We recently received an announcement from ProSyst about the start of field trials of networked home appliances in 25 German households. Our initial reaction was to dismiss it as unlikely to produce much in the way of real world impact. However, we recognize that there is a danger in assuming that just because something has not taken hold before, it won't this time around. Otherwise the Wright Brothers might not have flown at Kitty Hawk. Technologies or other factors can change and it's important to be sensitive to whether such changes have happened.
We talked on the telephone with Susan Schwarze, Marketing Director of ProSyst and Co-Chair Marketing OSGi, to learn more about the various pilot programs that she is involved in or aware of. She pointed out that although telematics is the first area of application for OSGi in the US, in Europe more projects and trials are underway with smart homes. Partly she sees this coming from greater willingness of European telcos to act as service aggregators.
InHaus Duisburg is one example. Their home gateway runs ProSyst's mBedded server, based on OSGi Release 2 specs. It connects with Deutsche Telekom's TeleHome Service Provider Platform. Different protocol stacks on the gateway provide access to various sensors, actuators and household appliances. Project partners include Sony, Miele, Volkswagen and Siedle (makers of entry control, building communication and biometric systems). The InHaus web site describes the project as "a model of how in the future an unlimited number of networked appliances like light, heating and temperature control, domestic appliances, entertainment devices, sensors and actuators, consumption measuring instruments, alarm systems, and many more can be connected via gateways with central service centers of external service providers. Such companies can then offer a wide variety of new services around the home."
Susan believes that "most new housing will include service gateways." Bosch brand washing machines, refrigerators and other appliances will have modules that will connect them to the service gateway. Susan estimated that modules will cost 50€ and service gateways will cost 200-300€.
The field trial starting soon for "smart@Home networked home appliances" involves retrofitting Siemens and Bosch products with an extra module that communicates over powerline to a residential gateway. Users can access their applications with a WebPad, PDA or PC via Wi-Fi inside the home or use a WAP-capable cellphone from outside. The gateway was developed in collaboration with Setrix and Siemens ICN.
The goals of the study are to gather results on product acceptance, preferred features, system usability and willingness to pay. We believe that if some applications can be shown to provide real benefit to the manufacturer or service provider -- such as alerting an appliance service contract provider that something has gone awry in a hot water heater -- then the cost of the gateway can be partly borne by that provider rather than the end user. We see service contract providers for essential home equipment and electric power providers as two of the most likely candidates.
We look forward to seeing the study results.