A home that does everything but tuck in the kids at night
Washington — A man's home may be his castle, but if you ask a futurist, his house may be his computer, too - a place where the homemaker would rather polish up the family software than the silverware.
With anthropomorphic genius to rival any Disney production, architects, developers, and people who live with computers outlined the blueprint last week for the ''intelligent home'' - one that can do everything but straighten your tie and tuck the kids in at night. Some experts even say the family breadwinners will no longer need to commute to work - they can communicate to work via the house computer.
Visions of ''robutlers'' that will do the dinner dishes, sympathetic computers that automatically respond to a homeowner's mood with appropriate lighting and music, and a computer center that can bank, mail, and shop for the owner - all to be built with technology that exists today - were offered at the World Future Society Fourth General Assembly.
The annual conference, involving 3,500 participants and nearly as many speakers, drew more than a coterie of ''Star Trek'' dreamers. On hand were US Senators, foreign diplomats, authors, scientists, and corporate representatives.
For the past 20 years, the house of the future was envisioned as a geodesic dome with early American furnishings, says Roy Mason, architecture editor of the Futurist magazine. That design can be given more substance if Mason's concepts are any indication of what can actually be produced.
Most of Mason's designs will be on real-life display later this year near Orlando, Fla. in a model home called Xanadu, previewed at the conference.
Constructed out of energy-efficient polyurethane foam, the bubble-like home will include:
* A ''holostage'' with television in the round.
* An electronic ''autochef'' to prepare meals from freezer to table and a ''robutler'' to serve coffee.
* A ''sensorium'' - or media room - that will adapt light, sound, and color to match the homeowner's mood. This will include preprogrammed shows activated by bio-feedback sensors.
* A ''house brain'' computer that will control everything from atmospheric conditions around the house (through electronically sensitive shutters) to security functions.
* Computer-generated window views that open onto imaginery scenes - the Taj Mahal, for example. This, says Mason, is a particularly useful feature for homes that will be ''earth integrated,'' or partially built into the ground for energy efficiency.
A fully equipped 6,000-square-foot home will cost about $250,000. The price will be dependent largely on the electronics an owner chooses, because the actual construction costs of the shell are significantly lower than conventional construction. Shell construction takes two to three days, and completion of the whole home takes only three months, eliminating up to 30 percent of conventional costs, says Mason.
But before the futuristic bubble-shaped house mushrooms in local neighborhoods, there's likely to be changes in lifestyles. People with computers already operating in conventional homes are living in yesterday's home of the future, and their life styles are the best evidence of it.
''In an electronic cottage, it's irrelevant where you live,'' says Rohn Engh, who has been able to live in rural Wisconsin while maintaining a career in photography and publishing.
Back in 1960 ''we thought 'wouldn't it be nice to have our child go all through school in the same place' . . . and 12 years later he did,'' explains Engh, who found such a demand for his photography that he was able to publish a newsletter of all the jobs he didn't have time for.
Staying right in his farmhouse and using a computer, he has been able to create a news network with 1,000 publishers around the country, acting as a clearinghouse for their free-lance photography needs.
From her electronic cottage in Omaha, Neb., free-lance writer Leanna Skarnulis can use her computer to research, write, and send stories to editors, she says.
Asked if this self-contained life style might not have adverse social effects , Mason explains that ''the house of the future will be more like the house of the past.'' His concept of the ''electronic hearth,'' which is the center of a home's activity, will bring a family closer together and offer them more time for recreation, he concludes.