Smart windows are the next frontier for connected homes
By Stephanie Walden, Mashable.com
Windows have always been iconic: They're an allegory within literary masterpieces, a metaphor for many a poet, a muse for architects and a coveted feature of any modern homeowner. They bridge the gap between the safety of our secure, indoor lives and the wilderness that lies just outside our brick-and-mortar walls.
But if we flash forward a few years, they may be something more: The latest smart home technology.
Imagine a world in which your home's windows will be controllable via smartphone or even simple gesture, straight Harry Potter-style. Heat-sensor window treatments will automatically close or open depending on a homeowner's ideal temperature preferences. Not only will you gaze through your window to the outside world, but you'll also be able to virtually interact with your home environment, pane by translucent pane.
Below are a few musings on how windows will join the ranks of connected tech, and revolutionize the way we view the world — both outside and inside our homes.
The term “smart home” conjures images of modern architectural masterpieces of the future, complete with robot butlers and a customizable home environment that automatically adapts based on conditions such as air quality, temperature and inhabitant preferences.
We’re not so far off from such a vision. This year’s SXSW and CES both saw countless smart home technologies, with everything from smart home monitoring to leak-detection technologies making headlines.
So it’s not ludicrous to think that the same customizable and remotely controlled elements — and beyond — might soon be available for the glass panes in our home windows. In fact, some such technologies already exist.
The trend of home automation continues to lead to the unveiling of new and awe-inspiring technologies on an almost daily basis.
External gadgets, apps and home monitoring devices can be integrated with windows to ensure home safety and can alert home owners when windows are ajar.
Similarly, motorized window covering controls and electric openers exist today, allowing users to remotely control window treatments from across the room, country or even across the globe.
Going one step further, will the windows of the future be able to text home dwellers if there's an intrusion, or operate with the swipe of a finger — no external sensor or gadget required? Only time will tell, but with major tech companies and startups alike focusing increasingly on smart home technologies, it's likely these functionalities will be commonplace in the smart home of 2020.
“Super windows” that offer maximum energy efficiency are already on the market; now “smart windows” are on the horizon. The technologies allow the glass in your home’s windows to adapt to changing conditions either automatically or with the flick of a switch.
There are typically four types of glass used in these windows today, and each is pretty amazing in its own way. New glass technology is being invented and improved upon every day, as well.
Electrochromic windows change tint on command, from completely transparent to opaque with the touch of a button.
Liquid crystal windows, the primary technology behind LCD devices like digital watches, are another revolutionary technology that uses electric currents to switch between clear and translucent.
Thermochromic windows also adjust for tint or opacity, but as the name implies, the changes are driven by temperature instead of an electrical current.
Lastly, photochromic windows adjust to light using technology similar to that of those nifty eyeglasses that darken when you walk into sunlight, altering tint based on the day's level of brightness.
The fact that "smart glass" hasn't already completely infiltrated our homes is due to a number of factors, number one being cost, though the technologies are improving.
Beyond windows, the technology potential for glass windows that can also connect with devices, operate via touchscreen or respond to external factors such as temperature or time of day has huge implications for the ways we'll live our daily lives in the years to come. The below video does an excellent job of illustrating some of the possibilities that lie in store for the future.
So what does the future of our home window display really look like?
From a sustainability standpoint, the opportunities are innumerable.
A team of researchers at Michigan State University have already developed a solar concentrator that, when placed over a window, creates solar energy while still allowing people to see through the window. This technology, called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator, could see windows in a home or commercial building collecting energy to power the structure itself in a self-sustaining fashion, and possibly even harness energy for surrounding homes, offices or entire neighborhoods.
While the first versions of these windows likely to become commercially available probably won't be the most aesthetically beautiful, never fear: High-tech window decor is also getting a major upgrade. Curtains or blinds that automatically respond to a room's temperature or even color scheme may be the window treatment of the future.
Windows already give us a peek into the lives of our neighbors, but in the future, they may become a more advanced communication tool.
Imagine being able to see directly into the living room of your grandparents as you video chat with them, the image projected directly onto your own family room's window. Windows may one day function not only as portals to the outside world, but to the worlds of our friends and family around the globe. With both screen and glass technologies improving rapidly, this futuristic vision may not be so far-fetched.
Another exciting implication for the future of windows is as a replacement or additional television, or as an interactive panel that users can operate in a similar fashion to today's smartphone or tablet touch screens. This technology would look like something straight out of Minority Report: High-tech screens would literally be embedded into translucent glass window panes, in sizes ranging from as large as a wall-to-ceiling window to smaller, decorative indoor panels.
Even though such technology is yet to be fully integrated into our home windows, there are already products that allow users to project touch screens onto flat external surfaces - such as a large window. It is not hard to imagine a future in which such technologies are the new normal, making the already smart home even smarter.
Right now you can adjust temperature and lights, enable your appliances and security systems, open your shades with one touch or swipe on your smart-phone. Now tech companies are exploring gesture-based commands, so you can do it all with the flick of a wrist.
And who wouldn't love to say goodbye to the tedious chore of window cleaning? This is one dream that can be made into reality: Self-cleaning windows are actually already on the market.
As we look to the future of window tech, one can only wonder: What's next for this iconic portal?