Living with Technology Page 4

Idea Central By Eric Taub Pervasive Computing Lab Photos Courtesy IBM It could be the couch potato's dream come true. Thanks to research now taking place in an Austin, Texas, lab, the widescreen LCD TV that just arrived in your living room could become your home's control station, not just serving up TV shows but also letting you see what's in the fridge, controlling who you let into the house, and telling you when to service the car - all accomplished with just a few clicks on the remote. idea central 1

Think not Big Brother, but Big Blue, for this is the work of IBM's Pervasive Computing Lab, a demonstration home that illustrates how things will be when the Internet isn't just a part of your life but has insinuated itself into virtually every aspect of it. Call it Two Degrees of Technological Separation. Just as it's said that you're only six connections away from everyone in the world, the day may come when you're no more than a step or two removed from controlling every electronic device in the house.

idea central 2"The technology resonates with customers in every walk of life. The lab acts as a paradigm enhancer, a way to think outside the box," explains Bill Bodin, IBM senior technical staff member and creator of the Pervasive Computing Lab.

At the lab, IBM has created a future living room, kitchen, and garage filled with "smart" appliances and gadgets. Each can receive data from the Internet and be moni tored from an HDTV, a computer in a Rome cybercafé, or a cellphone while traveling in Bangkok. (Instructions are routed through IBM's Service Gateway central control station.) That information can then be displayed and manipulated using a remote control connected to a large-screen TV, the keyboard on a laptop or cellphone, or just about anything that can issue a command. Every electronic device - even a light bulb - receives its own IP address, allowing it to be monitored and to respond to outside data.

Heating could be activated not just at set times but in response to impending weath er conditions as gleaned from Internet sites. Light bulbs could be switched on based on the cost of electricity, the time of day, and the additional heat they generate. And still images of the kids could be sent throughout the house, to be displayed in active picture frames in the living room just before the grandparents show up.

In the future kitchen, crock pots will be replaced by intelligent appliances that heat or cool depending on information embedded in the product and commands sent by the homeowner via cellphone as he or she sits on the train home. When the fridge is running low on milk, a new supply could be automatically ordered through a direct connection with the local grocery.

Maintaining couch-potato mode, a homeowner could use the TV's remote to transmit music files to the garage, to be automatically downloaded into the car's digital server. On cold days, the car could be started and the seats warmed just before it was time to leave. When service was due, the maintenance system could automatically send an e-mail to the local dealership requesting an appointment.

Pundits have long predicted the melding of a digital TV and a PC. Under IBM's Pervasive Computing Lab scenario, we might soon wonder how to define the difference between a PC and a toaster.

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