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The theme-park giant teams with high-tech firms to build a new House of the Future.
Published Feb. 14, 2008

Millions of Disneyland visitors lined up a half-century ago to catch a glimpse of the future: a home teeming with mind-blowing gadgets such as hands-free phones, wall-sized televisions, plastic chairs, and electric razors and toothbrushes.

The House of the Future, a pod-shaped, all-plastic dwelling that quickly seemed quaint closed its doors a decade later. Now Disney is set to open a new abode in Tomorrowland - this time in partnership with 21st century technology giants.

The $15-million, 5,000-square-foot home scheduled to open in May will look like a normal suburban home outside, but inside it will feature hardware, software and touch-screen systems that could simplify everyday living.

Lights and thermostats will automatically adjust when people walk into a room. Closets will help pick out the right dress for a party. Countertops will be able to identify groceries set on them and make menu suggestions.

Visitors will experience the look of tomorrow by watching Disney actors playing a family of four preparing for a trip to China.

"It's much different than a spiel that you would get at a trade show," said Dave Miller, director of alliance development for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts. "We won't get into the bits and the bytes. It will be about the digital lifestyle and how that lifestyle can help you."

Much of the project will showcase a network that makes the house "smart" and follows family members from room to room - even adjusting artwork - to preset personal preferences.

When a resident clicks a TV remote, for example, lights will dim, music will shut off and the shades will draw as the network realizes a movie is about to start.

The system will allow residents to transfer digital photos, videos and music among televisions and computers in different rooms at the click of a button. In the kitchen, touch-pad software on the countertop would be able to identify groceries and produce recipes and meal suggestions. Similar programs could turn a desktop into a computer screen, allowing residents to load photos, music or e-mail onto a cell phone by placing it on the desk.

Mirrors and closets could identify clothes and suggest matching outfits, complementary colors or track what apparel is at the cleaners or in the wash.

When it comes to aesthetics, designers decided to stray from the Jetsons-style House of the Future - an all-plastic cross design with four wing-shaped bays that appeared to float. The house was so tough that wrecking balls bounced off it when Disney ripped it down in 1967.

The new home will be made of wood and steel and finished in muted browns and beiges, said Sheryl Palmer, president and chief executive of Taylor Morrison in North America.

"The 1950s home didn't look like anything, anywhere. It was space-age and kind of cold," she said. "We didn't want the (new) home to intimidate the visitors. We want the house to be real accessible to our guests."

The future past

Disney has joined Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, softwaremaker LifeWare and home builder Taylor Morrison to create a home in Tomorrowland at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., to show off technologies of the future. The amusement park's first "House of the Future," built in 1957 and demolished in 1967, was supposed to envision domesticity in 1985. Here are a few of the gadgets that home featured:

- Plastic chairs and walls

- Hands-free telephone

- Wall-sized TV

- Microwave oven

- Ultrasonic dishwasher

- Electric razor and toothbrush

- Intercoms with mini-TV screens

- Sinks that adjusted for each user's height