Forget the shopping list, let the fridge order the milk

The concept of the "intelligent home" has been around for a long time but Britain is now starting to see a series of new developments which incorporatedigital and wireless technology.

The concept of the "intelligent home" has been around for a long time but Britain is now starting to see a series of new developments which incorporatedigital and wireless technology.

One of the most ambitious UK projects comes from property group RDL which is developing a site called in London's Docklands. The idea is to develop a "networked village" that will incorporate state-of- the-art data-processing centres as well as digitally wired houses and flats.

Features available include the ability to run a bath to the right depth and at the right temperature via remote control. Buyers will also be able to draw their curtains, and operate heating, lighting and security devices remotely. Automatic robots will vacuum the carpet while the buyer is at work and an intelligent fridge will read the bar codes on the shopping and automatically re-order milk and bread when they have run out.

Prices will range from £200,000 to £400,000, though each technological extra comes at an additional cost.

The developers admit that technology such as remote controlled curtains has been around for a long time. But they believe that the rapid development of the internet and wireless technology has made theses advances accessible to the general public rather than being merely gimmicks. RLD believes a typical buyer will be a City banker or IT expert who is working on an internet idea in his spare time but doesn't want to work on it using poor technology in his back bedroom. The idea is that if new Net ideas take-off, their founders can move to one of the development's small business units.

Also heading into a hi-tech wonderland is Laing Homes, the Hertfordshire-based housebuilder which opened an "Internet home" almost a year ago. The house in Watford included electrical appliances and even a garden-watering system that could be operated remotely using a bespoke website. Laing is now incorporating digital wiring into all its new homes, even £69,000 starter flats.

But according to Mercer Management Consulting, the problem with these ideas is that just because these ideas are possible, it does not mean people will want them enough to pay good money for them.

Mercer takes the example of the Time Warner trial in Orlando, Florida, in 1995. Households involved in the trial could shop in virtual 3D shopping malls and play multi-player games. But the only technological advance trialists said they would be prepared to pay for was "time shift television" which enabled them to watch their favourite programmes at any time. The other advances were seen as neat novelties whose attraction would soon fade.

There is a danger that many of the whizzier modern gadgets will suffer the same fate. Digital cabling that enables fast Net access is one thing, but will the great mass of consumers really pay top dollar for an intelligent fridge that will automatically order groceries?

* Easyrentacar, the online car rental service, seems to be irritating as many customers as it pleases these days. The most serious complaints relate to the company's apparently cavalier approach to making additional charges to customers' credit cards without their permission.

One Independent reader rented an A-class Mercedes from easyRentacar in southern Spain in August having been lured in by the seemingly low price of £110 for the week plus £5 preparation fee and a further £15 loss/damage waiver. This came to a total of £130.

On returning the car the customer was unable to find a member of staff to check it over. But satisfied that the car was undamaged and had been returned with a full tank of petrol, the customer flew home thinking no more of it. But when they opened their next Visa statement they found, not just the original £130 charge but an additional £100 on top. After a lengthy e-mail conversation the customer was told the charge had been made for a scratch on the front-door mirror housing.

Another family rented a car to drive to a holiday villa located down an unmade road. They returned the car which was checked over and cleared by a member of staff. Again when the customer received their credit card bill an additional £100 charge had been made for damage to the paintwork that had apparently been discovered later. After a furious dialogue with easyRentacar, the money was eventually refunded.

The concern here is that easyRentacar is marketing itself as a low-cost operator and the consumers' friend, whilst clobbering customers with extra charges.

In its defence, easyRentacar says its terms are clearly stated in its rental agreement and that it is perfectly normal for car rental companies to charge for damage not covered by the rental agreement. It claims it is deliberately trying to offer a service where the various parts of the rental cost are itemised so customers can see what they are paying for. The firm says it is also trying to avoid a situation where a careful motorist is effectively subsidising one who might thrash a car from London to Glasgow over a weekend with a bit of off-road driving thrown in.

Even so, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the Easy group's self-promoting founder, may like to consider whether a so-called consumers' champion should be operating in this way.

Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home