Can our homes take better care of the people who live in them?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer the preserve of science fiction. As the speed of digital transformation picks up pace, future living models are increasingly being influenced by new consumer demands, new challenges and new technologies. With digitization no longer just an evolutionary process happening externally to our everyday lives, what does this mean for our homes and how we live in them?

West Midlands Housing

Homes of the Future

Smart homes are becoming a reality. From Amazon’s Alexa to Google Home, voice-controlled smart speakers are now almost ubiquitous. From here, it’s not such a huge leap to picture the widespread use of smart technology that uses face or eye recognition to unlock your front door, or artificial intelligence that learns your daily routine and can boil the kettle for you as you get home from work. With the advent of companies like USwitch we already have online utility comparison and switching services. However, the commercialization of fully automated digital intelligence that knows when your home insurance is due for renewal, or can regularly remind you to review your gas and electricity supplier and then manage the change all with one click – or even one voice command - is no more than a few years’ away. 

Imagine if we could harness and deliver this technology for new homes, at scale. The challenge of building enough new homes, particularly in high growth-potential areas like the West Midlands, has been well documented. But what if we went a step beyond merely boosting housing numbers to think about how the homes we live in can genuinely improve quality of life

Artificial Intelligence as a ‘health-integrator’ in the home

The recent housing deal struck by the West Midlands Combined Authority for an additional £350 million of Government funding to support the delivery of more housing in the region offers a huge opportunity to rethink what our homes could look like

Consider the provision of effective health and social care, which remains a major concern for local and central government alike. With an ever-growing population, building new homes can inevitably put more pressure on already constrained local services, and this is an important factor for us to think about when developing new communities in the West Midlands. 

One solution could be to ensure we future-proof housing in a way that delivers some form of net-benefit back to the community. Harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and smart technology to allow our homes to take better care of the people who live in them could revolutionize our approach to both physical and mental health and wellbeing. 

If artificial intelligence is used as a ‘health integrator’, the home of the future could provide advice, motivation and support around healthy diet and exercise choices. It could help older people in assisted living, or support people in managing health conditions like diabetes. Using the power of technology in the home to enable people to make better decisions and take control of their own health and wellbeing could be life-changing.  

It’s something we’re already thinking about at Otterpool Park, a new garden town in Kent where we are exploring how new technology and digitalization can be incorporated into the plan. However, these principles can just as easily be applied to new housing development in the West Midlands, as well as the rest of the UK. Indeed, mastering and delivering on a range of complex and challenging new build and regeneration projects is a major part of our day-to-day work, as evidenced by our recent Business Insider award for Residential Property Consultancy of the Year

Delivering Smart Homes, at Scale 

This isn’t just about delivering the homes of the future though. It’s about how we bring these smart homes together into a community. We all know how designing and utilizing open space in the right way can be beneficial for physical and mental health, but by going even further to bring this thinking inside every home, the resulting benefits could go a long way towards freeing up public health resources. 

Let’s do the math. The average cost of the NHS is around £2,200 per person, per year. With the average household comprising three people, that’s £6,600 out of the NHS budget for every household, every year. In stark contrast, the cost of equipping a single home with lifetime AI technology could be as little as £5,000 in total. If we multiply this across every single house in a community, the public sector and local authority cost benefits could be significant.  

Of course, these figures are only approximate, but they serve to illustrate a wider point. Joined up thinking that brings together digital and technological expertise with local development plans gives us a new way of approaching housing delivery. It is no longer just enough to think about building new homes in isolation. With the advent of smart technology, the need to future-proof our homes takes on a new dimension. Ultimately, we have a major opportunity not only to tackle the housing crisis, but simultaneously to approach the West Midlands housing challenge in a way that could deliver significant societal benefits back into the community.         

Simon Marks

City Executive Birmingham Ask me a question