Simple and affordable

New priorities set in the market for home automation products

Talking refrigerators capable of doing the shopping, toasters and washing machines controlled by the TV, displays on the doors of domestic appliances for surfing on the internet - after a brief surge in media attention surrounding some of the more bizarre visions for the future, the old marketing adage "keep it simple and affordable" has found its way back. It simply boils down to the fact that the question consumers are always going to ask "is it worth having and what does it cost?" needs to be taken seriously again.

Some of the innovations for the smart home currently taking place are very promising indeed: simple applications, easy -to -use home networks, service providers managing their service products and a step -by -step automation process in the private sphere. Visitors to the e/home 2004 and in particular to the accompanying congress will be able to see for themselves how far the market has progressed. Home automation is one of the six main themes at the e/home which from 1 to 3 September will have applications and solutions for the networked home on show at the exhibition grounds of Messe Berlin.

It goes without saying that researchers and developers are capable of great deeds. In particular they are bridging the divide which up to now has existed between the technology of the conventional home and the internet (LON, EIB versus IP protocol), between the domestic appliances sector and consumer electronics, as well as between the various types of applications to be shown at the e/home stand of the representative German exhibit "inHaus -Zentrum Duisburg".

Market forecasts for the future are very promising - undoubtedly the real breakthrough in the market for home automation products has yet to take place. The existence of the UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) standard means that connecting various types of equipment has been made easy. In addition the OSGi standard (Open Service Gateway Initiative) makes it possible to link equipment from different operating categories and from different product sectors. With these options available, future development work is likely to see the integration of both wired and wireless communications networks. As yet these products are still relatively costly, but in the short and mid -term significant shifts in pricing policy are certain to take place.

Potential users of networked devices will pay particular attention to the usability factor, demanding "safety and comfort at low prices ". A smoke detector - available at 5 euros in a DIY store - and connected by wireless bluetooth or ZigBee link to the internet, will report to the PC in the home which in turn will inform security services. Similarly, sensors will be able to detect glass breakage and burglary. Smart IP components such as these will be the ones to kickstart the home automation revolution, since they are cheap and simple, and their benefits are obvious for all to see. In the same way embedded IP components are also capable of making dumb devices smart, enabling them to respond in a number of simple ways.

The user -friendliness criterium becomes all the more relevant where consumer electronics become involved: here the focus will be on relaying digital content to every device operating in the home and on managing that information, regardless of where it is stored.

Thus, home automation and engineering complex infrastructures for the home, but for use by experts only, do not have to be one and the same thing. The aim of the home automation concept is to be able to link IP -based wired or wireless networks not only in the home, but also outside the home using embedded gateway systems and the internet.

Home automation will also open up a world of opportunities for service providers. Home service providers will act as a hub for regional services or services assisting the home and will be the focal point of frequently complex processes. Providers in these cases would include security services, hospitals, energy suppliers, telecommunications networks or media companies.

In Northrhine -Westphalia planning for a project under the name of SmarterWohnen NRW" is currently underway. A large residential area in Hattingen is to be set up for use with home automation services. The chances that users will be convinced by the non -complex solutions involved would seem to be good. This project will also be on display at the e/home 2004.

Messe Berlin is the main organiser of e/home 2004. The co -organiser is the Gesellschaft fr Unterhaltungs - und Kommunikationselektronik mbH (gfu), which is also responsible for organising the Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA). The retail industry's technical organisation Bundesverband Technik des Einzelhandels (BVT) and the electrical/ electronic industry association Zentralverband Elektrotechnik - und Elektronikindustrie (ZVEI) are also co -organisers of this event.

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