12 December 2004

Smart Living

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The front door opens to welcome visitors. The oven bakes a pizza and the washing machine starts by itself. You are in a smart house, where the Internet is a butler

The front door opens to welcome visitors. The oven bakes a pizza and the washing machine starts by itself. You are in a smart house, where the Internet is a butler. This technology is no longer a fantasy, it already exists, and Hometalk, the name of the project team developing it, is keen to open it up to a new market.

As a child you may have dreamt of being a witch or a sorcerer, imagining making things operate or move by using a magic force. But what if the objects themselves do all that on their own? This is now possible and ten houses throughout Europe are already equipped with smart devices.

In Greece, Michalis, a single paraplegic, owns such a house. Simple actions like opening the door when the bell rings can be quite difficult for him. If he is lying on his couch, it can take a very long time, and much effort, to get to the door. However, a video camera showing the person at the door, and a control unit enabling the remote opening of the door, help to avoid such a scenario.

The technology behind all this is quite simple. In Michalis? house, all appliances are inter-connected, and all are linked to the Internet. Cameras, projectors, microphones, and computer-controlled laser pointers are all part of the system, and a PDA enables voice interface between the house and the user. The entire house is then controllable from anywhere in the world through ordinary telephone lines, wireless microphones and the Internet.

Smart and Secure

Hometalk offers other advantages. A control unit automatically checks the status of the devices, and alerts the user in case of trouble. The user can also program automated sequences of everyday tasks.

Some of Michalis? friends have just called, and he invites them to dinner. He prepares a pizza, putting it in the oven and then regulating it through his PDA: temperature, ventilation and timing. He just utters a few key words. During the entire cooking time, Michalis can stay in the living room, chatting with his friends. Should there be any problems, the control unit would let him know.

Michalis, who has accepted to trial a smart home, is a clerk in the high-tech department of his community?s town hall close to Athens and is familiar with technology. But the system is designed to be user-friendly.

Hometalk is a pan-European team working which is working towards a better quality of life for European Union citizens, particularly the elderly and disabled. They will have more chance of continuing to live independently. But everyone will find the new technology of interest. Just imagine; as you approach the house a retinal analyser recognises you, opens the door and greets you by turning on the lights. In the kitchen, you walk towards your fridge, which informs you that you are missing a few ingredients from the recipe for tonight's dinner. You validate the proposed suggestion, breathing a sigh of relief, as the missing ingredients will be delivered within a few hours. Could life be any easier?
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