Welcome back SF Writers, to the second episode of the Mad Inventions Series, or M.I.S. for short, a place to generate ideas for your SF stories, based on our technological developments. Today we briefly look at house chores and technology.
In SF stories, technological products are there to enrich the world we’re painting, rather than taking centre stage. This is an important function as it shows different aspects of a newly invented society.
House chores, or house deeds as my RPG brain would call them, have afflicted us since we moved inside the first cave. No matter how hard I try to keep the house tidy and clean, a visit from my mum can always fill me with dread – not because of her, but because I know that I could never live up to her standards of cleanliness! I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, but there it is. And no, I don’t live in a pigsty, but there are certain things which I categorically refuse to do on a weekly basis, and others that I don’t do at all. For example, the last time I used an iron was 2007. After that it’s all been anti-crease material (which to me is totally SF in itself), plus the occasional trip to the dry-cleaner in case of emergency. When my dad (proper Italian old school generation) found out that my husband irons his own work shirts, he almost had a heart attack. ‘Whattumeen he irons? But … but …’ It totally threw him off, and yes, he sounded like Mario Bros, just like me.
My not doing house-chores does not equate to a ‘feet-up-until-your-ass-is-square’ scenario, by the way. Time is precious and I have to prioritise. So if someone was to come along and show me technological ways of taking care of menial tasks, I would welcome it – that is, if the new technology was faster and better than me!
Let’s leave out those machines which are now part and parcel of most households, like dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, etc. What else do we have that’s a little more out of the ordinary?
Let’s start with Laundroid, the machine that folds your laundry, which has been ten years in the making. It’s the size of a wardrobe to begin with, so space could be an issue. It uses image analysis to recognise the item, which in turn, activates all the right mechanisms. It takes four minutes per item mind you so, by the time it’s done 2 t-shirts, you might have finished folding the rest. But it’s a start, right? After all, we already have a machine to wash our clothes and one to dry them; it was only sensible to complete the cycle.
It was presented at the CEATEC trade fair in Tokyo, and you can watch a ‘folding’ in all its glory, below.
The next item on the list is not necessarily new, but it’s certainly not yet present in every household. I’m talking about the Robot Vacuum Cleaner. Many brands have latched on to this product, and they all come with ‘defibrillators’ for when your encounter one of them unexpectedly in the middle of the night – that is if you haven’t already broken a leg tripping over the little sucker. (Disclaimer: I am lying – there is no defibrillator … you have to buy that separately.)
Jokes aside, this little rotating disk likes to take its time as it navigates your home’s surfaces, switching between different types of floors, in a sort of Zen-like quiet calm. One of these machines even comes with 360 camera-view, so that it always knows where it is, where it’s going and where it’s been.
As long as you remember that the beast is unleashed in your home, you should be fine and free from dust-balls. Mind you, you have to empty the thing, so not completely autonomous, but it’s a start.
In 2013 a German firm created Tubie, the first hands-free dryer and iron. You place your clothing over either the trouser or the shirt tube, and fix them in place with clips. When you turn it on, hot air inflates the tubes, drying the clothing as well as forcing creases out. I must admit, by the time the woman in the video finished prepping the garments I was fast asleep.
The kitchen is a gadget heaven these days. An impressive amount of items are created to make every step of cooking, storing, chopping, etc. as easy as it can be.
With Robot Chef Sereneti, entrepreneur Timothy Chen went a step further, claiming that his machine can cook as well as a chef.
We are already used to baking machines, where you pre-load the ingredients and let the machine use them at the right time and in the right order. Essentially Sereneti mixes up small packets of fresh ingredients to make a variety of meals – ratatouille, pasta dishes, etc. This successful Kickstarter campaign has created your personal chef at the touch of an app. It can only stir at the moment but, given time, I’m sure they can make it do chopping, blending, and so on.
You can see a demonstration here.
Some of these products may seem tame and lame right now, but for someone with disabilities for example, they can be really useful. So how can they be useful to us SF writers?
Speaking from my own experience, in the YA SF Tijaran Tales I didn’t really have a lot of scenes set inside a house – still, a few inventions made their way into the books. The Juice-Maid is a machine fitted under a table-top surface, and it’s activated by touch and voice. The touch identifies the client through fingerprinting, which in turn authorises the transfer of money for the purchase, and the voice selects the beverage. The Nullify-Bin dematerialised all rubbish thrown into it, acting on the principle that nothing disappears but is merely transformed. Incidentally, I do have replicators of food aboard my ships but, as an Italian, I always believe in the power of real food, even in deep space. Felice Buongustaio is the head chef of the Zed Lunar Perimeter, responsible for delicious meals as well as the infamous Supernova, a cake so rich it could stall a nuclear reactor. I also populated the world with world restaurants such as “Hallouminati – The People of the Cheese”; “Eat Your Mama Blind”: a Jamaican place; “Eat It While It’s Down”: a Brazilian churrascaria, for example.
Even if these objects don’t become part of your plot, they should find their way onto the pages as part of your world’s description. They help set up mood and tone, tell you more about how technologically developed a society is and how humanity has developed (if humans are in your story that is).
- Have you painted your world in all its glory?
- What kind of household items would you find in your book?
- Would a reader be able to understand your world by the technology that exists?
- Pick one the objects above: what can possibly go wrong with it? How could it cause the plot to advance?
- If someone could hijack your technology and use it to their advantage, what impact would it have on your characters?
- Which gadget are we going to do without in the future?
- Take a walk around your home: what do you think should be invented next to make your life easier?
- With increase in the population and possible depletion of resources, will we understand food and cooking in the same way we do now?
- What materials/surfaces for the house should be invented that do not require cleaning?
So let your imagination run wild and invent away. Oh, and happy writing!