windows could see changes as well. Research Frontiers in Woodbury, N.Y., already has developed suspended particle device light-control technology that lets homeowners control light passing through a window with the flick of a switch. Not long ago, Bayport, Minn.–based Andersen Windows spearheaded “Project Odyssey,” an effort to understand how technological and behavioral trends relate to windows. One of the experimental products that resulted was ViewPoint, a concept window that switches from clear to opaque glass to block outside light and allow it to be used as a projection screen for watching television. Perhaps we will live like the Jetsons after all.
Green Machine This innovative prototype may one day wash your clothes and save the environment.
You're probably not going to see the BioLogic washing machine at your local supplier next year, which is a shame because this is a really cool unit. The far-out concept is the brainchild of the Global Consumer Design division of Benton Harbor, Mich.–based Whirlpool and is part of its “Project F: fabric care futures,” a research effort that aims to understand the laundry process.
The unit consists of a plant container and six pods that wash the clothes in a slow-cycle system and recirculate the water through the plant container where it's purified and returned to the storage area for future use. “The unit respects the environment, uses less electricity, and conserves more water,” says Tanya Aldous, studio design manager. Though it may seem like a far-fetched concept, Aldous says research projects such as this one offer take-away ideas that help the company with production units such as the highly successful Duet laundry products.