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Today in Tomorrowland

Disney's Innoventions Dream Home Features Technology That is (Mostly) Available Now.

The Life-ware interface, for the moment, dominates the big screen in the media room.Although the technology within the new Disney exhibit, which is a partnership between Microsoft, HP, Life-ware, and homebuilder Taylor Morrison, may be just as futuristic to the typical Disneyland visitor as George Jetsons space ship, in reality nearly 70 percent of the exhibit is the real deal. Dominated by Microsofts Media Center PC backbone, Life-wares ubiquitous integration software and hardware, and lots of HP monitors, the contents of the home could literally be purchased tomorrow, for a price.

A custom installation veteran who already has toured a Life-ware home at CEDIA or CES will recognize the basic concept behind Disneys Innoventions Dream Home. Take that idea, throw in a little Disney magic, add more HP displays than any single family could possibly need, change the name of the fictional family living in the home to Elias, and youre mostly there. The basic idea behind the project, according to the director of Microsofts Strategic Prototyping Group, Jonathan Cluts, was to educate consumers about the possibilities of technology and software.

Think about where consumers come to be educated and entertained, Disneyland is a natural choice, Cluts said.

Back on software giants corporate campus in Redmond, Washington, the Microsoft Home serves a prototype of where the company envisions technology headed in five or 10 years. For the Innoventions Dream, Cluts said, Microsoft took a lot of its research and development and placed it in a real-life scenario.

The Disney folks reminded us about inspirational vs. aspirational thinking, Cluts explained. Aspirational is offering something to dream about and inspirational is opening consumers up to the possibilities of something like technology.

Throughout the home, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags are used primarily as a triggering device for scenes involving the fictional Elias family, but they also provide hints about future application. Already ubiquitous in commercial facilities, Microsoft has believed in the consumer potential of RFID as well. In Dream Homes kitchen an actor can place a sugar and flour bag on the tabletop and it sprays out some possible recipes, involving those two ingredients, Cluts said. The technology could also tell you if your milk is going to expire. Its not a huge thing but it provides little nuisances to your life.

The aforementioned preponderance of HD flat panels in the Dream Home, courtesy of HP, is also something that Microsoft believes will be more common in the future. In the next 10 years, we think there will be many more screens and touchscreen will become ubiquitous, Cluts added.

The Future is Now

An additional RFID trick on display involved a tabletop of four large LCD touchpanels that responded to “tagged” items, such as an Eiffel Tower souvenir, to change the background panels in the room to Paris vacation photos, for instance.Unlike most homes of the future, the idea behind the Innovations Dream Home is that technology is no longer fantasy or science fiction, but available today. This message was especially important to the people at Life-ware, who have used the Innoventions Dream Home to introduce a broader consumer base to its digital control solution that runs on the Window Media Center platform.

We want to dispel the message of The Future, said Life-wares vice president of marketing, Bret Fitzgerald. This is the home of tomorrow. You can have it in your house tomorrow. While about 75 percent of the overall technology in the exhibit is currently available, 95 percent of the Life-ware technology in the home is real.

Other than the its interface with RFID technology, all Life-ware technology in the home should be well known to any of the manufacturers dealers. For instance, in the Great Room of the Dream Home, using RFID technology, Life-ware automatically triggers pictures on the walls, cues up music, and adjusts lighting and temperature to meet the preferences of the particular family member who enters the room.

Disneys decision to use Life-ware was a natural progression from early relationships with Microsoft and HP. Disney wanted to work with those two companies and Life-ware already had great relationships with both as well. We became an obvious choice, Fitzgerald said. We were already on the Microsoft platform. We had a great partnership with HP, and it made sense to bring Life-ware in to tie all of those pieces together and make more magic happen. We touch all of the devices and make them do the fun stuff in the home.

Speaking of Magic

Robbie Elias’ bedroom is home to a Captain Hook-inspired bed and Peter Pan theme. Story time in that room triggers video projection from the original Disney movie to appear on walls and the ship’s sail, in harmony with the storyBeyond home automation features familiar to anyone already in the custom install business there are magical touches that make the Innoventions Dream Home a little more special. Most notable is Robbie Elias bedroom, which is home to a Captain Hook-inspired bed and Peter Pan theme. Story time in that room triggers video projection from the original Disney movie to appear on walls and the ships sail, in harmony with the story. Wind chimes jingle to represent Tinker Bell, and the cannon at the end of the ship (bed) fires a puff of smoke as Peter escapes again.

Another more magical feature is a mirror mirror on the teenage daughters bedroom wall. Mirror Mirror, which runs off of Microsoft Windows seems truly magical because it provides wardrobe previews for all of the clothes in that bedrooms closet, to the person standing in front of it. This was another whiz-bang commercial solution that may find its way into the home in the not-too-distant future.

An additional RFID trick on display involved a tabletop of four large LCD touchpanels that responded to tagged items, such as an Eiffel Tower souvenir, to change the background panels in the room to Paris vacation photos, for instance. Lay the digital camera on the table and voila!, the digital photos download wirelessly to the table in a simulated shuffle mode. This demonstration was admittedly the most vaporous in the home, but the dream will soon meet reality with this idea too.

Disneys Motivation

A preponderance of HD flat panels are featured in Disney’s Innoventions Dream Home, courtesy of HP.Disney is no stranger to helping the worlds manufacturers promote their wares. Just look at EPCOT Center, and youll understand how corporate partners are encouraged to showcase their vision, with a little advertising thrown in for good measure. The Dream Home isnt that blatant, but Disney does understand what a project like this can do for its sponsors.

Disneys director of alliance development, Dave Miller, worked with all the partners and spearheaded the project from the start. He explained that one of the selling points that Disney made to its partners was having a captive audience and ability to use the Disney storytelling to bring people into a scenario that you really cant replicate anywhere else.

The partners have had a difficult time trying to educate the consumer on what an experience would look like or a lifestyle would look like, he explained. We know that having sponsors showing technology has worked all the way back to Walts day, so we knew this would work too. We thought this was the perfect time to bring the companies together to make a great experience for our guests and an incredible value for our partners by inspiring our guests to want to go and learn more.

The idea behind Innoventions Dream Home, Miller added, is to explore, discover, and learn how technology can improve your life. Knowing how Microsoft looks at the consumer and the kind of messaging they use was a perfect fit, and they partner with HP, who has worked extensively with Life-ware. Stars and moon aligned for us to be able to edutain or guests in non-threatening way.

Before You Go…
Theres one very tangible component to the Dream Home, a digital survey called Develop Your Own Dream Home Experience, that at least one company is hoping will pay huge dividends. According to homebuilder Taylor Morrisons president and CEO Sheryl Palmer, the idea behind the digital survey is to learn directly from the consumer what they want, and how theyll actually live with technology when they get it.

In the Dream Home’s kitchen an actor places bags of sugar and flour bag on the tabletop, where possible recipes involving those two ingredients are then displayed.

As a partner in the Dream Home, Palmers company applied its extensive design and construction experience to several facets of the project. The Taylor Morrison team worked closely with Disney designer Tom Zofrea to understand his design concept and style aesthetic for the home. Inspired by Zofrea, Taylor Morrison then contributed many of the design elements shown on the faade and in the patio and party tent areas. Taylor Morrison designers also helped achieve the Disney vision through the selection of interior materials such as the homes kitchen surfaces, flooring, and various fabrics.

But for Palmer and her team the big payoff from all of their involvement is demographic data. Its all about prioritization, she said. Most visitors are going to say that they want it all, but what can they afford, what will they pay for, and what will really help them live within their home environment more naturally? Six months from now well be able to go to market with those ideas.

Palmer acknowledges that its not an ideal time to be a homebuilder. A recession and mortgage crisis hasnt been kind to any of them, but Palmer hopes that the Dream Home will give her company a leg up on the competition. Were going to come through this having more knowledge, being ahead of the pack, and understanding the consumers needs and wants.

Jeremy J. Glowacki ([email protected]) serves as editorial director of New York City-based Residential Systems, out of his satellite office in Carmel, Indiana.