“The rapid expansion of high-speed home networks and the rollout of smart kitchen appliances looks like a marriage destined for success,” the report says, projecting that the number of homes worldwide with home networks will jump from 35 million at the end of last year to 98 million by 2008.
Whirlpool, IBM, Sears and Hewlett-Packard are among the companies that have been leading the effort through participation in the Internet Home Alliance, whose mission is to help build a market for products and services that require a broadband or persistent Internet connection.
The companies have been collaborating to resolve basic design issues so that there won’t be conflicts over standards and proprietary software and consumers won’t be confused about which device works with another.
A recent survey by the group found that 42% of the nation’s single-family home owners — or 26.1 million households — are interested in new technology in a connected home, the report says.
“Our research shows that busy consumers still blame themselves when they cannot provide their families with home-cooked meals,” said Henry Marcy, V, Whirlpool’s vice president for corporate technology and electronics. “Solving the food preparation dilemma would dramatically open up the market possibilities for us, especially since the kitchen is the command center of the home.”
While industry’s goal is to connect all kitchen appliances so that they can be accessed by remote devices, there are some kitchen appliances that do not require broadband for basic service, the report says. One of them is Whirlpool’s Polara oven, which keeps raw food at the correct temperature during the day so that it can be cooked after work right away.
“Mealtime,” a pilot program of the alliance, has been conducting research among consumers to see how the devices work from both home and remote locations in actual meal preparation and other household chores.
Although, like the microwave, the smart kitchen “appears to be a concept that’s right for the time,” the report identifies four major hurdles before it becomes a household staple:
- At $10,000-$20,000, the cost of a smart kitchen may be more than many consumers are willing to pay for the convenience. However, the report says that consumers are more likely to accept the expense if it is included in the price of the home.
- The kitchens of many consumers, especially those in urban areas, are too small for the installation of a smart network. In the early stages, the industry needs to target the luxury home and new home markets, the report says.
- Many people are still intimidated by new technology and they need to be convinced that the smart kitchen will make their lives simpler and more efficient.
- While home networking has been growing steadily, the rise has not been spectacular and the industry needs to invest in marketing to persuade more Americans to get high-speed Internet services and home networks.
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