In a few years, trips to the bathroom may become an entirely new multimedia experience. That’s because the home of the future will feature intelligent technology that will anticipate and respond to personal needs.

According to researchers at Royal Philips Electronics (Amsterdam), technology will be invisibly embedded into everyday household objects, such as a bathroom mirror, that will respond to voices and gestures. Cables, wires and equipment will be transparent to the human eye. The company’s chief technology officer, Ad Huijser, predicts this "ambient intelligent environment" will "store and display data naturally and seamlessly, and interact and connect with other household items."

Philips recently opened a HomeLab that allows researchers to "live" with consumers 24 hours a day to study how they interact with new home electronic prototypes. The company believes the feedback will allow its engineers to speed up the product development cycle.

Among other technology, Philips researchers are experimenting with an intelligent mirror. The device consists of an LCD screen covered with a thin layer of semireflective foil. It looks like a plain, ordinary mirror until the display is switched on to play video information in certain areas. The mirror is transformed into a full-service personal care environment that can monitor and coach a user on various health-related topics, such as dental hygiene and grooming tips.

The mirror can be used for viewing media, such as TV, internet and video. It also interacts with devices regularly used in a bathroom. For instance, men using an intelligent electric shaver are warned if they press too hard or if the shaver needs cleaning.

By using face recognition technology, the mirror displays personal health advice, such as body-mass index using inputs from a weight scale and height sensor. The video screen allows people to watch the news or their favorite TV show while brushing their teeth.

Other rooms in the HomeLab also feature interactive technology. For example, in the living room, a touch-sensitive screen embedded into a table top calls up e-mail messages. By humming a few bars of a song you want to hear, a music system responds by choosing the appropriate CD track. Plasma screens covering the walls display video wallpaper, allowing the surroundings to be altered at will.