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IBM Builds Networked Homes with Developer

IBM Monday joined Cisco Systems as one>> of the few companies pushing forward with plans to help build communities of networked homes, using computers to give homeowners the ability to remotely manage everything from heating and air conditioning to security systems and garage doors..

Cisco unveiled its plans to build 13,000 "smart homes," with Southern California land developer Playa Vista, in July 2000, but has said little since. Many other companies have showcased concept homes, including Microsoft , and long-gone Excite@Home. But actual homes on the market that make use of new technological capabilities are few and far between.

Undaunted, developer Commonwealth Builders has partnered with IBM in a deal under which IBM will provide the infrastructure for a new connected community of 170 homes in Roanoke, Va.

IBM said it will work with Commonwealth Builders to integrate an array of technology with the new homes, intended to add efficiency to household functions -- from sending emergency alerts to a wide range of devices to being able to check whether the doors or locked and the stoves are turned off, with the ability to do those things remotely if necessary. Future applications may include self-reading utility meters directly linked to billing services, and appliances that alert owners when they are about to fail.

The community, known as Village at Tinker Creek, will leverage IBM's e-Business to Smart Machines initiative, using embedded technology to connect devices within the homes to networks. Unlike other visions of the connected home, Commonwealth Builders is not appealing to the high-end of the market. Angus McIntyre, product manager for Embedded Solutions at IBM, told that the homes would be in the $200,000 range.

"These are mainstream houses," he said. "It's taking it out to the people."

In addition to allowing homeowners to network appliances and manage them remotely, each household will be able to use its connection to get access to neighborhood information and bulletin boards, local news, shared calendars, and security and utility management. IBM suggested that benefits could include more efficient energy use, lower insurance premiums, improved security and higher resale values. McIntyre noted that the whole package costs about $3,500 per home.

"Just a few years ago, high-tech homes sounded like something out of the Jetsons," said Jonathan Prial, vice president of Business Development and Sales with IBM's Pervasive Computing Division. "But with the Village at Tinker Creek, we're talking about real, practical technology applications that help make our lives easier. With the advancement of technology comes the expectations of greater functionality, and the connected homes at Tinker Creek are just one example of how IBM's technology is powering the larger pervasive computing ecosystem."

Commonwealth Builders constructed the development from the ground up with underground fiber optic cabling, and each home will feature Taiwan-based C.P. Technology's NetAppliance Residential Services Gateways running IBM's WebSphere Everyplace Embedded Software (WEES), WebSphere Portal Express, and Shanghai-based SVA's Information iHome Application to manage interconnected devices including thermostat, harzard and security sensors.

The homes will also be equipped with 802.11b wireless capabilities.

C.P. Technology's gateway, built on IBM VisualAge Micro Edition and IBM Tivoli Device Manager, is pivotal to the community's networking capabilities, serving as the bridge between external data networks to internal home and office networks. IBM said it provides Internet access and facilitates networking in the home and office as well as easing the complexity of remote management of home appliances.

SVA's application provides the home automation, energy management and security capabilities with a Web-based service that allows homeowners to control lighting, heating, air conditioning and security systems from anywhere in the world with Internet access.