Smart homes for tech-aware retirees

The future is moving walkways, pull-down shelves and biowalls that grow vegetables

Do retirees really want to live in the type of retirement homes that are being built? This is one of the questions posed in a 45-page report, Neighbourhoods of the Future, to be published next week. Commissioned by the retirement house builder McCarthy & Stone, it looks at the future of the industry, specifically the role of technology. What will retirement homes look like in 20 years’ time?

Very different to how they look now, is the hope of the authors of the report, Ian Spero, the founder of the Agile Ageing Alliance, and Merlin Stone, a marketing professor and consultant. The retirees they spoke to are ready for something different. High fees, poor resale values and living in a ghetto of older people is not doing it for today’s 70-year-olds.

“The next generation [of retirees], often called baby boomers, is not only the largest generation of older adults the UK has ever had, but also the most educated, financially secure and technologically aware,” says Spero.

What a future retirement home might look like in 20 years’ time, according to McCarthy & Stone

“It is a generation accustomed to the service economy.” Indeed, the world of gadgets and tech is no longer the domain of the young, according to Spero, who says he had 80-year-olds filling in the survey online. McCarthy & Stone is by far the biggest builder of this type of housing, so for it to commission the report is pertinent. Tracey McDermott, the company’s chief information officer, says it is analysing the report before deciding which technologies, many of which are still in development, it will implement in its schemes in future.

The company is set to incorporate super-fast broadband in its developments and it is trialling tablets that can be used to contact doctors through instant messenger apps.

McDermott says the technology will eventually be fully integrated into houses and will incorporate voice activation, allowing your home to talk to you and, ultimately, help to take care of you. For example, your home might remind you to take your medication, or that you have an appointment.

McCarthy & Stone is set to incorporate super-fast broadband in its developments and is trialling tablets that can contact doctors through instant messaging

Other potential technologies mentioned in the report include:

● Virtual screens A see-through screen that when “touched” in mid-air by a user’s finger transmits signals to a computer or mobile device.

Touch tables A table, like a giant tablet, that can be used for holographic projections. Anything written on it can be saved and sent to someone else.

● Smart mirrors These will let you shop and try on clothes virtually. Or they can be used for motivational purposes, to show what you might look like if you stick to a fitness plan.

● Smart floors A floor that detects when a person falls and sends an alarm signal to a carer.

● Moving walkways Modelled on airport travelators, these will be installed in homes for those with mobility issues.

● Pull-down shelves Users will pull down storage rather than climb up to reach it.

● Smart fridges These will be able to detect what food needs replacing — and may even be able to order it. When connected with health-monitoring the fridge can advise you to stay away from the whipped cream.

● Biowalls A system for growing plants and vegetables; it’s like a living wall.

● Full-zone induction hobs These allow you to put a pan on any part of a work surface to cook.

Boomer facts
The postwar baby boom peaked in 1947, which means an unprecented number of people will turn 70 this year.

The Savills research department estimates that the over-65s hold £1.42 trillion in housing wealth — homes without mortgages — and that more than half of the 5.53 million homes owned by this age group have at least two spare bedrooms.

Savills estimates that about 90,000 households downsize each year.