NETWORKS UNPLUGGED: Networked home becomes a reality

NETWORKS UNPLUGGED: Networked home becomes a reality

A Japanese Government-led team has constructed a network that connects all the appliances and electronic devices in a private home. Featuring 50 separate applications, the house is the result of a three-year project to showcase home networking technologies.

The Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA) oversaw the project, which included contributions from companies such as Matsushita Electric Industrial, Hitachi, Sony and Sharp.

"Every device in the home, even a small light, has a private IP address," says JEITA's Yoshinori Sugihara. "Technically speaking, the systems adopted here are fairly simple. While engineers might not be especially proud of them, we tried to build this house from the users' point of view."

The house is a typical two-storey Japanese home, complete with a traditional Japanese tatami room, living room and kitchen on the first floor, and bedrooms and study on the second floor. But visitors will find numerous not-so-typical features:

- No keys are required to unlock the front door. Instead, the house relies on a fingerprint scanner for identification.

- A box for parcel deliveries is located just outside the front door. The box, which can be opened remotely, identifies the delivery and issues a signed receipt.

- From a single remote control with a plasma-display television, everything from opening curtains to turning on lights or the air conditioner can be controlled.

- A mobile phone-controlled system waters plants in the garden and feeds pets when family members are away.

- Censors monitor health conditions, such as an irregular heartbeat or breathing cycle, in a specially modified bed for elderly family members. If a censor detects an irregularity, it automatically sends a message to other family members' mobiles.

- A clothesline monitors changes of weather, automatically covering clothes if it starts raining.

- Each room in the house includes a hands-free speaker/microphone with voice-recognition capabilities.

- The house never runs out of beer - it orders more via e-mail whenever the number of cans in the refrigerator reaches a minimum. Likewise with rice - an important daily staple in Japan.

According to Sugihara, the project team aimed to keep the cost of fully networking a home as low as ¥5 million ($72,000). All of the home networking technologies used in the house will soon be available commercially.

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