At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates outlined a future where the PC would be the center of the home entertainment and communications universe. The next morning
, Sony president Kunitake Ando suggested it was the television that was best in place to reap the benefits of the coming "broadband tsunami
". While the superpowers vie for control of your living room with their respective gadgetry, it will be broadband that fuels it all.
One data pipe to bring them all and in the darkness bind them?
Regardless of the form it takes, it's obvious that the future of the electronic home consists of one broadband pipe providing residents with a variety of services, feeding into a gateway of some kind and then a home network; giving the homeowner greater control of everything from entertainment to heating. It's a market companies like IBM have been sniffing at for years.
Wired news spent much of the nineties predicting intelligent refrigerators that would know when they were empty, and order more food via broadband; washing machines that would call you when something was wrong; remote wireless sensors that would start the oven, open your garage door, and turn on the lights when they detected you arriving home after a busy day at the office.
Now that the "smart home" is finally close to reality, Wired news has long been bored with such trivial ideas and has since moved on to new dreams like nanotubes
and cybernetic implants. But the push to network the home, implement smart technology, and service it all with a broadband connection remains.
In Detroit, Batman's GPS provider Onstar is running a smart home trial
that wired 100 suburban homes with a wide variety of techno-gee whizery
(provided they had a broadband connection). Among the more entertaining features was the ability to remotely control heating and lighting systems, or the ability to have your doorbell ring your cellular phone, then e-mail a digital snapshot of the visitor to your laptop.
At CES 2003, Onstar released an update
(pdf file) on the project. Most participants seemed particularly thrilled with the security applications of the trial, the system allowing them to remotely disable their security systems to allow either a service person or a friend to access the home if they were occupied elsewhere. Peace of mind seemed to be the biggest selling point.
More information on the trial can be found at the website for the Internet Home Alliance
, a "non-profit" coalition of companies that hope to someday charge you an arm and a leg for the pleasure of owning such a cool techno-abode.
Onstar and the IHA aren't alone in the race to develop smart homes. BellSouth this week unveiled the details
of a techno-community in Atlanta, naturally built around a BellSouth DSL line, and which includes a BellSouth Security System from Protection One, and "community-based Intranet services and home automation technologies". Participants will also receive local and long distance service from Bellsouth (leaving one to wonder what place telco competitors have in the well wired and gated communities of the future).
Among some of the features offered to residents of the "Governors Towne Club" are automated lighting, remote security monitoring, custom home PC networking services, remote access to sprinkler systems, automated appliances, and control over the premium home theater system of your choice.
The Norman Rockwell goes sci-fi portion of the project includes a community broadband inter-connected close circuit television system, which BellSouth offers possible uses for: "...a customer can participate in a community golf lesson from any television or computer in his or her home, or monitor family members in various locations, such as children playing at the community playground or pool.
Naturally such a lavish application of the technology is a long way off for us, the little people with the little wallets. But if one's willing to look, there are companies offering similar solutions
at more reasonable prices, such as Broadband Utopia
, who will offer you everything you need to wire your home in anticipation of your new gadgetry.
IBM, who had been researching the market for years, launched their somewhat buggy "Home Director" products many years ago, which offered you control of your home's lighting systems, utilized a home's power wiring as the network, and offered limited control of it all from your PC. The Home Director product line has since spun off into its own company
, and IBM remains interested
in the market.
And of course the United States isn't the only country pursuing the possibilities of a broadband enabled and networked home; Singapore announcing last week the commission of a S$17 million (US$9.8 million) experiment that will wire 400 households with broadband and a variety of home automation services
, accessible via a home communications gateway.
Provided you have a fast pipe leading up to your home over the next ten years, and plenty of money to spend, there will apparently be no limit to what can be done inside.
By the way, your refrigerator tells us you're out of milk.