A futuristic kitchen designed by Virginia Tech University
researchers includes a dishwasher that sends a text or email when it is out of
soap, a microwave that listens for the moment when popcorn stops popping and a
pantry that can report low supplies. But it will be a while before most big
U.S. home builders offer such automation on a mass scale.
Home automation has made great strides in recent years, with
wireless technologies enabling users to monitor and control more functions
remotely. Yet many builders are including only the most basic elements of
automation as standard features in the houses they build, leery that
fast-changing technologies can’t yet seamlessly automate all of a given home’s
devices and systems at a mass-market price.
Many builders acknowledge that buyers expect new homes to
include modern features, and that full-home automation eventually will be
included in that expectation. A survey last year of 4,556 U.S. Internet users
by technology research firm Forrester Research Inc. found that 18%
were using at least one automation feature in their homes.
For now, though, the interim route for many builders is to
offer partial automation. The upfront cost for the systems’ hardware typically
ranges from the hundreds of dollars into the thousands, which builders include
in the price of the home. Thereafter, homeowners using security or
energy-monitoring services tied to their automation systems often pay a small
monthly fee. Beyond that, it is up to the home buyer to add any bells and
whistles and to ensure they are compatible with the system already in place.
Builders Lennar Corp. and Meritage Homes Corp. have taken a
partial approach by installing in their homes Ingersoll-Rand Co.’s Nexia Home
Intelligence System, which allows users to connect and control their security
systems, heating and air conditioning systems and garage door, among other
things. But Nexia doesn’t yet interact with kitchen appliances or most
Some builders are hesitant due to past experiences. A decade
ago, David Weekley Homes experimented by outfitting some of its homes with
entertainment-automation systems offered by small, third-party providers. But
the resulting glitches, customer-service fallout and reputation damage left
Weekley reluctant to dive back in. Weekley now offers, but doesn’t promote,
automation features as options in its higher-end homes.
The race to automate part, or all, of the American home was
on display last month at the combined International Builders Show and Kitchen
& Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas. Among the highlighted home features
controlled by mobile devices were luxury coffee makers, garage doors and
digital door locks.
The prototype kitchen by the Virginia Polytechnic Institute
and State University, commonly known as Virginia Tech, includes numerous
networked appliances and fixtures. Each can be controlled by voice commands or
gestures, the homeowner’s smartphone or through touch screens such as the
55-inch screen embedded in the kitchen’s island countertop.
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