March 1999


By Fred Henning

Although you may read this on April 1st, this is NOT an April fools article, although there are some who may say it is written by a fool!

I just watched a commercial for a new and better Furby. Have you ever watched any of the SciFi movies where something like the Furby is used to SPY on the population? Should we attribute anything sinister to these Tribble like creatures?

Last month I talked about getting your own Web Page operational and how easy it was to develop a Web Page but how complex it might be to manage security, data base access, etc. This month I want to extend your horizon by elaborating on some of the demonstrated "Web Enabled" technology. Simple concepts that, like a Web Page, make life easy and fun.

Some of you are familiar with the 'House of the Future' concept from This Old House and similar shows. A house that respond to your walking around with a TV-like remote control or just sense that you are in a room and turn on the room's lights.

This has been done for years using Radio Frequency technology that sends signals back to a central processor. The central processor then sends coded signals back along the power lines to little cubes plugged into the outlets. Your lamp, TV, etc. are in turn plugged into the cube. There are also wall outlets, lamps and wall switches with the circuits to decode the signals built into them. All that is required is to have the device plugged in and the decoder set to one of a limited number of codes. This technology has been available for over 15 years from Radio Shack. In recent years you could even dial your home from anywhere in the world and via the telephone's 'touch tone' pad to control these devices.

ABMC has a very sophisticated Fire Alarm System. Every device has an address and the Fire Alarm System continually talks to each device to make sure it is working and not in alarm. This communication can occur over the same wires that send power to the device.

Telephone companies are trying to issue everyone their own personal telephone number. One number for your pager, cell phone, voice mail and anything else they can sell you.

The ability to uniquely identify someone and/or some thing is critical. The Internet addressing scheme is so robust that it could be used as a universal addressing model.

Maybe it's several hours into the vacation and as you drive along you hear - "Did you turn off the coffee maker?".

The future says that we can access the internet from our cell phone MODEM and look at a picture of our house to see what is 'on' or 'off', we can even control these devices. You could monitor the mileage on the car in the garage to find out if your son has been out for a ride.

Internet technology takes all of these concepts to the next logical step. All devices from light fixtures to refrigerator, from the smoke detector to the toilet and washing machine, all have electronics with unique addresses. They can all be monitored and controlled from anywhere in the world using a Web Browser or they can 'talk to one another'.

I used the toilet as example because we all know that if we are taking a shower someone will flush a toilet or turn on the washing machine and we will get a blast of very cold or hot water. Wouldn't it be grand if somehow the toilet and washing machine knew you were taking a shower and just waited a few minutes to do their thing until you were done?

The ability of devices to communicate with one another and react to the environment makes Science Fiction a reality.

The clock radio is set for 6AM and the coffee maker is set to go on at 6:10. This gives you time to hit the snooze bar and get to the bathroom. Today you are going in late because you have a dinner meeting. If you change the clock radio time wouldn't it be nice if the coffee maker was also adjusted. It could happen in a world where appliances communicated with each other. Sensors will know when you come home and set the temperature of the room to your favorite setting but if your wife comes home and enters the room the temperature, lights, volume on the TV, etc. it will go to her favorite settings. See how easy it will be to avoid those little arguments?

Note: Even using a Browser to read this document is 5 times more efficient then Word. In Microsoft Word this document takes up 25,000 bytes of memory. In html, the language of the Browser, it only takes 5,000 bytes. It can be sent faster and displayed faster!