The History of Smart Homes

By Drew Hendricks April 22, 2014

The first smart homes were ideas, not actual structures. For decades, science fiction has explored the idea of home automation. Prolific writers, such as Ray Bradbury, imagined a future where homes were interactive, and seemingly ran themselves. In Bradbury’s cautionary short story, “There Will Come Soft Rains” he describes an automated home that continues to function even after humans have died out. It’s all well and frightening, until you consider the actual benefits of home automation, and then the idea becomes more comforting than chilling. 


Although the idea of home automation has been around for some time, actual smart homes have only existed a short while. This timeline focuses on hardware; meaning actual inventions leading up to the smart homes we know today and can expect from the near future. 

1901 – 1920 The invention of home appliances Although home appliances aren’t what we’d consider “smart,” they were an incredible achievement in the early twentieth century. These achievements began with the first engine-powered vacuum cleaner in 1901. A more practical electricity-powered vacuum was invented in 1907. Throughout two decades refrigerators would be invented, as well as clothes dryers, washing machines, irons, toasters, and so much more. It was a fantastic time for anyone who was employed as a maid by a very affluent family.

1966 - 1967 – ECHO IV and the Kitchen Computer –Although it was never commercially sold, the ECHO IV was the first smart device. This clever device could compute shopping lists, control the home’s temperature and turn appliances on and off. The Kitchen Computer, developed a year later, could store recipes, but had the unfortunate tagline, “If she can only cook as well as Honeywell can computer” and therefore sold no models.

1991 – Gerontechnology Gerontechnology combines gerontology and technology and  makes the lives of senior citizens easier. In the 1990s, there was a lot of new research and technology in this sector. Remember, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up?” Life Alert is one example of gerontechnology.

1998 – Early 2000s – Smart Homes –Smart homes, or home automation, began to increase in popularity in the early 2000s. As such, different technology began to emerge. Smart homes suddenly became a more affordable option, and therefore a viable technology for consumers. Domestic technologies, home networking, and other gadgets began to appear on store shelves.

Today’s Smart Homes Today’s smart homes are more about security and living greener. Our smart homes are sustainable, and they help to ensure that our homes aren’t expending unnecessary energy. They also help alert us to intruders (whether we’re home or not).

Current trends in home automation include remote mobile control, automated lights, automated thermostat adjustment, scheduling appliances, mobile/email/text notifications, and remote video surveillance.

“Connectivity and interactivity are driving the way families live and manage their homes. So while we are expected to be in more places due to business travel, children’s school schedules and social activities, these new smart systems provide cutting edge connectivity to your household, even when you’re far away. And when the house is occupied, the high level of automation enables more convenience, control and safety from any part of your property. It all adds up to fewer worries and increased enjoyment of life, which is something we would all welcome,” writes ADT technologies, who some say have lower home security costs than other competitors.

The Future of Home Automation CNN prophesies that the smart home of the future will be a bit like what we’ve seen in the animated series, “The Jetsons.” Look forward to digital cutting boards (digital everything, really), molecular cooking devices, and so much more.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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