Monday, July 28, 2014

Smart houses may mean better health

From page HS4 | November 15, 2013 |

I just toured a home so smart it tells you when you’re being stupid. And here I thought that’s what my teenagers were for.

The prototype smart home offers a peek at what’s to come. Hint: houses that talk back. Their mission is to help you eat right, exercise more and take better care of yourself.

Being that I am both a health reporter and a home design columnist, the idea of a home that helps you stay healthy hit the bullseye on my interest target.

But then terror hit.

Do I really want a mirror that tells me the truth? NO! Or a refrigerator that tells me to eat this not that? SHUT UP!

Intrigued, I walked right in.

“The idea was to design a home that uses technology to help those living in it be healthier,” said Michael Voll, vice president of Dais Technologies, the company behind many of the Intelligent Home’s smart features. Voll led me through the futuristic model, which is in Lake Nona, Fla., a growing health-centric community in Southeast Orlando.

The house represents big-time thinking from big-time companies like Johnson & Johnson, General Electric, Cisco, Ashton Woods Home, Canyon Ranch and others. Together, they hope to reduce not just Americans’ waistlines, but also the $3 trillion a year this country spends on health care, 70 percent of which we bring on ourselves because of lousy lifestyles.

“Health starts at home,” said Voll. We start in the kitchen. There, a color-coded refrigerator and pantry offers a low-tech way to make healthier food choices. A digital cookbook calls up recipes based on what ingredients are in the house. No eggs? No omelets.

“It knows?” I asked wide-eyed.

“New kitchen technology helps with healthy, convenient meal planning,” Voll said.

I flash on a vision of my future relationship with my freezer.

“Do you really need that?” My freezer asks as I reach for the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

“Yes, actually. I do.”

“Shouldn’t you have a lower-sugar, lower-calorie alternative?”

“Look, you don’t know what my day has been like. Plus, I haven’t had dessert in three days. Can we negotiate?”

“I saw you eat that cupcake yesterday.”

“If you’re going to give me a hard time, I’ll just move onto the pantry and you know how many trans fats are in there.”

“No! Not the trans fats!”

“Not only that, but high-fructose corn syrup!”

“All right, all right, but only 4 ounces, deal?


Next we head upstairs where a full-length, interactive mirror gives out like-it-or-not feedback, along the lines of, “Bob, looks like you’re up a few pounds and your blood pressure is high. Better hit the treadmill and up your diuretic.”

“We want to program homes so they make people healthier by giving them information that makes healthier choices easier,” Voll said.

“Let me get this straight,” I said, fairly horror stricken: “You stand in front of a mirror that tells you how much you weigh, even when you’re fully dressed and have just eaten three slices of Lou Malnati’s pizza?”

Voll is awkwardly silent.

“I’d rather walk on burning barbed-wire barefoot.”

He then wisely moves beyond the subject of weight and runs through a series of options on the giant touch pad, where he can call up dozens of exercise routines from free weights to indoor cycle to yoga. While he amuses himself, I glance around for the inevitable ugly hardware — the black boxes, cords, remotes, monitors — that tends to accompany technology.

“Where’s the icky-looking stuff?”

“You won’t find it,” Voll said. “The technology is invisible and ambient.”

“Rats,” I said. There went my last good excuse not to like it.

Brace yourself. Here are some of the healthy home features and technologies that may be coming to a future near you:

  • Mirror, mirror on the wall.  A look in this full-length, interactive mirror tells you not just if your slacks are wrinkled, but also your blood pressure, weight, BMI, hydration level, pulse oxygen level and, oh, when your next doctor’s appointment is. Tailored to each family member, the mirror serves as a personal health coach. (Joe, you’re down two pounds. Way to go, buddy!) It can probably even do a vet check on your pets.
  • Personal trainer.  The same mirror can then turn into your personal trainer, helping you track your workouts and see how you’re doing compared to your fitness goals. Some of the workout sessions videos have famous athletes leading you through routines. Afterward your automated coach will let you know how you did: “Sue, that was your best yet!”
  • Color-coded pantry. Different colors of tape bordering shelves in the pantry and refrigerator offer an easy way to help family members reach for healthier choices. Items on the green shelf are for healthiest any-time foods; those on the yellow-coded shelf should be eaten in moderation, and items on the red — and hardest to reach shelf — make you think again. For those on special diets or with allergies, one shelf could be coded in blue for low-sodium or nut-free foods.
  • No more excuses. A GE Advantium oven speed cooks food up to seven times faster than a regular oven, eliminating one more excuse (not enough time) for not cooking at home. Advantium technology cooks the outside of the food like a conventional oven, with radiant heat produced by halogen bulbs above and below food, so it browns. The halogen heat gets a boost of microwave energy, so foods also cook evenly and fast. Breaded fish filets that would take 30 minutes in a conventional oven, are done in 4 1/2 minutes. Faster cooking means fewer fast-food meals, which leads to better control over the family’s nutrition.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through





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