Why ambience will define future homes

sector - media & technology
type - opinion
While technology is often associated with distraction, digitised ambience can offer subtle solutions to improving home environments

The term ambient technology is familiar to many creative workshops and design studios today, but what does it mean? Importantly, how can it affect the way we feel in our homes?

We can define ambient technology as technological solutions that are integrated into our everyday lives and that are not perceived by the user. But this does not simply mean making technology that can be hidden. We tend to think that the best ambient technology can blend in and be operated using a touchscreen, but this is not always the right approach. In the past 50 years, we have started to experience technology that does not require a human interface, raising questions about our mental readiness for it. To maximise the benefits of ambient technology, then, it is important to think about how we interact with the world beyond the screen.

Published by:

9 May 2022

Author: Rowan Wlliams

Image: Little Signals by Google and Map Project Office, UK


Vincent Schwenk and Vitaly Grossmann for Imat-Uve

As humans, we are wired as physical beings. We enjoy the tactile sensations of the world around us and find comfort in the confirmation that something is there rather than having awkward interactions with ghostly unknowns. We also thrive in biophilic, nature-inspired spaces. Research from the University of Exeter suggests that natural, houseplant-filled homes can make us 15% more productive.

With this in mind, brands should strive to create technology that takes inspiration from the natural world. An example of this is Panasonic’s Air Panel LED lighting, which mimics natural daylight cycles to provide a relevant home atmosphere depending on the time of day. Its Omakase mode automatically provides white and bright lighting during working hours before adjusting to warmer colours in the evening.

Yet, when thinking about ambient technology, it must be understood that the ambient state is only one part of the story. The key to such technologies is to approach the product in space as you would an animal or plant in its natural habitat. When they don't want to be seen or heard, they move slowly, make no noise and camouflage themselves in their surroundings. They do not assert themselves in their environment, but become a part of it. And when they want to be noticed, they come alive through a natural curation of sensory stimuli: accelerating pace, changing colour, amplifying noise, releasing scents. Home technologies can take inspiration from this behaviour too.

Take Panasonic and Vitra’s OLED concept, a prototype tv that, when not in use, appears as an elegant glass cabinet. The tv hides in plain sight by naturally blending into any contemporary living space. By entering the mainstream, this kind of technology points towards the future potential for merging furniture and technology.

Looking ahead, we can expect to see products like smart rugs that monitor a room’s lighting levels, or sofas that can track and modify air purity. These may just be speculative examples for now, but they allow us to imagine the many possibilities of ambient technology, and to understand the best ways it can be seen, heard and present in our everyday lives.

Rowan Williams is the creative lead at Panasonic Flux

‘To maximise the benefits of ambient technology, it is important to think about how we interact with the world beyond the screen’
Rowan Williams, creative lead, Panasonic Flux

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