Series ($1,699-$2,799, plus $399-$749 for the monitor). This would give you videoconferencing capability so that you can actually see whom you’re talking to via the computer.
Perhaps one of the more innovative products on the market is IBM’s Home Director, a program that comes with the IBM Aptiva S computer ($2,499-$3,099; monitors range from $499-$799). The program replaces old-fashioned timers, allowing homeowners to use their PCs to manage lights and appliances. A combination of CD-installable software and adapters work with Aptiva S series computers to control lights and appliances.
Home Director uses X-10, a power-line technology that works with the home’s existing electrical wiring. A signal IS sent to lights and appliances plugged into a module that is connected to existing outlets. The modules give signal addresses that enable the Aptiva to identify a certain lamp, ceiling fan or television set, for example.
“No one is going to buy a PC just to be able to turn lights on and off,” notes IBM’s Elaine Lack. “How-ever, if you have a computer in your home, why not make it more valuable by having it take over certain types of tasks and daily routines?”
With IBM’s Home Director, you can vary when lights and appliances are turned on or off. Scheduling such activity can help make the home look lived-in when you are on vacation “Lighting control, including do-it- yourself switches, has been the most widespread application i
mplemented over the last couple of years,” says John Galante, director of integrated home systems for the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association. “I suspect there will be more work done to offer this type of functionality, where you can call your system from work if you forget to set back the thermostat. By retrofitting conservation capabilities such as these onto the home, the consumer can save as much as 30% off of an energy bill,” he adds.
Most people, of course, are interested in energy conservation, security and convenience, but several industry insiders claim that right now IBM is selling more convenience in its systems. Later this year, Com- paq is expected to introduce home automation to its Pressario line with CEBus (Consumer Electronics Bus), a protocol developed by Intellon Corp. More encompassing than X-10, CEBus can integrate other utilities such as cable and gas while providing lifestyle improvements in security and energy conservation. Other vendors are eyeing LonWorks, a computer chip- based automation technology from Echelon Corp.
For existing PCs, there are a few software programs for automating the entire home–lighting. heating/cooling, security, entertainment and communications systems. Two Windows-based packages are CyberHouse from Savoy Automation in Westboro, Massachusetts, and HAL 2000 from Home Automated Living in Burtonsville, Maryland. Sold at electronics and computer retail outlets, CyberHouse (prices start at $199) requires 8 MB RAM and a 10 MB drive, while HAL 2000 ($499) needs 16 MB RAM and 40 MB hard drive disk space.
“Our software lets you connect the World Wide Web and household web [interconnection of the home subsystems],” says Dennis Ford, Savoy’s president and CEO. “Let’s say