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Ideas 2003: Smart appliances, slow networks

Ideas 2003: Smart appliances, slow networks

Even in Playa Vista, the futuristic community in Los Angeles's Westside due to open April 2003, Internet-enabled smart kitchen appliances are having a hard time finding a home.

Original plans called for Playa Vista's homes to come equipped with refrigerators, microwaves, convection ovens and dishwashers that could be remotely controlled by wireless, Web-enabled tablet PCs, according to Tom Kline, a spokesman for Whirlpool, the Benton Harbor, Mich.-based manufacturer of all this jazzy new stuff. But after it realised that the average American abode resembles a Playa Vista pad about as closely as an armadillo does an antelope, Whirlpool decided to delay this plan until the broadband infrastructure necessary to support such devices is available, though the company is still developing the technology. It just didn't make much sense for Whirlpool to market gadgets that only people living in test-bed communities could use. Indeed, this lack of a pervasive high-speed Internet infrastructure remains the biggest barrier to the mainstreaming of smart appliances, which have been much hyped and promised ever since about the time The Jetsons made its debut on TV. (That was, for trivia buffs, 1962.)

So, instead of a refrigerator that will order your milk for you over the Web, Whirlpool is furnishing Playa Vista homes with refrigerated ranges that keep casseroles cool until the time comes to cook them and armoires that remove odors and wrinkles from your clothes. That's pretty smart, but it's not "smart"; neither gadget requires anything more than electricity to do its job. Though the company is also planning future models of the refrigerated range and armoire that will be controlled through the Internet.

In the meantime, while Whirlpool and its competitors continue to dream about Internet-enabled domestic solutions, Korean manufacturer LG Appliances recently unveiled a 356-pound, fingerprint-proof, Titanium-coated refrigerator that functions as a TV, PC, calendar, stereo and photo album.

Oh, and it also freezes water and keeps food from spoiling.

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