The Internet Connected Home

The Internet Connected Home
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In Unified Communications – Setting the stage for the future of communications I earlier touched on some of the emerging and future technologies that are reshaping our lives. Because my partner Sheryl and I live a hyperconnected life, we see technology as a tool that improves the quality of our lives. Over the past year or so, I’ve had the opportunity to explore some interesting technologies that aren’t fully deployed in the market yet. I’m fascinated by the smarthome of tomorrow and how our lives will be different. But there are things available today that make the network-connected home an emerging reality.

Consider the utility services we use – gas, water and electric. As children, most of us remember the meter reader who came around each month with a clipboard taking manual readings from the various meters. In the utility industry, these are called “consumption reads.” They’re vital to utility providers for billing purposes.

That method of reading utility meters has been obsoleted by technology. First meters were equipped with small radio transmitters that could send meter readings to a person walking down the sidewalk. This innovation led to increased efficiency. Meter readers were able to gather many more readings in a day. But this advance quickly moved from a handheld data collection device to something mounted in a vehicle. The territory a person can cover driving led to another huge efficiency increase.

Both these methods are very common today, yet they’re being rapidly obsoleted by the ideas of both fixed and wireless networking. By placing data collectors on utility poles, buildings, and other infrastructure, now meter readings can easily be gathered in realtime, using network technologies, for homes in a half-mile or greater radius. Today, two-way functionality in utility meters is an area of keen interest for utility companies.

Because meters now transmit this information over wireless, an in-home display unit can also be installed. Many new homes can now display consumption trends and estimated billing for the homeowners. Even detecting water line leaks automatically is becoming a popular conservation tool as we work to protect the diminishing supply of fresh water on the planet.

We hear talk of smart buildings, and they’ve become popular in business parks for business users paying premium prices, but homes are getting much smarter. When I wrote about video in Video calling – today, tomorrow and beyond I talked about video in the phone. More importantly is how our homes are connecting to the net. The video phone in our home will simply become and extension of the media room. Today flat panel TVs are the rage, and now they’re coming with Ethernet connections built in. Tomorrow’s big screen TV will simply be a media wall, but it’s becoming more than a television. In fact, it may not require television from the mainstream broadcast media at all.

The media wall of our future home will simply be a video panel that can be carved into however many virtual screens we desire. We’ll be able to watch a movie, ballgame, web news, email and hold a video call all at once in the comfort of our homes.

In the next article I’ll write about the coming Personal Area Network (PAN). Using variations of WiFi, Bluetooth and RFID technologies, presence awareness of our person inside our home will enable smart new technologies that eliminate the need for telephones and televisions. They’ll be built-in features of the home itself. Our appliances will easily become network-connected devices that are far more intelligent than the Whirlpool our mothers had.

Imagine your washing machine sending you a note that it had detected a problem with a bearing. What about your refrigerator letting you know the water filter needed to be replaced – or better still, letting you know it had placed the order for a new filter and scheduled the service appointment during a time it knew you would be home and placed it on your shared calendar.

Technology today is fascinating. The impact of what it can do in our homes is positively mind-boggling. And we’re here, holding a ticket to get on the Internet and ride this wondrous exploration into a change in how we live our everyday lives.

The Jetsons may have had some really futuristic things that were wild fantasy, but many of those fantasies of our childhood are quickly become our reality.

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