Meet Sphinx: The 30-Year-Old Soviet Smart Home Concept

Move over, Siri and Alexa! Or at least make some room for Dmitry.

Soviet industrial designer Dmitry Azrikan, that is — the mastermind behind the first Soviet smart home ecosystem concept envisioned all the way back in 1987, exactly 30 years ago.

Named the Sphinx Station, with ‘Sphinx’ in Russian serving as an abbreviation for Short for Super Functional Integrated Communicative System, the system was designed by Azrikan in 1987 in collaboration with A.Kolotushkin and V. Goessen, following an assignment from the Soviet State Committee for Science and Technology to create a ‘revolutionary computer’.

“In the unity of production & science is the might and future of our country!” Soviet poster

It was envisioned to be a sleek and highly flexible home automation complex, with the ultimate goal of replacing all kinds of “boxes” in the home environment (tape recorders, television sets, watches, phones), and plans to include advanced features such as a home control system, information services and even medical diagnostics.

“This is not so much a project of an object, as a project of the interaction of consumers (families) with information”

“This is not so much a project of an object, as a project of the interaction of consumers (families) with information”, states an article on Sphinx in a 1987 issue of Soviet Technical Aesthetics (T.A.) magazine.

Technical Aesthetics magazine, 1987

As described in T.A., the complex would consist of “spherical speakers, a detachable monitor, headphones, a handheld remote control with a removable display, a diskette drive, a processor with three memory blocks and more.”

“Regardless of whether the system is used by only one person, or by several members of the family within one apartment, only one memory block is required”, explains the article. “The system allows for an unlimited increase of the amount of memory blocks, which makes it possible for the same or different programmes to be activated by different family members at the same time.”

Small hand-held remote control with display screen. Under the display is a control speaker and microphone.

In Sphinx, the means of presentation of information to the consumer was envisioned to happen via video displays and speakers. The user alone would immediately or gradually equip the space with the required quantity of flat screens and speakers.

For the purposes of collective family entertainment and the hosting of guests, a large flat panel display (up to 1 meter tall) and two powerful speakers were designed. These would be used by the family “to consume movies, shows, works of art and other visuals, sound files, collective computer games, etc.” The article mentions that “fragments of the “family album” could also be displayed on this big screen.

Technical Aesthetics, 1987

“Families can use the system to establish friendly teleconferences or business meetings.

Additional information (time, weather, information, other channels, factoids and such) can appear as pop up banners.

Smaller displays (240x400 mm) will be better suited for individual activities, although they too can be used by two or three people at one time. A screen and speakers can be placed flat on a desk, integrated into furniture, walls, hung on a wall or vertical furniture pieces. Variable angles of inclination are possible.

The display can be used without speakers, as it has small built-in speakers. It is seamlessly integrated with the interface — a remote control with a wide scope of functionality, and, thus, can be used as the display of a personal computer for a scientist, writer, engineer, journalist, architect, student, etc, and in his spare time be used as a screen for the viewing of TV shows or videos, slides, and so on.”

Technical Aesthetics, 1987

Human interaction with with the entire Sphinx system was designed to take place through a variety of remote controls. The large control would allow for a “virtually unlimited number of commands” as it was designed to have, among other things, a standard alphanumeric keypad, which would enable the user to communicate with an external data bank and other users, as well as to work in computer mode.

“It enables you to program your entire set of home electronics and other equipment through a central computer processor. It may also include a communication system, which why it comes equipped with a phone handset.” - Technical Aesthetics (1987)

The article states that the creative design of the Sphinx Project was motivated by the unusual features of the processor, allowed the designers to make it into a ‘sculpture’ that expresses the ideas of ​​modularity and scalability.

“Effectors and interfaces, on the contrary, explicitly express the concept of ​​contact and become “bodiless”, devoid of volume […]

They are like the “faces” and “palms” of the entire system. Only large spherical speakers remain, in contrast, actively physical elements of the household, “illuminators of sound”, explains the magazine.
1986–1992 Covers of ‘Technical Aesthetics’ magazine. Source: RIS Blog

“The extensive development path of consumer electronics, of their design, production and consumption, in our view, must remain in the past. The new slim, flexible, easily scalable consumer electronics system will stop the intervention in the home environment of all kinds of “boxes” — tape recorders, television sets, video recorders, players, radio sets, watches, phones, slide projectors — and later even personal computers, electronic games, and so on.

At the same time, it will also include an unlimited amount of new features: interactive work functionality, control over the apartment, a help desk service, medical diagnostics. This is the intensive path of the development of consumer electronics.”

By Varia Bortsova| SOVIET VISUALS

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