Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Home of the Future Becomes a Reality

Japanese government completes work on house that never runs out of beer or rice, and can monitor residents' health.

A Japanese government-led team has completed construction of a network that connects all of the appliances and electronic devices in a rented home to showcase home networking technologies.

The house is the result of a three-year project started by Japan's Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications (MPHPT) in 1999. The Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA) was assigned to oversee the project.

Over the past year, JEITA has deployed 50 home networking applications in a rented home. Companies participating in the project include Matsushita Electric Industrial, Hitachi, Sony, and Sharp, among others.

Welcome Home

The rented JEITA house is a typical two-story Japanese home, complete with a traditional Japanese tatami room, a living room, and a kitchen on the first floor, and bedrooms and a study on the second floor. But less typical features are readily apparent. At the front door, Sony's pet robot Aibo greets visitors. And from the living room, people can water the garden and feed the dog outside--via cell phone.

"Every device in the home, even a small light, has a private IP (Internet Protocol) address," says Yoshinori Sugihara, general manager of the Special Project Promotion Office of JEITA. "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 JEITA house incorporates an array of notable features.

For example, no keys are required to unlock the front door. Instead, the house relies on a fingerprint scanner to confirm the identity of the person who wants to open the door. The fingerprint data can also be sent to Aibo, which can perform a unique "welcome dance" to greet different members of the family.

There is no need to wait at home for delivery of a parcel either. A box for parcels stands just outside the front door. A family member can use a cell phone to check on the arrival of a package and can open the box remotely. The box recognizes the identification of the delivery and issues a signed receipt to the deliverer.

Remote Control

Everything from opening curtains to turning on lights or the air conditioner is controllable with a single remote control from the plasma-display television in the living room.

The house never runs out of beer. When only three cans of beer remain in the refrigerator, the house sends an e-mail order for more to a store. The house can also order more rice: A sensor attached to a rice container detects when rice is running low and automatically orders a new bag via e-mail.

A cell phone-controlled system in the garden waters plants and feeds pets, allowing family members who are away on vacation or out shopping to take care of plants and pets.

For elderly family members, the house incorporates sensors in a specially modified bed to monitor the occupant's health conditions. When the censor detects something unusual, such as an irregular heartbeat or breathing cycle, it automatically sends a message to other family members' cell phones.

On the balcony, a clothesline monitors changes in the weather. When rain starts to fall, the clothesline automatically pulls a covering sheet over clothes that have been hung out to dry.

Stay in Touch

Each room in the house includes a hands-free speaker/microphone with voice-recognition capabilities that allows family members to stay in contact. For example, instead of a parent's having to yell to the kids when dinner is ready, the system can place a phone call or send an e-mail message in response to a voice command.

The house can learn and adapt to the habits of each family member. For example, if one family member habitually goes to the bathroom in the middle of the night, the system can spring into action as soon as the person gets up from bed, automatically warming the toilet seat and lighting the way to the bathroom. Similarly, the house will turn the toilet-seat heater and lights off as the person returns to the bedroom.

All of the home networking technologies incorporated in the JEITA house will soon be available commercially. The project team aimed to keep the cost of fully networking a home as low as $37,450, Sugihara says.,82066-page,1/article.html

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