There are exceptions, but for the most part routers are decidedly unglamorous, which is why they are generally secreted away under a desk or otherwise hidden from view. With the Internet now so much a part of daily life they are almost invisible. So long as their lights keep flashing to provide us with our Internet fix we don’t even notice them. Now the UK’s largest broadband provider, TalkTalk, has asked Goldsmiths, University of London to give the humble router a face-lift with their vision of what the routers of the future might look like – and they’re probably not what you expected.

TalkTalk asked Goldsmiths to consider four factors when designing the new routers: signal strength, home style, energy efficiency and pure enjoyment. The team from Goldsmiths then came up with four designs that specifically address each of these criteria.

Route O’clock

The Route O’clock is a 24-hour clock with a face divided into half hourly segments, which change color based on the broadband signal strength. This would give users the ability to gauge at a glance the best time of day to attempt bandwidth-hungry activities.

The data would be provided by provided by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) who, according to TalkTalk, “have tons of juicy data about your experiences online. For example, we know the best times to connect to the web throughout the day.”

Goldsmiths believe the Route O’clock would enable users to manage their online time more efficiently – provided you don’t wake up to a clock with a completely red face.

Hybrid Router

Challenged to transform the common wireless router into a practical piece of furniture the Goldsmith’s team came up with a 60’s revival style side table with the router embedded within the base. The router status lights are located behind frosted acrylic in a recess at the bottom of the table, which makes it necessary to get down on hands and knees to check for that dreaded red flashing light.

Your taste in décor will likely decide your reaction to the Hybrid Router, but as one poster on the FutureRouters site asks, “How is turning something the size of a book needlessly into the size of a coffee table a good idea?” Definitely a question worth asking.

Energy Saving Router

A little more practical than the Hybrid Router is a router that turns itself off when no one is home. How does it know if there’s no one home? Well, it also serves as a key holder with different people’s keys stored on four separate hooks. When the last set of keys is removed from the last hook the router assumes everyone has gone out and powers down to conserve energy.

Before everyone starts screaming about leaving downloads running when out of the house the team has also included a timer to allow for extra hours of download after the last key has been removed.

Jelly Fish

The final router concept looks the most bizarre, attempting to turn web surfing into a communal activity by encouraging users to connect via one of the Jelly Fish’s eight Ethernet "tentacles". Drawing inspiration from the fluorescent properties of jellyfish, the "body" of the Jelly Fish also glows and pulsates to indicate signal strength.

The Jelly Fish was designed to become the center of attention and, due to its size and shape, it definitely succeeds on that front. That said it’s hard to see something that takes up this much room and relies on Ethernet cables being a serious contender to show up in people’s living rooms in the future.

Looking forward

Projects like this are all about thinking outside the box, and in that respect the Goldsmiths team has certainly succeeded. But it remains to be seen whether any of the designs make the jump from concept to commercially available reality. Of the four concepts, the Energy Saving Router is the one that seems to have most piqued TalkTalk’s interest. They call it an "interesting concept" that they "look forward to exploring further."

TalkTalk are inviting the public to vote for their favorite design and say they will consider the winning design for production. Maybe we should see if they’re true to their word by bombarding them with votes for the Jelly Fish. Who’s with me? Just kidding.

At the time of publication the Rout O’clock was out in front and the Energy Saving Router was bringing up the rear.

The vid below should help you choose a favorite.

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