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Any architect, builder or scientist can speculate about what the house of the future might be like. But Grace can tell you. Grace is a talking house. Her high-tech gadgets and innovative uses of everyday objects, along with advances in design and construction, will change the way we think about our homes. Grace isn’t the only one exploring how technology can make our homes more efficient, safe, comfortable and fun. Here is a survey of home innovators’ best ideas.

Grace is not a real house. More formally known as the Microsoft Home, she exists inside an office building on the company’s campus in Redmond. But once inside, it’s easy to imagine you’re in a trendy, futuristic home.

Picture this: you enter the house, and Grace’s voice, coming from hidden speakers, relays your messages. In the kitchen, you set a bag of flour on the sleekly engineered stone counter. Grace sees what you’re doing, and projects a list of flour-based recipes on the counter. Once you choose one, Grace recites a list of ingredients. She even knows what’s in the pantry, thanks to RFID technology (the kind of system that lets you go through a toll plaza without stopping).

The day when your house will be like a family member is not that far off, says Pam Heath, a manager in Consumer Strategy and Prototyping at Microsoft. This notion of seamless computing, in which technology is everywhere yet nowhere (except when we want it), underlies most future-home thinking. At the Andersen window company in Minnesota, advanced technology manager Jay Libby envisions windows made of smart glass that can be transformed into a TV. ‘Nobody wants a television set,’ says Libby. ‘You want the service it provides.’ If he gets his way, the TV will disappear into the view, and the term picture window will be redefined.

Home entertainment is just one consideration for the future. At the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, scientists are designing systems that will allow older people to continue living independently. So Grandma’s home can be intelligently wired to recognize her patterns of wake, sleep and movement; family members would be notified of any changes via computer. Does spying on Grandma sound creepy? Director Beth Mynatt says that ‘a good bit of our research has been working on how to convey information without sacrificing privacy and autonomy. We also don’t want to create inappropriate anxiety. Maybe she just took a quiet day to read, and the system would have to recognize that.’

If we’re going to live in our homes longer, they’ll need to be more flexible. Future homes will be manufactured in factories and then assembled on-site. Already, some homes are made out of pre-fab walls called structural insulated panels. These boards wrapped around a foam core eliminate the need for conventional stud framing. The hefty wall panels are then lowered into place by a crane.

Like cars, houses will come with tools to monitor and adjust everything from furnace efficiency to ventilation. And today’s computer-aided design programs make it easier to match the design to the specifics of the site and the homeowner’s lifestyle.

Besides offering speed, strength and accuracy, panellised construction is extremely airtight because the foam core completely seals the home. Insulspan president Frank Baker calls it ‘a total energy envelope.’ He ought to know because his own 5,000-square-foot panellised home costs less than $500 a year to heat.

At some point, homes will have to embrace alternative energy sources, such as solar panels that look like regular roof shingles. The technology uses a solar-sensitive material called thin-film triple-junction amorphous silicon, which is sandwiched inside conven-tional-looking shingles and wired into the home’s electric system. Today, these systems are rare and expensive, but they’ll start to look more attractive as electricity costs climb.

Windows are a challenge, because even the best glass can’t insulate like a wall. So in the future, some windows will likely be made of lightweight particles called aerogels, which insulate like foam but transmit light.

It’s easy to get carried away with visions of homes that heat themselves, keep us company and remind us to call the folks. ‘But technology never drives the aesthetic,’ says architect Sarah Susanka, author of Home by Design. ‘That’s why those weird-looking ‘houses of the future’ never come into being. People will always want their house to look and feel like a home.’

ВОПРОС 1. Grace is
1) a futuristic fashion house.
2) a sample of innovations.
3) a Microsoft office.
4) a real house.

ВОПРОС 2. The aim of Grace is
1) to free people from cooking.
2) to introduce new entertainment facilities.
3) to change people’s attitude to homes.
4) to have someone to talk to.

ВОПРОС 3. In paragraph 4 ‘seamless computing’ means that
1) you cannot feel the presence of computers.
2) computers are connected seamlessly.
3) computers are nowhere.
4) computing is meaningless.

ВОПРОС 4. Grandma’s home will allow family members
1) to live together with their grandparents.
2) to feel free from spying.
3) to convey information without sacrificing privacy.
4) to get information about their older relatives.

ВОПРОС 5. Structural insulated panels will make our homes
1) cheaper.
2) lighter.
3) more beautiful.
4) warmer.

ВОПРОС 6. People will have to embrace alternative energy sources because
1) solar panels look like regular roof shingles.
2) solar panels are very popular today.
3) people need more electricity.
4) electricity is getting more and more expensive.

ВОПРОС 7. According to architect Sarah Susanka, houses of the future never come into being because
1) they are rather expensive.
2) they look strange and unattractive.
3) they are difficult to construct.
4) they are too technological.

ВОПРОС 1: – 2
ВОПРОС 2: – 3
ВОПРОС 3: – 1
ВОПРОС 4: – 4
ВОПРОС 5: – 4
ВОПРОС 6: – 4
ВОПРОС 7: – 2