Saturday, November 25, 2006


Smart homes a reality in S Korea

By Dan Simmons
Reporter, BBC Click Online

More than 100 homes offering smart technology have just been built in South Korea and another 30,000 are planned.

Mi Yung Kim and her 10-month-old son Jae Won recently moved into their new smart flat. From the outside, their building looks like just another apartment block, but these new homes in Seoul were built with technology in mind.

The control panel on the wall maps out the apartment so Mi Yung can choose which devices to control.

The air quality here is important to mother and child and so she pops on the air purifying unit, which could be anywhere in the home, because it gets its instructions from the plug socket.

Each flat makes use of the electricity cables to transfer data as well as power.

Each appliance has to be compatible with a system called HomeNet, one of a number of competing systems on offer in South Korea. The choice of service also limits what devices Koreans can buy to hook into the system as each appliance needs to be compatible.

The panel also keeps track of Mi Yung's electricity consumption, pays her power bills, and holds video messages - either sent to it over the net, or from neighbours.


The home's TV is also linked up to the system, so it can tell you when your washing machine has finished, or if someone visits you can decide whether to let them in or not; pretending you are not around has never been so easy.

From outside the apartments you can access the system remotely, and even check who has been trying to get in while you were away.

Local electronics giant LG is behind this project, and says it already has construction deals to deliver around 30,000 similar homes each year from 2008.

Futuristic vision

It is a concept that is now a reality, but the next house we saw was a mock up of what things could be like.

In South Korea's vision of the home of the future we will all wear mini-PCs on our wrists, which turns things on or off, opens doors, and tracks the wearer's position in the house at all times.

Here, everything is voice activated, and the fridge can provide you with recipes which use the ingredients inside, and let you know if your food is out of date.

It relies on the food packaging containing radio tags, or RFID labels, which can be read by the fridge each time it passes through the door.

But will the food industry or consumers be prepared to pay more for this? And what about food that does not come in lots of packaging?

In the bedroom your wardrobe mirror can tell you your schedule for the day, help you select your clothes - if all your clothes have washable radio tags compatible with the system - and keep you up to date with the weather and traffic.

When it is time to go, the house of the future will shut itself off.

While there are some nice ideas here from South Koreas top tech firms, it may be a while before any of the technologies on show find their way into our homes of the present.


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