Robots didn't change my life: Mother whose home was fitted with the latest hi-tech gizmos reveals all
Michele Perera is not what you’d call a technology geek. A no-nonsense Yorkshire-born mother of six, she’s not the sort to be dazzled by flashing lights and shiny buttons.
When I ask if she considers herself a gadgety person, she replies, ‘No, not really. I don’t mind using a whisk, something like that.’ The perfect candidate, then, to feature in a new five-part TV series called Home Of The Future.
For six weeks, Michele and her family were evicted from their Sheffield home while a team from Channel 4 transformed it, gutting and rewiring it before refitting with every conceivable gadget that might end up being commonplace in British homes in a few years’ time.
Updated: Michele with one of her high-tech kitchen gadgets
Almost four miles of cable were laid and 250,000 was spent replacing the old with the new. Out went the battered TVs, the old CD player, the much-loved microwave (and probably Michele’s whisk). In came an extraordinary array of devices to help with every aspect of life, from cooking to sleeping to staying healthy.
Would these new gizmos change the way this family lives And will their experience give the rest of us an insight into the future Michele, 51, says that when she and her husband, 61-year-old Tony, who runs an MOT service garage, heard their family had been selected to take part ‘it felt like we’d won the lottery’.
Yet her reaction when she walked back into her home – which had been a chintzy affair and now looked like an Apple Store – was despair. ‘Everyone else saw the big TV and thought “Wow!” But I thought, “Oh no. What have they done to my home” I cried, I was shaking. They had to stop filming.’
Not surprisingly, the young people in the family – sons Leon, 27, and Joel, 25, daughters Mica, 22, and Miah, 17, and four-year-old grandson Lucas (her two other children declined to take part) – loved it. ‘There was so much amazing stuff,’ says Leon. ‘It just looked incredible.’
So what was on offer in the house of the
future The obvious things were there: the 3D home cinema, the robot to
vacuum the carpets, the electric cars in the drive, the solar tiles on
the roof. But there was also a self-filling bath, a rainwater harvesting
system and all manner of games and relaxation devices.
Michele is unable to single out an item that has revolutionised the way they live
At the centre of everything were two gadgets: a console in the living room that was used to play music and operate the TV and lights; and a device built into the bathroom mirror that connected to the internet as well as giving health updates. And, of course, you could use it to check you haven’t smudged your lipstick. So, with the benefit of hindsight, what’s the best gadget
‘I love the induction hob,’ says Michele. This type of cooker is more than twice as efficient as a gas stove, which uses only 40 per cent of the energy it gives out to heat up your food (the rest is wasted on making your stove top and kitchen hot). But what Michele loves most is its precision.
‘You can set something to simmer and that is exactly what it does. It never burns anything. It’s amazing.’ Food was an important part of the experiment. At one point, the producers asked the family to eat burgers made of ground-up insects (the idea being that protein-rich grasshoppers may one day replace traditional meats, which could become increasingly scarce). Michele’s verdict
‘Fine. They needed more spice. And I don’t know if I’d have tasted them if I’d known there were paramedics outside in case any of us had an allergic reaction.’
In case the family did get the urge to overindulge, they could turn to Autom, a robot ‘diet coach’ that tracks your food intake and exercise, and offers tips and encouragement. Another food innovation, the ‘aquaponics greenhouse’, was popular with the whole family. It’s a food production system that supplies the house with fish and veg. You feed leaves to worms, supply the fattened-up worms to tilapia fish, then put the fish waste on the vegetables, which grow without soil.
‘It’s amazing. We’ve grown green peppers, chard, mint, chillies and the best cucumbers I’ve ever tasted,’ says Michele. And, of course, you can eat the fish too. They also grew veg soil-free in the kitchen in a little ‘Aerogarden’, which was originally developed for use by NASA astronauts. Also a big hit was the Nissan Leaf electric car.
‘Jeremy Clarkson might have slagged it off but I thought it was brilliant,’ says Leon – not a bad recommendation, consider ing he’s a mechanic. Predictably, not everything works as advertised. With the cameras gone, you won’t find anyone using the electric kitchen roll dispenser (‘you wave your hands and it gives you a piece. Who needs that Just hygiene freaks,’ says Leon). Even the robot vacuum cleaner gets only a guarded welcome. ‘You get better suction from a proper Hoover,’ says Michele.
So what difference has the experiment made to the family Surprisingly little. Michele is unable to single out an item that has revolutionised the way they live. The giant mirror has been sent back, as has the self-filling bath (it kept getting the temperature wrong).
Nor, for that matter, will there be a repeat order for one of the more bizarre products: a pair of anti-flatulence underpants, which contain a filter to neutralise odours. ‘My girlfriend said they work,’ says Leon, a little coyly. ‘But I won’t be going out and buying a pack.’
Home Of The Future, tomorrow, Channel 4, 7pm.