T- C o m
At Home in the Future
Life inside the home of the future is on display in T-Com House on Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz. Here, sophisticated Siemens technology has created a domestic environment worthy of Star Trek.
t he house of the future is by no means fu- u r i s t i c f r o m t h e o u t s i d e . I n f a c t , i t l o o k s a T little lost among the sleek glass facades of the offices and stores in downtown Berlin. After all, a conservative single-family home, sur- rounded by a neatly trimmed lawn, is some- thing you expect to see in the suburbs, not in the heart of a major European capital. How- ever, appearances can be deceptive.
“Look behind the scenes,” says Falk Rämisch from the Siemens Smart Home Team, “and you’ll discover that almost all the appliances and devices in the house, from the TV to the washing machine, are networked and can communicate with one another.” There’s no
other comparable project anywhere in the world, he enthuses. Back in March of this year, the T-Com House project was formally launched by Siemens and the operator, Deutsche Telekom, together with WeberHaus, a manufacturer of prefabricated houses, and the Neckermann company. Since then, anyone who’s interested can apply to stay in the net- worked home and win the chance to spend a weekend trying out the new technology. T-Com House, which comprises 240 square meters of floor area, is scheduled to shut its doors and be dismantled in early 2006. “Until then, our aim is to show just what a networked home can do,” says Rämisch. “Go ahead. Feel right at home.”
And feeling at home isn’t especially diffi- cult in T-Com House, where the fittings are modern but nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, the only real hint of high tech comes from the nine large plasma screens mounted on the walls. For most residents, the first real experi- ence of future living comes when they try to operate a piece of household equipment. Siluad Hammad, for example, spends a few minutes searching in vain for the TV remote control. “The TV is operated via WLAN with this PDA,” explains Rämisch as he hands over a small handheld device. “You can also use it to switch on the lights and operate the household ap- pliances, the shutters, the air conditioning and
In T-Com House, a PDA is all you need to access an electronic newspaper in the kitchen or operate the washing machine (left). A robot cleans up, while the Mood Manager Cube ensures that everyone can feel at home in an appropriate atmosphere. Visitors can leave video messages on the family whiteboard (right).
alarm systems, and the doors. Alternatively, this Siemens Gigaset cordless phone will also do the trick.” Siluad runs an electronic pencil across the display. As if by magic, the lights dim and the shutters automatically close. She enters another command, and the plasma TV bursts in- to life. The only problem now is what to watch. In addition to standard programs, the TV also features Siemens’ Surpass Home Entertain- ment System, which can access an almost in- exhaustible choice of films and music on the Internet, as well as offering video telephone calls onscreen and a range of online games.
“And just imagine the washing machine is on,” says Rämisch. “Normally, you’d have to get up and leave the room in order to see if the cycle has finished. In this house, however, the digital butler takes care of that.” Siluad turns to the PDA and lightly touches the sym- bol for household appliances. “The washing will be ready in 10 minutes,” says the display. “You can also check if the fridge door has been left open,” Rämisch adds.
In the future, it will also be possible for users to accomplish such tasks away from home. All it will take is a PDA, a WLAN Hot Spot and an authorized password to log into the smart home network. “It will certainly mean an end to that tiresome vacation de- bate about whether anyone has forgotten to switch off the oven or lock the front door!”
What’s more, inhabitants of the high-tech house don’t even have to worry about creating the right ambience, since this is taken care of by the so-called Mood Manager — a small cube with different-colored sides. Green, for exam- ple, signals a meditative mood, whereas yellow is designed to get users ready for work. Siluad turns over the cube until the red side is facing upward. The Mood Manager automatically switches over to party mode: colorful animated figures dance across the plasma screen and the loudspeakers play corresponding music. At
the same time, the lighting and shutters auto- matically adjust to the mood. “The cube is fit- ted with RFID tags, which reveal its current status,” explains Rämisch. “The information is then transmitted to the central computer and fed into the house’s Ethernet. Any devices that are addressed by this signal react accordingly.”
For people worried that too much of the easy life can lead to lethargy, help is on hand on the first floor of the smart home, where a moving exercise track has been installed. Heading for the first floor, Siluad almost trips over a small robot. “That’s the Siemens Sen- sorCruiser, an automatic vacuum cleaner,” says Rämisch. “As a rule, it’s very good at avoiding any obstacles.” Unperturbed, the au- tomatic cleaning assistant neatly maneuvers past us and disappears into the next room.
After 40 minute’s of jogging on the exer- cise track, Siluad is ready for a break. And lit- tle wonder: Her trip has taken her through the center of Berlin — on a virtual level, at least. In front of the track hangs a plasma screen that shows a route through the German capi-
tal. The images move perfectly in time with the rhythm of steps and come to halt when- ever she does. “Unfortunately, the track isn’t linked to the bathroom scales,” jokes Siluad. “Not yet!” laughs Rämisch.
Eventually her day in T-Com House comes to a close. But before Siluad takes a taxi and returns from the home of the future, she checks to see whether there are any mes- sages for her on the family whiteboard, a kind of interactive pinboard in the lobby. Here, res- idents can leave and receive video and other types of messages. Siluad identifies herself by means of a small RFID card and moves her fingers across the touchscreen. “No e-mails, SMS or MMS messages,” reports the system.
At that moment, a sonorous signal breaks the silence in the high-tech home. The cam- era at the front door conveys the image of a man — the taxi driver. A gentle touch of the screen, and the door swings open. “Beam me back to earth, Scottie,” says Siluad to the driver and climbs into the taxi with a smile.
M A N Y A P P L I A N C E S — O N E CO M M O N L A N G UAG E
T-Com House and its network technology is not actually for sale. At present, trial resi- dents and the operators are still testing it out. Siemens hopes to market its first smart home plat- form for network operators around mid-2006. Solutions for real estate developers will follow. However, the devices and applications that Siemens and other companies are showcasing in T- Com House are already available on the market. What’s new about the project is that they are all fully networked. At the heart of T-Com House is a so-called Home Automation Platform (HAP). This serves as a central communications interface and is linked via Ethernet to almost every ap- pliance and automation device on the premises. For kitchen appliances to be able to communi- cate via the HAP, they first have to “understand” one another. “All the appliances have been equipped with UPnP interfaces, which endows them with a common language,” says Klaus Jür- gen Schmitt from Siemens Corporate Technology (CT). “With this universal plug-and-play stan- dard, all the appliances can be addressed in a uniform way.” (Pictures of the Future, Fall 2004, p. 53). In reality, this might generate the following scenario. Imagine someone has left the refriger- ator door open. In this case, the appliance will send a signal as a so-called UPnP event to the HAP. The latter transmits this information via WLAN to the PDAs of the house residents. At pres- ent, someone still has to get up to close the refrigerator door. In the future, life in such smart homes will become even better. “The next step,” says Markus Wischy from CT, “will be a universal platform for new services such as personalized information or telemedicine.”
Pictures of the Future | Fall 2005