Ever wished your house would greet you when you opened the front door, which unlocked automatically when you approached? Or your kitchen kept an inventory of everything inside it? The Jetsons may seem like they've got it all, but with a little patience and the right DIYs, the Jetson'll have nothing on you.
The dream of the house of the future relies on automated systems that ensure you'll never have to get up to do anything or remember to turn anything off. You can pay someone to install a fully integrated system in your home for a few thousand dollars, or you can piece together the elements you want and build your own version of the house of the future. We'll break down some of the more interesting (and ridiculous) ideas room by room that you can implement on your own. Let's get started with the entryway.
Note: You'll be able to order most of the parts required directly from the linked manufacturer, but there are some items that may require a visit to your local hardware store.
Wire Your Entryway to Greet You in Style
You home's entryway is the first thing you see after a long day at work. If you're looking for a little pick-me-up to enhance your routine, here's a couple clever ways to make your comings (and goings) a more enjoyable experience.
Add Theme Music to Your Arrival
When you come home you want a greeting to remind you that you're truly the king (or queen) of the house. What better way to do that than a custom introduction? DIY blog Dynamic boost "You're the Best Around"). If you don't want your own theme music you can also record a custom greeting.
Make an RFID Door Lock and Ditch Your Keys
One of the trademark scenes in any science-fiction film is the door automatically unlocking for the person who has keys. Sure, on most occasions, unlocking your own door isn't hard, but with a handful of groceries it's a difficult task. You can piece together your own RFID lock that unlocks with a wireless key and locks itself automatically. It's not the most exciting thing you can do to your door, but it's probably one of the handiest.
Parts needed: It's a long list but totals under $US100. Difficulty: Moderate, but the video shows you everything you need to do.
Augment Your Living Room with Automatically Delivered Entertainment and More
Your living room is likely your central entertainment hub and if you want to rig it up with futuristic-style, it's not hard to do. Not only can you automate your media delivery and accent it with a wide variety of control types, you can even add an instant party button.
Set Up a Fully Automated Media Center
The days of heading off to the video store to physically pick up and bring back a movie are long gone, but unless you can survive entirely on streaming video you need to set up a system to automate your downloads. That means using your computer as a media centre.
We've shown you how to set up a fully automated media center before and also shown you how to turn that same idea into a torrent seeding machine. This automates your downloads and places them in the correct folders on your computer so you can share them over Wi-Fi with your television or set up a media computer next to your television. The benefit is that once they're set up all of your media is downloaded and delivered automatically to your computer. If you want to add an additional futuristic element, you can throw in voice commands for a true Star Trek flavour.
Parts needed: Computer, a bunch of free software. Difficulty: Easy. It takes some time to set it up, but once it's done you don't have to touch it again. Photo by amirmeiri.
Start a Party with the Push of a Button
If cheesy '70s science-fiction movies have taught us anything, it's that every room should have a party button. With just a tap of said button, a room is converted into a playground of awesome flashing lights and killer music. One such party button is shown off on the website Plasma2002 and it dims the lights, starts playing music, turns on blacklights and closes the blinds at the push of a button. Overkill? Probably, but no future-house should be without a party button, even if this one costs a lot to build.
Parts needed: Too many to list totalling $US634. Difficulty: High, but probably worth it.
Hack Your Kitchen to Track Inventory and Hide Shelves
Unfortunately, we haven't reached the point where we can simply ask the kitchen to make dinner (yet), but that doesn't mean you can't trick out your cooking area with a few futuristic ideas.
Create an Inventory and Database for Your Food Items
Since you can't feasibly create a robot to cook for you, the next best thing is a computer that can track your food inventory, work as a kitchen timer, and do everything else a computer can do. If you have an old PC laying around gathering dust, you can convert that into a fully functioning kitchen computer complete with a kitchen database. Hacker Ryan of the blog Studio Lights created the iKitchen with a handy iPhone-like interface that can track a kitchen database with a barcode scanner, manage to-do lists, recipes and plenty more. Of course, if you have an iPad, you can also rig up a cabinet mount like this in your kitchen and get the same effect.
Parts needed: Old PC capable of running Windows XP, Touch Screen LCD ($US350, but you can usually find older models for way cheaper), OPOS Barcode Scanner ($US90+ but you can find them cheap used as well). Difficulty: Moderate, the cabinet installation is is the toughest part.
Add an Automated Pop-Up Shelf to a Kitchen Island
One of the key features in most homes of the future is the idea that you can stuff storage into tiny places and access the storage with the push of a button. This means creating hidden systems like the fruit rack in Back to the Future so you can make better use of a small space.
This automated pop-up kitchen rack is one pretty simple and easy way to tuck away your appliances or shelves. With a push of a button, the shelf raises and you have access to anything you want. This example has a spice rack, but you could feasibly expand the idea to anything you'd like in your kitchen (or anywhere else in your home), including a coffee maker, wine rack or even a microwave.
Parts needed: Linear actuator ($US129.99), tools to cut into your counter top. Difficulty: Easy. The installation of the lift (the actuator) is dead simple. The most difficult part is cutting the kitchen counters down.
Set Up Your Bathroom to Monitor Your Water Usage and Guide You to the Toilet in the Dark
You probably don't spend a lot of time in the bathroom on most days, but that doesn't mean you can't install a few simple hacks to make things a bit easier.
Track Your Shower Time and Water Usage
If you're a little groggy in the morning it's easy to accidentally spend a lot of time in the shower waiting to wake up. If your water bill is always high because of this, then tracking your usage is the most logical step. DIY blogger Mike Newell decided to create a system to track his shower time and toilet flushes so he can better estimate his water usage. The system works by using an Arduino and a motion sensor to track how long you stand in the shower. It also tracks the number of flushes on the toilet. It's a remarkably simple tool that can not only help you cut down on your water usage, but also help you see how much time you spend in the shower.
A Very Simple Pee-Light to Guide You to the Toilet
Sometimes the key to home automation is not only usefulness, but also simplicity. Case in point, this pee-light that detects motion and triggers a very dim light when you need to run to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The nice thing about this hack is that it doesn't turn on the overhead light and blind you.
Rig Up the Whole House for Automated Lights, Utility Monitoring and Security
Room by room solutions are great, but if you want to really build yourself the house of the future you're going to need to go for a full-blown home automation setup. The basic elements of a off-the-shelf home automation system are pretty simple: remote light control, power usage monitoring and home security. Let's take a look how you can build these systems on your own for a fraction of the cost.
Control Your Lights and Outlets with Your Phone
The central purpose of most commercial home automation systems is power control. While those systems require a technician to install and set everything up, Instructables user mrx23dot shows you how to do it with a cheap router. With this setup you can control your lights remotely from your computer or smartphone.
This system uses commercially available power outlets that can run your lights or electronics through a network. The network is created with a cheap OpenWRT like one of these and creates a webapp for controlling any of your electronics from anywhere. It's especially handy if you're renting an apartment or your simply don't want to cut into the electrical system in your walls.
Parts needed: Open WRT router ($US20-$US40, see list of compatible routers above), Arduino ($28.64), Wireless Remote Controls (3-pack $US21). Difficulty: Hard, but the Instructables guides you through the process pretty slowly.
Monitor Your Utility Usage
Monitoring your power usage is a great way to cut the bills, but it's also incredibly expensive. The cheapest way to monitor your power is to create a system that watches for a blinking light on your power meter, but if you want to actually use that data, you have to send it somewhere. Blogger Antibore's solution integrates that data into a cheap digital photo frame using a custom network setup. The small receiver attached to power meter outside sends data to a server and then displays the current power usage on a small monitor. It's a handy way to track all your power consumption without totally breaking the bank.
Parts needed: Samsung Photo Frame ($US65 used), Beagleboard ($US89), Xbee to wireless send data ($21.95), ATtiny 2313 ($2.75). Difficulty: High, but at around one-fifth of the cost of most commercial monitors it's not a bad time investment. You can always skip the digital display and just use the simple monitor tool to track on your computer.
Set Up Your Own Security and Monitoring System
The final essential part in a home automation system is security. The benefit you get from going through commercial service is that the system is installed by someone else, but hacking together your own system is dead simple.
The easiest way to do it is to set up a motion detection camera on your home computer. We've broken down our two favourite options before and both are easy to set up and will notify you on your phone if anything moves in the house. If you're looking for a solution that tracks multiple cameras, Vitamin D allows for several wireless cameras so you can monitor multiple areas of the house at once.
Parts needed: Computer with a webcam, software ($US5, $US50 or $US60 depending on what you need). Difficulty: Easy. A couple clicks and you're done.
The house of the future isn't going to build itself and with the above hacks you'll be well on your way to a Jetsons style fully automated home minus the robotic maid. You can always pick and choose which elements you'd like, but most of the above projects are accomplished in an afternoon at the most. The above ideas are just a handful of some of our favourites that are out there. Have you made any amazing upgrades to your home to make it more futuristic? Share your ideas in the comments.