Tech to Control Homes

“Smart homes” usually mean extra phone jacks and high-speed Internet connections. But if the dreams of Microsoft, IBM, Sony and others come true, it could mean a whole lot more than speedy Internet service.

Just ask Todd Thibodeaux, vice-president of marketing and research at the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association, who predicts that half of all consumer electronics will have Internet access by 2004.

With that in mind, Microsoft has redesigned several rooms at its Redmond, Wash. campus to test a system that would allow a home computer to run a home’s operations.

In one room, with its pre-Colombian artwork and comfy couch, people can use voice commands — ala “Star Trek: The Next Generation” — or a remote control to manipulate lights, music and temperature or, of course, change TV stations.

The kitchen, meanwhile, has a host of computer monitors linked to the Internet allowing orders to be placed for groceries or for downloading recipes.

Also, the “home” has been equipped with a Fujitsu “Web Pad” — a portable device to issue commands and hook-up with the Internet — as well as a notebook computer and Microsoft cordless phone for issuing commands. The whole home, hypothetically, could be connected with Windows CE, a home-based network.

The company is also working on AutoPC, an automobile system that would create maps, check traffic and maybe connect via the Internet to your at-home gadgets and doohickeys.

But Microsoft’s rivals are also putting their shoulders to the home-tech millstone.

Sony is working on top-speed networks based on high-definition TV and IBM has allied with several computers and wireless communications companies to create networks linking home appliances to the Internet.

The Brave New World is right around the corner.

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Written by Brad Inman
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