Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Disneyland's New House of the Future

The House of the Future 2008

Once upon a time, back in the day, Disneyland had an attraction called the Monsanto House of the Future. It was opened in 1957 and was meant to exhibit what a house would be like in 1986. When I was young we lived close enough to Disneyland so that we could watch the fireworks from my bedroom window out on the horizon, so I began to go to and remember Disneyland from a very young age, but the House of the Future is one thing I don't remember at all. I've heard about it and was intrigued. Now there's a kind of update on it that opened yesterday for preview visits. I had a chance to go, so my daughter and I went down to Disneyland to check it out.

First off, it isn't really equivalent to the House of the Future, it is more a house of todays most recent gadgets and computer tech-wizardry available from Microsoft and its partners. And there is truth in advertising: it is not called the House of the Future. It's called Innoventions Dream Home.

It's inside the bottom floor of Innoventions, the old Carousel of Progress rotating building. It's where the Virtual Magic Kingdom computers had been until recently. VMK has been terminated. We enter at the same spot where we entered for Innoventions where the video of the Tom Tomorrow robot gave a little intro talk before the audience is let in to see demos of new products and look around the Innoventions building. The Dream House is in the non-rotating center region.

I asked a Cast member if they were still going to have the rotating floor and the sales pitch demos. Her bizarre answer gave me the first indication of the concept for this attraction. She answered, "yes, this is weird. I'm a neighbor of the Elias family and there is this rotating floor."

In other words all the employees there were in character and wouldn't give straight answers about things. They all had to pretend they were either in the Elias family or were friends or neighbors, there for a party for the youngest Elias son, Rob, who had made some sort of spectacular soccer goal for his team, who were about to head off to Beijing China to play a soccer match.


Here's some shots of the outside of the house.

On this one below you can see silhouettes of people who were walking by inside the house. The story is there's a party going on. One of the silhouettes that would go past was clearly Mickey Mouse.

One of the major new technology used is RFID - Radio Frequency Identification. The initial host who spoke before they opened the front doors above to let us in pointed out how the dog door had the RFID tecgnology to allow the family dog to go in that door -- it would open for him when he and his RFID embedded collar got close.

As I entered the first thought that struck me is the house of the future would be one that has a lot of those digital picture frames that are all ready common. But, I found out the gimmick is that the photos will change with whomever in the family is nearby. This also must be based on the RFID. If Mom is by the pictures her RFID will signal to change the digital images to the ones she likes.

The other thing about the house of the future I guess is that there will be a lot of big screen displays all over the place. Here's the kitchen's dining nook, for example.

The kitchen has a sink with a retractable faucet which was of note because it did have running water. This is the Carousel of Progress building, the revolving building. The hosts for Innoventions have always stressed that there are no bathrooms in the building because of the issues with putting in pipes to a building that rotates. But, there was water that ran from the retractable faucet in the Carousel of Progress building, as you can see.

Outside the kitchen there was a surface computer that acted as a kind of coffee table. It is a touch sensitive big flat screen. There were nice gimmicks as in making it look like a pool of water and touching the screen made the water seem to respond. And there was a kind of finger paint mode to it. The most showed off bit was the moving jigsaw puzzle. The puzzle was a video cut up in to pieces that could be moved around by finger. It is cool, but amounts to a very expensive jigsaw puzzle.

The boy's room had a Peter Pan theme and there was a story time where the Dad, John Elias, read a story to his son and there were special effects and the cannon of his pirate ship bed actually shot and Tinkerbell flew by.

The daughter's room has a "Magic Mirror" where by looking in the mirror she can see how outfits would look on her without actually trying them on. But, there was a strange twist to it while we were there. It was the brother (not the young soccer star but an older one) who was using the mirror and the results were...

what one might call rather strange. I asked if my daughter could try it -- it might look a little better. He said it only worked for family members, such as himself. But it was a real mirror to the degree that it did reflect via some mechanism what was in front of it. When he talked in the mirror his mouth was moving as he talked. And we could see ourselves in the mirror -- it just wouldn't do the clothes bit. Here we are in the Innoventions Dream House Magic Mirror

What else was there? There was another computer coffee table, this one a table that displayed classic books called Turning the Pages. They had it set up with an Alice book, an original by Lewis Carrol.

It also had what is essentially a player piano, hooked in to a computer. Video lessons were available. In the Dad's den was a big screen TV and his work space with a thumb print activated computer system. There was also some sort of plastic mold making box. I asked the Cast member about it, if it smelled. She stayed in character the whole time and said she didn't know. She was a neighbor there for the party and wanted us to watch news clips about the boy and his soccer game. The future will apparently have Rob Fukuzaki of Channel 7 in LA doing news reports on little kid's soccer games.

One of the sponsors is a house design firm called Taylor Morrison.

We can see the house is at 360 Tomorrowland Way.

This brings up the inside references. The address 360 -- a play on the revolving Carousel of Progress building. It rotates 360 degrees.

And the family's name: Elias. Elias Disney was Walt and Roy Disney's father's name. That's obviously where it comes from but there is no mention of that. I wish I'd been bright enough to ask the cast members who were staying in character if they'd ever heard of Disneyland. Or Walt Disney.

There was another reference. The kitchen has a system that projects recipes on to the counter and the name of the system is The Lillian. Named after Mrs. Walt Disney.

So really this is not named the House of the Future and the designers readily admit it is not that. It is the Dream Home. And that's apt. It really is like a nicely furnished and designed house with products available now that are very expensive. It's like a house very wealthy people might live in.

The Turning the Pages is out there and a large number of classic books have been digitized and can be looked at at various web sites on your own computer. A couple examples are at the British Library and the National Library of Medicine.

Here's a short article on the Surface Computer. Here's the official page for the Innoventions Dream Home. Here's an article that probably does a better job than me in describing it, but keep in mind it draws heavy on the press release.

All in all I like that Disneyland is doing something like this. The gimmick of the family where all the people working there live in this house or are neighbors and they keep up the pretense that this is real is a bit disconcerting. But trying to do a technology exhibit in Tomorrowland is basic Walt Disney. I like that they have the Honda robot Asimo shows in Innoventions as well.

It's not as ambitious as the original Walt Disney exhibits, such as the House of the Future, but it is nice enough.
Monsanto House of the Future link at Yesterland and at Wikipedia