The Blog

Casa Jasmina: A Future Home?

Smart homes, just like smart cities, imply that something's been dramatically improved because it was a bit dumb. But homes (and war) have always been the starting point of technological advances.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being one of the first guests of the Arduino open source home project Casa Jasmina. The project describes itself as:

"a two-year pilot project in the business space of domestic electronic networking, or, "the Internet of Things in the Home." Our goal is to integrate traditional Italian skills in furniture and interior design with emergent skills in Italian open-source electronics."

After spending two days there, I came away with plenty of thoughts of the role of technology in our present and future homes which I promised Bruce & Jasmina I'd write about. So here it is.

What is a home anyway?

The tech industry talks about smart homes a lot, forgetting that the concept of a home is changing. Homes are usually private complex ecosystems yet with home sharing services like Airbnb, they become more and more homogenous, filled with Ikea furniture, predictable centre of digital activity around the TV and if you're lucky the occasional Roomba, Nest or wifi lightbulb.

I recently stayed in an Airbnb where the condiments were stored under the sink. Noone who owns a kitchen would do that unless it was an apartment *made* to resemble a home for the purposes of the Airbnb service. Not unlike the robotic uncanny valley, we can tell when the socio-mechanic landscape of a home rings true and when it doesn't. We know when people fake their presence in a space. Cargo-homes of sorts.

Casa Jasmina suffers from this in a little. It isn't a home where people live full time as it is an open source design residency program. The only real private spaces are the bedrooms as the living room is more of a meeting room, the tv gets used for presentations and the kitchen is used to organise events on the nearby roof terrace. Does that make it a home or a lab or even a commune? It's not exactly Marina Abramovic's The House with the ocean view but there's something public about the space right now, even without cameras and sensors.

Why smart?

Smart homes, just like smart cities, imply that something's been dramatically improved because it was a bit dumb. But homes (and war) have always been the starting point of technological advances. We developed ways of cooking and washing inside homes, before designing cars or managing city services. It is impossible to separate the home from the city from an innovation standpoint. Without the need to make sewage disposal safe and more efficient for home owners, we wouldn't have built a sewage infrastructure.

What the new generation of smart home devices tries to do is tie our on-the-go digital expectations to a space that if anything is already full of technology, just not the shiny type. We want to connect our phones and laptops to our homes because we think they are missing out on the experience. But that's where technology started so they may be barking up the wrong tree.

If we really wanted to make a home smarter, we would treat it like a digital citizen, someone with an email address, with a passport and with neighbours to talk to. What's in it doesn't matter, it's what's happening to it that does. I would love to get my city to email my house about things that will impact it, I'd love to email my street about a chair I want to donate and I'd love to see my home's history of leaks, repairs and the people who worked on them.

So what kind of tech does Casa Jasmina have? Well very little right now and I think that's better. Living in places is a complicated thing, and we spend (in the UK) much of our lives planning where to live, where to buy, what to save to afford to buy. Modern home living is complicated and if Uber reminds us of the transportation landscape of a city, Casa Jasmina could remind us about what's good about living in the right place at the right time. With or without technology, Casa Jasmina is a modern idea and an open question to the design and technology community.

I can't wait to see what happens next.