The New Intelligence

by WOHe

The New Intelligence

As the American home becomes increasingly automated, new
technology has led to the growth of a host of ‘smart products’ that
make the kitchen not just the heart of the home, but the brain, as
well.

By Janice Anne Costa


When it comes to today’s home, the biggest thing designers need to
remember is that, now, more than ever, consumers view their home as
their castle. People are spending more time in their homes, living
more years in their homes, and doing more activities in their
homes: everything from cooking and entertaining to tele-commuting,
home schooling, shopping and planning and coordinating their lives
and those of their families.

All of which helps to explain why technology is suddenly the
hottest issue around, with the new “intelligent products” taking
the kitchen and the home by storm.

In fact, the home technology market totals some $15 billion,
according to John Galante, publisher of TecHome Builder magazine.
And, Galante notes, this number is growing some 9% annually, with
more than 4,000 manufacturers of products covering everything from
home entertainment and networking to control technology for
lighting, climate, security and appliances.

Whole-home automation is becoming more than just a science
fiction fantasy, and the kitchen, always viewed as the heart of the
home, is now beginning to take charge as the home’s intelligence
center, as well. Mirroring the trend toward open home layouts where
everything is connected, today’s hottest high-tech products are
connecting the home and its inhabitants in ways that go far beyond
just physical space.


In fact, at the recent Kitchen/Bath Industry Show in Chicago, a
separate “Techno-Color Pavilion” captured plenty of attention with
a host of high-tech products that ran the gamut from wireless
multi-function entertainment systems and kitchen-friendly computer
stations to interactive appliances that “talk” both to each other
and to the people who own them.

get smart
So, what’s at the top of the list of smart products for the kitchen
and bath? One hot product that garnered plenty of interest at the
K/BIS Techno-Color Pavilion was the iCEBOX FlipScreen, a
Web-enabled information, communication and entertainment center
that combines cable-ready TV, DVD, CD, broadband Internet access
and home video monitoring.

Another product that captured interest at the pavilion was the
Storlogic Systems’ Viz-etouch, a showroom point-of-sales device
that allows consumers to pick a kitchen style, find product,
receive a price breakdown and get financing options before heading
to a designer.

Also a big hit at the K/BIS Techno-Color pavilion, the new 20/20
Design 6.0 version software program allows designers to create
printouts of their customers’ dream kitchen within 20 minutes, with
on-screen displays so realistic, doors can even be opened to reveal
shelves.

On the show floor, LG Electronics showed its smarts with the
Living Network System: a wired, home network-based system that
links such appliances as the internet, microwave oven and washer to
one another via the internet refrigerator, thus allowing for
communication among appliances. The Internet refrigerator not only
chills food, it also acts as a TV, radio, Web Appliance,
videophone, bulletin board, calendar and digital camera.

For those who like something a bit less high-tech looking, the
new Amana Messenger Refrigerator looks like your friendly,
neighborhood refrigerator  but with a twist. While it does
everything you’d expect from your refrigerator, it also features a
built-in voice memo function that not only allows users to record
and receive messages at the touch of a button, it also alerts users
to a variety of refrigerator functions, i.e. letting users know
when it’s time to change the water or air filter, pointing out when
the refrigerator door has been accidentally left open, or
announcing how long a power outage has lasted, so users don’t have
to guess whether food is safe to eat.

Intelligence is also becoming more prevalent in food
preparation. To that end, Whirlpool Corp.’s Polara refrigerated
range enables users to prepare meals up to one day ahead of time as
well as warm and cool food without being home.

Likewise, Sharp’s high-speed oven is pre-programmed to
automatically cook different 200 foods and recipes  while
dramatically reducing cooking time.

In addition, products like KitchenAid’s Briva in-sink dishwasher
with FlashDry technology, Bosch electric cooktop with mTwisT,
Broan-NuTone’s wall-mounted chimney hood, DCS 30″ five-burner gas
range, Sub-Zero glass door refrigerator, Samsung microwave oven
that doubles as a camera, and Fisher & Paykel Aerotech oven and
DishDraw dishwashing system were among the high-tech products
showing their smarts at the recent K/BIS.

Driving Intelligence
Driving the “smart products” trend are several key factors,
according to Alpharetta, GA-based George Ide, Smart House Digital
Interiors, Inc., who spoke about Home Automation Trends at the
recent K/BIS. Ide, who is on the board of directors for the Tech
Home Division of the Consumer Electronics Association (formerly
called the Home Automation and Networking Association), points to
several changes in the American lifestyle that are adding fuel to
the growing interest in technology and home automation.

Since September 11th, he notes, security has become a greater
factor than ever for many Americans “People are more interested in
staying home and being secure there,” he noted, explaining that
this drives the home security and home monitoring industry.

Additionally, he stated, “Working at home is a big trend right
now. The home is becoming an extension of the office. It may not be
where people work every day, but they are working from home a
couple of days a week.” This has, of course, created a growing
interest in the home office, both from a design standpoint and a
technology standpoint, with higher-speed computer hook-ups, video
conferencing and other “connection-oriented” products becoming
increasingly in demand.

As Ide noted, “People [who] are tele-commuting will want to
connect on a virtual private network to their office so that they
can get all of their information there, contact information,
research information. You can work with an associate from home or
have a video meeting.”

Home schooling has become a pretty big industry as well. As Ide
pointed out, “In 2000-2001, there were about 1.9 million kids home
schooled, and that is a growing statistic. We’ve seen some building
plans where the [consumer wants] a learning center that will be a
home office for kids. It’s kind of a nice area that is set up for
crafts, and that has the computer, books and other things they can
use in a complete learning environment so that they can do their
homework and have some fun and be connected to the Internet, as
well.”

Of course technology is probably the biggest trend driving the
home automation market right now, Ide asserted. This can be broken
down into several categories. “The first is broadband Internet
access. That is growing by leaps and bounds.” In addition to the
growing percentage of people who have Internet access, there are
now “about 20% of people in the U.S. who have the ability to get
cable, modem or DSL lines. It is growing in penetration. What it
does is eliminate the ‘World Wide Wait.’ And, that drives along the
home network, or the PC network in the home. It makes it so
multiple PCs can now take advantage of that one high-speed
access.”

People are also looking for wireless connections, Ide noted,
which gives them mobility and flexibility of location. “And,” he
added, “people like remote access.”

Convergence is another technical trend that is impacting the
market right now. “Things like the computer and telephone are
coming together,” Ides noted. “The computer can be used for
Internet long distance. The television and computer are also
converging together,” an example of which would be Web TV, where
users can search the Internet from the TV. He also cited TiVo
devices where users can timeshift the actual programming that’s
coming in as an example of this. “What it is actually doing is
putting it on a computer hard disk that’s built right into the TiVo
unit. You can press pause, and it will continue to store the live
TV broadcast that’s coming.”

Likewise, computer and entertainment equipment are converging
together, with DVDs being put into PCs so that users can watch on
their computers.

Surround-Sound processers are converging with the computer,
helping to drive the whole home entertainment category a perfect
fit for kitchen and bath dealers. Convergence is a fairly good
aspect of it. Lots-of people are putting them into family
rooms.

Of course, one of the biggest concerns with home automation is
that many builders, remodelers, designers and others in the
industry simply aren’t planning ahead.

As Ide noted, “About 30% of homes are not wiring their homes
properly so they are not really prepared for all of this. Either
they don’t have enough wiring or they have the wrong type of
wiring. Later on, it’s hard to add [it] in if you’re not
remodeling or building, because you have to run wires through
walls, and what’s worse about it is there are unique wall finishes,
such as distinct wallpaper, and there’s no way you are going
to match that. So it is really a bigger problem with
retrofitting.”

future trends
As for what the future holds, in a recent issue of USA Today, Kevin
Maney states that “the next revolution” is not too far down the
road. The newest technology will allow products to be implanted
with tiny plastic tags containing a computer microchip and a
minuscule antenna, which will allow things to connect with and
communicate with other things, changing everything from shopping
and cooking to identifying dangerous drug interactions.

The impact of such technology on the kitchen and bath market
could be huge, as product-to-product communication creates a “smart
network” that can simplify home functions like never before. For
instance, a frozen dinner could transmit cooking instructions to a
“reader” placed inside the microwave, telling the microwave how it
should be cooked. A bottle of wine could electronically “see”
what’s in the refrigerator and communicate what food it works with
best.

In the bathroom, drugs in a medicine cabinet could “talk” to
each other and let the owner know if there’s a combination that
could cause a dangerous interaction.

In a home office, filing cabinets could sense with tagged
documents are kept in which drawer, with this information
communicated to the main computer so the user could always find
essential files at a keystroke.

And this is just the beginning.
But, while this new technology is not just on the horizon much of
it already exists  widespread consumer use will take some time
perhaps a decade or more. To stay on top of the trends, kitchen and
bath designers need to prepare now. KBDN

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