Rosie the Robot won't be moving in quite yet, but virtual assistants and other tech will make life easier and entertain us more than ever.
Of all the tech industry's current obsessions, smart homes might have the biggest gap between fantasy and reality. We've been dreaming of a home that runs itself—restocking supplies, maximizing energy efficiency, and even performing some chores—but for the most part we got glorified remote controls for appliances instead.
Even if a true smart home is further off, we'll get that much closer in 2017. Here's what to expect next year—and what will remain elusive:
THEY'LL FINALLY UNDERSTAND CONTEXT
For years, Nest thermostats have tracked whether you're home or away, and used that information to adjust the temperature and control other smart home devices. That kind of contextual awareness should expand in several ways next year.
More of us are wearing smartwatches and fitness trackers that can tell whether we're awake, asleep, exercising, or relaxing. Those signals can in turn feed into smart thermostats, ceiling fans, light bulbs, and blinds to adjust a home's climate and atmosphere.
We're also starting to see a proliferation of mesh router systems such as eero, Plume, and Google Wi-Fi, which add multiple connectivity points throughout the house. Eero already uses this capability to tell you which part of the house you left your phone in, and it's not hard to imagine a system that adjusts temperature and lighting based on where people are gathering.
THEY'LL HAVE AI EVERYWHERE
While 2016 was a breakthrough year for connected speakers such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home, in 2017, those products' underlying AI will start to feel omnipresent. Amazon, for instance, has been letting hardware makers build the Alexa virtual assistant into their own products and now offers ready-made prototyping kits to make development easier. Google isn't far behind with similar initiatives, and Microsoft wants to get its Cortana assistant onto more devices as well. Pretty soon, you'll start seeing virtual assistants in alarm clocks, lamps, TVs, and maybe even your fridge, letting you search Google or order items on Amazon from anywhere in the house.
THEY WON'T DO MUCH MANUAL LABOR
Don't expect Rosie the Robot to come to life next year, though we are inching ever closer. Aside from your Roombas and iRobots, we're starting to see household robots that can fold your laundry, clean up after your cat, handle your dry cleaning, clean your gutters, and mow your lawn.
Still, these new household robots are pricey, and in some cases the setup seems like more trouble than it's worth. Meanwhile, the idea of a Rosie-like robot remains an immense technological challenge requiring sophisticated mechanical components and artificial intelligence that aren't likely to be commercialized anytime soon.
THEY'LL SHOP FOR YOU, WITHIN REASON
While appliance makers like Samsung are sticking cameras inside their refrigerators, they haven't quite figured out how to reorder groceries on your behalf.
In the meantime, Amazon has the next-best thing with Dash Replenishment Service, a set of software tools that appliance makers can use to order more supplies as they run low. This year, we saw a Brita pitcher that orders more filters, GE dryers and dishwashers that order more fabric softener and detergent packs, and Brother printers that order more ink. And new products are coming, including a trash can that helps you order more of what you just threw away. The only question is whether Amazon will remain unchallenged, or other retailers will catch on.
THEY'LL DELIGHT YOU IN LESS ESSENTIAL WAYS
If we learned anything from the Amazon Echo, it's that smart home products don't need to emphasize order and upkeep to be successful. Some of the best smart home applications of 2017 might simply help you stay informed or entertained.