Home Smart Home

Making your home more efficient at the flick of a switch

It’s 6 a.m. and as you lie in bed, the coffee begins to brew, the thermostat raises the heat and the lights slowly come on in the bedroom. Or, as you pull into your driveway, a click of a remote control raises your garage door, turns on both the inside and outside lights, clicks on the TV and-adjusts the heat.

This may sound like scenes from a futuristic movie but it’s only one part of the novel technology unfolding in home computing. A number of independent software developers, such Savey Automation, along with the major computer manufactures (like IBM) are now introducing home automation products. With this technology, you can control one or more household subsystems with your computer, including lighting and appliances, security, heating, ventilation and cooling systems and home entertainment.

The concept of home automation is nothing new. The National Association of Home Builders officially initiated the project in 1984. Viewed from an historical perspective, it has evolved from products that plug into outlets (televisions and radio-alarm clocks that use certain adapters) to ones that require new wiring (lights that use special on/off switches) to the complete rewiring of the home so that a single line can carry power, voice, audio, video and data transmission. Today, if you want your entire home automated like the Jetson’s, it could cost $10,000 or more.

Automation is at the high end of the home computing spectrum. At a lower end, most manufacturers, including IBM, Acer America, Compaq Computer and Toshiba America Information Systems, have added sophisticated multimedia and communications programs to their PCs, which can range in price from $1,500-3,000. These newer models have some enhanced telephony capabilities, integrating a speakerphone, voice mail, fax and answering machine with two or more mailboxes.

This is just the beginning. PC manufacturers are steadily trying to market products that cater to a family’s lifestyle. “What we are seeing are companies now suggesting additional ways you can use your computer,” says James Staten, industry analyst with Dataquest Corp., a San Mateo, California, market research firm.

There’s no doubt that technology is adding value to the lives of many families’ An example is Edward and Martina Harris of San Jose, California, who have four computers in their home. The Harrises have his and her PCs, while their three children–12, nine and three years old– share a desktop and laptop.

A personal financial planner who works out of his home, Edward Harris’ computer is dedicated to paying household bills and to his three-year- old business. For the past two years, he has been paying all of the household bills online. “I spend a great deal of my day using America Online and the Internet to do research related to my business [i.e., securing annual reports and other company financialdocuments],” Harris says.

In addition to keeping records of his business receipts and expenditures, Edward Harris uses Intuit’s Quicken personal finance software for electronic banking. His computer is loaded with software programs like Microsoft Office Suite, FaxWorks, Sidekick (a personal information manager for scheduling), Netscape

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