A future where appliances talk

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 August, 2005, 12:00am

First, a prophesy. Within a decade all your home appliances will have the brains to communicate with you through your mobile phone, and with each other through a short-wave radio network.

Blame an innovation snappily known as M2M (machine-to-machine networking), which has some fancy applications.

Say, for example, you want to start the air conditioning in your flat before you leave the office. With M2M, you just send it a text message. Want to warm the oven as you sit in traffic? Just send it a text message. Saw a review about a TV show and want TiVo to record it? Ditto.

In addition, the smoke alarm, carbon monoxide alarm and any other alarm you might have will SMS when triggered, instead of mindlessly beeping.

Maybe the message would be polite: 'Excuse me, there appears to be a problem: your apartment is oxygen-deficient, which might have a less than desirable effect on your daughter's well-being. I know I'm just an alarm with the IQ of a bug, but can I be of assistance?'

Or maybe it would be insulting: 'Come back home, you doofus. You left the gas on and your daughter is about to suffocate.'

However the alarm broaches the subject, I suspect its message might take time to sink in the first time. Nonetheless, in theory every inconvenience could be dealt with electronically in the future.

Scientists have planted wireless capable sensors in, of all places, swimming pools. A sensor reads the acidity level and chemical level then sends the data over a wireless network to a central database, which monitors the readings from every pool in the network.

When the acidity at a particular pool climbs too high, the central database sends a text message to the relevant maintenance man.

If he or she fails to respond within the allotted time, the database texts the boss and the process escalates up the chain until, with luck, someone does something. A similar network has been set up in Nordic countries on home utility meters.

Again, proving that texting is not just for teenagers and drunk adults, sensors attached to the meters SMS the utility company.

'The key to all of this is wireless technology,' said networking expert Dave Macey. 'What was originally thought of as a convenience for business travellers is soon to become the pre-eminent networking technology in the world.'

The applications are endless. 'No longer is the internet something where we log on or dial in, but are constantly connected to,' Mr Macey said.

He hailed M2M as the future 'must-have technology of the early 21st century for all businesses'. If that sounds like hype, consider how many processors already dot your environment.

The average household contains at least 50 microprocessors, among them thermostats. A car can pack as many as 50, controlling brakes, airbags and many other components. So the next time your phone rings, be ready in case the caller is a machine with some bad news.

Confused by computer jargon? E-mail technopedia@scmp.com with your questions