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issue: December 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

European Report
Siemens Displays Breakthrough in Home Automation


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By Paul Roggema, European correspondent, APPLIANCE magazine

It does not happen very often that one can find true breakthroughs at a trade fair, but at the recent E/Home show in Berlin, Germany, a new Siemens development in home automation turned the heads of many attendees.

Three Siemens divisions—white goods (BSH), Mobile Telephony, and Building Automation—all joined forces to present a new concept: why not use the cordless phone as a terminal for home automation? Users connect appliances through power modems to a gateway and make the gateway one of the extensions of an existing digital cordless phone system. Another gateway can operate blinds, lighting, and alarm systems. Select the specific gateway, and a menu will appear on the display. Choose an appliance, and then one of the options, which include start, change start time, or check status. According to Siemens, no additional wiring is required, and all handsets can perform all functions. In addition to receiving commands, the appliances can also send text messages such as “program ready” or “overflow protection activated.”

Siemens engineers emphasized that safety features will be an essential part of the concept, and because the terminal is a phone, it can also relay the message to a cell phone at any location. What if a user is on the highway to work and is not sure she turned the hob off? She can easily check.

The concept may solve one home automation industry issue—what to use as a terminal. Many have speculated that consumers do not want extra remotes for each appliance or multiple remotes on each floor of a large house. Some also question whether or not users would be willing to buy a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) just for home automation purposes. Upgrading a cordless phone with multiple handsets for around U.S. $150 may be a much more realistic option. And when users even can use their PC or broadband router as a gateway to free, voice-over-internet telephony with the same handsets, this might become a must-have product.

Siemens also thought of an entry-level feature: A special chip allows any appliance to use an extension for itself, without a gateway. So when a consumer buys a new heater, he or she could go for a remote-controlled model, add a wireless door opener, or a room thermostat and see how the concept works. Later additions such as gateways and external links require small investments.

Technically, the European standard for digital cordless phones is called DECT and provides for eight extensions. Siemens is a European market leader in DECT phones and offers the menu features on its mid- and top-of-the-line phones under the Homecontrol label, and the BSH white goods solutions are called Serve@home. Field tests of the system have already been completed. Currently, educational projects are underway for 30 German kitchen installers, and the company says other sales channels will follow soon.

 

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