Power to the people

If you thought the TV changer was an inspiration, the 'smart home' is really going to impress. Lisa Sykes on the remote control for your entire house

THE LAST THING most people need round the house is another remote control. It's confusing enough now we have separate handsets for everything. But what would make life easier is a remote control for our entire home.

It sounds a bit like science fiction but the reality of the "smart home" that can be manipulated while we are still at work, stuck in traffic or even on holiday is almost here. And we will save money and energy by making our homes more efficient and secure.

Scottish Power, a multi-utility company, has put together a prototype Smart Home in East Kilbride. The Smart Home gives householders control over their home environment. On the way home from the airport you call up a program on your laptop and, via a modem and mobile phone, you can switch on lights, disable your security alarm, draw the curtains, set a CD to play as you arrive, select the level of heating in different rooms, and even run a bath so it is ready when you get in.

The full prototype, developed by Dallas-based computer group AMX, costs around pounds 12,000, including solar activated blinds and a sensor-activated TV that follows you from room to room. But the Scottish Power Smart Home isn't yet available as a package.

"It is still too expensive," says a spokesperson, "we aren't sure how many people actually want or need to program their bath temperature while they are on their way home. But there's definitely room for more use of smart panels to control the electric system.

"We believe that deregulation of the UK energy markets, together with the wave of e-commerce that's coming over from the US will create a market for home control products that isn't there right now."

As usual, Germany is way ahead on this. A German market research company estimated in 1996 that by 2000, 10-20 per cent of new German homes would have "home automation" , and electronics company Siemens has already developed a Home Electronic System (HES) that goes some way towards creating the smart home.

"Drivers can use a remote control to automatically turn off the inside light, lock all the doors and arm the alarm when they get out of a car," says Gunter Seip from Siemens. "But when they leave their home they have to individually switch everything off and set the alarm. And then worry all day wondering whether they really did remember to turn off the iron."

The HES links all electrical appliances by a cable called the "instabus". They can be controlled remotely if they are connected to a telephone network. This includes the TV, phone, coffee machine, washing machine, oven, heating, door locks and lighting. If you happen to be absent-minded, a single switch by the door sets the alarm, lowers the thermostat, switches off all the lights and appliances and sets up an "absence simulation" to give the house that lived-in look while you are away.

Once the cable has been installed, new appliances can be added. Siemens claims 30 per cent improvements in energy efficiency in rooms where heating, blinds and windows are automatically adjusted to the temperature.

UK householders can choose who supplies them with power, and a number of key players such as BT and British Gas are expected to offer new home automation products to householders. British Gas is already taking its first steps towards home automation. It has introduced wireless programmable room thermostats, which reduce installation costs because they work by remote control and can be programmed for up to seven days in advance. And if you leave home and forget to set your house alarm, another product allows you to dial up and arm it remotely.

There's also a pager system linked to the alarm that can tell a working parent when their child is safely home from school. Once there's a phone link to the alarm system like this, "almost anything is possible" says a spokesman.

However, according to David Gann, professor of technology policy at Sussex University, "the gap has yet to be bridged between the gung-ho approach of the suppliers and what people will actually understand and want to use."

This is something that Dutch electronics company Philips has taken to heart in the design of its own solutions for smart homes. "We wanted to investigate possible developments over the next ten years," says Stefano Marzano, senior director of corporate design, "and explore what people will perceive as useful, desirable and beneficial in the future."

The massive increase of computing power, which is set to continue doubling every 18 months, well into the next century, and the way it shrinks and speeds up the world are key to these developments. Many homes now contain more computing power than was available in the whole world 50 years ago.

Philips predicts that technology will become less obtrusive, integrating into walls and furniture. There will be access to far greater amounts of information, including video-on-demand, home shopping, internet access and video telephony.

The company has set up a prototype of how this may look. At the centre is the electronic Heart, which controls all entertainment and information services in the living room through a touch-screen display or by using a control Wand (pre-programmed to personal media choices and voice activated). It also controls lighting, temperature and security. And as technologies merge and miniaturise, we will have flatter displays and sound systems; eventually a "living wallpaper" of sound and vision.

This would create a living room with less clutter, where there are no "black boxes". Small wireless video cameras for the home - remote eyes - will roam around the house so you can check on young children in the playroom or the progress of a meal in the kitchen while in the garden.

While they are still concepts, we will find these products entering our homes in the not too distance future. It's not sci-fi, it's reality.

Philip's 'Vision of the Future' web site is at www.philips.com/design/vof

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

    £45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

    Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

    Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

    £50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

    Java Developer - 1 year contract

    £350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone