Retro Tech: Smart Homes

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Futurists imagined a world
where homes didn't just contain
smart devices, but they were living,
breathing entities themselves
that anticipated
your every move.
So, how close are we
to this vision,
and just how much smarter do we want our homes
to become? I'm Marques Brownlee,
and I review dope new tech.
But on this show,
I'm rewinding the clock
to look at the tech
of the past
that we thought
would be our future.
This is "Retro Tech:
Smart Homes."
Hey, what's up? MKBHD here. And the tech we're talking
about today is smart home technology.

So, I clearly have no idea
what I'm about to unbox, but it comes from 1992. Let's see… what we have here. The Smart Clapper.
"Clap it on, clap it off." Oh, it's a smart outlet
that just listens to clapping, which probably seemed
pretty futuristic. There's no software.
There's no programming.
There's no apps. You plug in this adapter, which is huge, by the way,
into the wall. "Insert appliance plugs
into clap receptacles." I don't actually know
where the idea of whole clap to turn the light off
thing came from. Man:
This is the original. This is the original
of that idea? Well, that makes this iconic,
doesn't it? We should probably try it.

So, now… That was pretty good.
Not too much delay. So, that worked with one, but the real promise
is you got two at the same time, one for two claps,
one for three. So, without any further ado. Oh, my God. We got a lot of retro tech
in here, clearly. This is for the realism. So I could plug in
a normal radio, but, I mean, come on. Okay. Let's say you get home and you want to
really impress somebody, so everything is off, and you don't even say anything,
you just walk in.

"Hey, you want
to listen to some music?
Don't answer that." – ( music plays softly )
– Got you. Turn up. That's– is that a power move or is that just
a nerdy thing to do? All right,
so I'm right next to it. Let's go across
the room for a second. ( laughs ) Okay, well,
this is just a small slice of the whole smart home
experience that's evolved
from these days.

So I guess the question is, how much have
we done since then and how far
do we still have to go? Let's just go ahead and explore the rest of that pie,
shall we? – Welcome to "Retro Tech."
– Thanks for having me. First thing
I'm gonna ask you to do is check
underneath your seat. – Oh, my goodness.
– Wow. – Oh, I remember this.
– The Clapper? Little me is really
having a moment right now. "Clap on, clap off"
just became you know, something that people would say
about everything.

( sings )
"Clap on, clap off." This was the beginning
of our lazy culture. Does it still
look like technology? No, but, uh,
this was technology back in the day, for sure. Marques:
I guess, the obvious
first question is was there, like, a beginning of smart home tech? Erica:
Back in the '50s
and the '60s,
the middle class
went into the suburbs, and it was all about
time-saving devices
that were very easy
and simple to use. Announcer:
The vacuum cleaner does
a better cleaning job on her rugs and furniture
than she could do by hand. So now there's
a washing machine that will
do all the laundry,
and you have a dishwasher
that'll take care of the dishes. Erica: The cleaning,
the washing, the cooking,
they're the standing-up

And the other part of the home has to do with the sitting down
part of the experience. Announcer:
The outstanding feature
of this color television is an amazing new
remote control. The remote control
was invented, and all of a sudden,
we could kick back on the couch, and with one press of a button,
the television would be on.
A remote control
really kind of boils down a lot of the smart home
technologies. It's very convenient
to be able to sit on your couch
and control
what's on your screen.
You use infrared commands, you could volume up and down, power, and everything. And of course,
once that was in the house, you never even though
about walking up to the
television again. Sam:
The remote is incredible.
I have back problems, and the PT person is like, "You have to get up
every 10 minutes." And I'm like,
"Actually, I don't." Announcer:
You can operate
all seven functions from your easy chair. Erica:
Once we got our hands
on these remote controls,
we wanted a remote control
for everything.

Woman: I have a TV remote,
a cable remote, a VCR remote. Erica:
One for a VHS player,
one for our Beta player,
one for our stereo,
and we were drowning
in these remote controls.
Steve Wozniak,
the co-founder of Apple, believed in
remote control so much
that he left Apple
to found a company that's sole purpose was
to develop a new remote control. Unfortunately,
it was really complicated
and it ultimately failed.
Early technology
suffered from this idea that just because
it was impressive
or complicated-looking,
then it was good.
And remote controls
were getting bigger and bigger
and more complicated. Sam:
They made it seem like this
is tech that we wanted,
but we just want
to turn the volume up. That's it. Marques:
Okay, so, for a minute there,
remotes got pretty complicated
before they got simple again. So, today I'm joined
by comedian Dulcé Sloan
and we're going to test out
some of these early remotes.
This is Dope or Nope. All right,
so we're talking
remote controls.

Remote control! – So, there's a TV here.
– Cute! It looks like a space helmet. All right,
first thing we got here, it's about 20 years old. Okay. Hmm! "inVoca, the world's most
advanced remote control." Voice activated?
Oh, looks like Alexa
didn't start the game! They're making
some big claims here. "Using technology so advanced that it has been used in
interplanetary space probes." ( laughs ) That was a lie in the '90s. "This went to space!" So, it says first you have
to train it to your voice. – Okay.
– All right, step one. "Be sure the room is quiet." Shut up! We're doing
technology ( bleep )! – All right.
– Step two. Press and release
the "train" button, and it's gonna apparently say,
"Say a word." – Okay.
– Remote: Say a word. Hello. – Press a button.
– Okay. Button accepted.
Press another button.
– Another button?
– Wake up.

Button accepted.
Press another button.
How many more buttons
she want? Okay, it will listen
for remote commands when the wake-up button
is pressed. Okay. Hello. Hello? Come on,
that's gotta be it. I'm disappointed,
not gonna lie. Hello. – Ah!
– Ah, we did it. Hallelujah! All right. Uh, worth it? – Nope.
– I'm with you. – Definitely
way too much work.
– Yes. – Definitely doesn't work
that well.
– No. And definitely not that much
better than pressing the button. – Yeah.
– So that's a nope. That'll make you get divorced. All right, this next remote
comes to us from 1995. Ooh, I remember that year. – What were we, two?
– Yeah, I was two. – I don't remember
that year at all.
– Cute, cute, cute. So, this is
the remote control locator. "Never lose your remote again." Oh, it's like a Tile. It's just a literal
speaker, I guess? – You press the button.
– ( beeping ) That's it.

You locate it
with the beeping. The number-one customer
for this is someone who loses
remotes all the time. And the solution
is another remote. – We have a remote.
– Ho! And, look, there's
no back to it. – Classic.
– Now I believe this was
in someone's home. – Okay.
– So, it's attached. So we should just
lose the remote. – Yes.
– Okay. Come back! – Yeah.
– You'd be very easy
to hypnotize. So now I have this game
I want to record tonight, but I don't know
where the remote is. If only we had something
to help us locate our remote. I'm, like, living
in an infomercial. I'ma press the button
and see what happens. ( faint beeping ) Yay! Only took me 12 beeps. – Okay, so, upside,
you find it.
– Mm-hmm. – Downside is this
is a little bit…
– Cumbersome? – It's a little much.
– Mm-hmm. But it makes your house
just a little bit smarter, no matter how simple
it really is. – It works. It's dope.
– Dope, dope, dope! Marques:
So, maybe early
smart home tech
wasn't all that impressive
by today's standards,
but that didn't stop us
from dreaming big,
and most of those dreams
were inspired
by what we saw
in science fiction.
A lot of our aspirations
for smart home tech really come from sci-fi.


Everything from
the dystopian examples
from "2001: A Space Odyssey" to "Back to the Future II," where you get a kitchen that can actually
make the food for you.
Hydrate level four, please. In the Marvel series,
Iron Man's JARVIS system is kind of this digital butler
around the home.
You should probably
prepare for your guests.
Tony Stark:
Thanks, buddy. In "Star Trek,"
you had the replicator. You could go up to it
and say…
Computer, another cup
of coffee, black. Sci-fi will often
portend the future that
we want to inhabit, but is not quite realistic for the technology
that we actually have.
Those home technologies
of sci-fi movies really did start to whet
our appetite though,
and so we just started
to seek more and more
from these devices. George, this is a program
called Power House.

It kind of turns your home
into an intelligent home. Back in the '70s,
there was something called X-10, and it would actually
use the existing wiring
in your home.
And there was a control panel
that you could press buttons on. You could turn
on and off lights, a fan,
things like that.
The issue, of course,
is that you really can't do
much more than that. This was still before wifi, so it was all operating
on wiring in the physical home.
When it comes to the creation
of a lot of these technologies, there are always gonna be things
that are just too soon. Marques:
So, was it easier to just
turn on a device yourself? Or did these early
automated systems
actually live up to the promise
of smart home technology?
Well, today, I'm joined
by fellow YouTube creator
Sam Sheffer,
and we're gonna test out
some of these systems
to see for ourselves.
– Sam, thanks for joining me
on "Retro Tech.

– Of course. I've heard of a lot of tech,
but I've never heard of X-10. I'm curious, like,
what this tech from the '80s
sort of looked like. Okay, Marques,
this is the OG
of the X-10 system. So, this is Radio Shack's
plug and power
remote control center. So, these things
are the modules. You plug an appliance
into here, then these plug into the wall, and this is how
you control everything. – All right.
– So, picture this. Young Marques
in early '80s. All right,
I'm gonna put myself
back in the '80s. Cue the recreation. Scott:
Okay, so, Marques,
imagine you've just come home from a long day at school. You're downright exhausted. Now, you could get up
and turn on the lights,
the toaster,
popcorn machine, TV,
and maybe even
turn on your vacuum.
Or you could
just turn one one button.
Which would you choose? Now, that– that was good.
That was good.

That was, uh, powerful. It feels impressive in a way in the tech world of the '80s, to do one thing
and have several things happen. Okay, so what's next? Okay, so this thing
is called the Master Voice
Butler-In-A-Box. It is the first
smart home hub. So, if I say, "JARVIS?" May I help you? – Lights on.
Okay, master. Also, around the back, you actually have
a phone jack in here. So this thing can actually
connect to your landline. So, what sort of scenario
would this be useful for? So, Marques, picture this. 1986. You're at home,
you just made yourself
a delicious sandwich
and you're really
excited about it.
You're about to take a bite, and you just realized
you need to call your mom.
But your phone
is so far away.
Enter Master Voice,
– Hey, JARVIS?
Yes, master? – Call Mom.
Please repeat. ( muffled )
Call Mom.

Please repeat.
– Call Mom. – Did you call?
– Call– – Please repeat.
– Call… – Please repeat.
– Call. – May I help you?
– Call Mom. Okay, Master. ( dialing, line rings ) – Hello?
– Hey, Mom. That wasn't great. I think we've all had that
bleeding-edge tech experience where we just know
it's not ready yet, and I feel like that
was that experience. Yeah, but it's kind
of hard to imagine, like,
wow, this came out in 1986. Yeah. To an extent,
I am impressed. Drawing a straight line
to what we have today, and what we're looking forward
to in the future, this is it. This is what we want.
An assistant. So what we're doing now
with the Internet is creating a home network
the same way X-10, technically, through
all the wires in our house,
was a network.

So, maybe the X-10 system didn't make our homes
all that much smarter.
But true smart home technology
was just around the corner,
thanks to
a little thing called…
The Internet. When we finally got Internet
and wifi in our homes, that really opened up the world
of smart home innovation. Because instead of just
having smart devices,
you had smart devices
that could talk to each other.
( overlapping chatter ) The entire home
in and of itself is smart. Announcer:
Anything you can think of
is now connected, and it means you'll never
have a cold shower again. A lot of appliances now
have smart built into them. For example, a stove
that can pre-heat when
you're coming home.
Everything from controlling
the thermostat in your home to having a security camera
on your door,
even though we're all
just kind of using it to watch
our cats while we're gone. ( meows ) I think the advent
of the Internet and wifi and Internet connected
everything made the possibilities
kind of seem endless.

So, what is the future
of smart home tech? The promise
of technology in the home was that it
was going to make us more effective,
more efficient. Everything would be more
convenient and simpler.
And we finally
got what we wanted… But there's a whole world
of opportunity for us
to think about the smart home
as something that helps us and the Earth. George Jetson:
Fortunately, my house can rise above
the air pollution. I mean, the reason the Jetsons
live in these sky pods
is because of the smog layer. So, how can we use
that technology to actually make
the Earth better, too? This is something
that really, really matters. We want homes
that don't contribute
to an environmental footprint. The energy
and the streamlining of that is going to be
one of the biggest
design factors, I think, in the future. Marques:
The evolution of smart homes
has put technology
we only dreamed of
right at our fingertips,
but how can we make
our homes not only smart,
but also energy efficient? To find out,
I'm joined by none other
than environmentalist
and philanthropist Bill Gates.
All right, Bill,
thank you for joining me
on "Retro Tech." – Glad to be here.
– So, you wrote a book
about 25-odd years ago called "The Road Ahead,"
in which you made
a bunch of impressively
accurate predictions
about our future.
I'm curious how
your vision of smart homes
over the years, over the last 30 years
or so has changed, and specifically
how climate change has wrapped more and more
into that picture? A lot of what we talked about
in those early days was various home automation
type things.

Announcer: As Robin enters,
she just touches "Welcome Home" on the nearest wall panel so the house is set
just the way she likes it. Gates: The temperature
would automatically adjust,
the lights, you know,
would turn off
when they weren't needed. And part of that was
optimizing energy usage, that, you know,
you wouldn't have lights on or be heating or cooling spaces unless it was
absolutely necessary. You want the digital ability
to control those things
and to understand where
you're using electricity.
That still hasn't happened. The home control
is still to be rolled out as something
that's simple and cheap. Do you think that
sort of stuff is something we should be shooting
towards more? Like, specifically
helping ourselves and the environment
at the same time? Yeah, for most houses,
the big use of electricity is the heating and cooling. Right now, that meter,
which most people don't go out and look at,
it doesn't do a what-if?
What if I insulated the attic? What if, you know, I turned down
from 72 degrees to 70 degrees? If you bring that
into the digital realm
on your PC or phone,
then you can attribute
the different loads to different activities,
and with a good UI, set the policy
so you're doing your part as somebody who cares
about climate change.

How do we get to a future where it's not just
a couple of smart homes sprinkled in our neighborhoods
that are high efficiency, but whole smart cities,
smart states, that are hyper-efficient
and energy positive? Well, often this gets pioneered when you have
a new development. In America, houses are big,
and that's a lot of energy.
And we want to move that
from natural gas,
which has carbon emissions,
to electricity.
And there's a thing
called the heat pump that's
actually fairly cheap. In fact, amazingly,
some houses can switch
and buy this heat pump
and replace their natural gas,
and actually
end up saving money.
Obviously, if you have
the intelligence on all the different houses controlling when you're
using electricity,
like, "Hey, turn
all the lights off,"
or "I'm going on vacation
for two weeks,
do the right thing,"
you know, it has to be smart.
We don't have that yet. So I think you will see
new developments where they're trying
to market themselves as, you know,
city of the future type thing because we need pioneers
to, you know,
see how this
can all come together.

So, as far as visions
for the future, we might be closer
to a smart home than anything else
we've talked about. The real challenge
is gonna be getting people to adopt this future–
more than just a few. I think the sweet spot
is somewhere in between the Clapper and its simplicity
and ease of use and convenience, and the Nest, Sense,
smart windows of the world. But then, once we're there,
we can move forward into this sci-fi smart home
future we've been waiting for. Either way, that's been it.
Thanks for watching. Catch you guys
on the next one. Peace..

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