SXSW 2017: a smart home designed as a tech product

By March 16, 2017
Kasita

Just over 350 square feet in size, sleek design, with smart devices installed: the Kasita smart home has been designed around the Customer Experience, just like a tech product. So what does this tell us and how might this approach shape the housing of the future?

“The iPhone is not yet ten years old and has already undergone a lot of changes. But housing has hardly changed at all.” If this comparison made by Jeff Wilson seems a bit strange, it does have a certain logic. What if a house were a tech product just like other tech products? Speaking on 12 March in Austin, Texas at the South by Southwest (SXSW) interactive festival that specialises in highlighting new technologies, the former university dean put forward his futuristic vision of the ‘smart home’: a place to live that is linked to a brand and provides its own experience.

Floor space: an outdated concept?

With his parents, his wife and daughter looking on, Dr Wilson unveiled his brainchild Kasita to a packed auditorium at SXSW. As the name (casita means ‘little house’ in Spanish) implies, this smart home is tiny, measuring exactly 352 square feet (32.7m2). Nevertheless, “it looks a lot bigger. Real estate experts who came to see it were convinced that Kasita had close to 540 or 590 square metres of floor space. This is due to the design approach, and the use of natural light also adds to the space,” pointed out the entrepreneur, as he displayed photos of the little home.  “Talking about housing in terms of floor space is an outdated idea. Nowadays it’s all about how you use the space,” he argued.

If you want to make up your own mind on the matter, there are two possibilities: take a virtual visit or make a real visit to a prototype that was set up in the Texas capital just a few days ago. So what makes this house smart? Well, a number of connected objects have been integrated into the dwelling but it’s not only that. Beyond the dichromic windows whose transparency can be adjusted on demand, the lighting and sound system that you can activate by remote control, it’s an entire philosophy of life that’s being sold with this house. Jeff Wilson tells us: “Instead of talking about a number of appliances, we prefer to talk about one single connected object, which is in fact the entire house.”

L’Atelier has already reported on an unusual experiment conducted by Dr Wilson. The year he spent living in a dumpster, apart from earning him the nickname Prof. Dumpster, led directly to this project (article in French), which has matured considerably since then. The idea is no longer to shift the structure from place to place: the website underlines that once the house has been set up it is regarded as a permanent dwelling, although it remains technically feasible to remove it if necessary. This, according to some sources, is what the customer wants and the consumer – the resident of the smart home – is what the Kasita startup is most concerned about.

Kasita, la maison conçue comme un produit technologique

Jeff Wilson comparing the smart home to a common product

Householders taking back control of their own data

Jeff Wilson sees a smart home as a place where the resident feels safe and secure, where his/her privacy is protected and respected. When it comes to a house packed with artificial intelligence this also basically means that “the owner has the right to know what data is being collected, how, where, why and for how long.”

If this is to happen, then the user needs to have control over his/her own data, which in turn implies that s/he will be able to make beneficial use of it. One way to do so is to use the data to improve the overall experience. Sleep for instance.  One of the use cases put forward by Kasita is for a cutting-edge tech mattress combined with sensors that measure movements and sleep dynamics and feed the information back to the mattress so that it can adjust itself in order to ensure the owner gets a really good night’s sleep.

The other type of benefit one might derive from the data is of course financial. Dr Wilson would like to see Kasita residents being able to monetise their data in order to subsidise the rent or mortgage, while still being kept informed about what happens to the data they provide. Quite a programme.

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