Your refrigerator and your computer may have more in common than you think. Soon, standard household appliances will incorporate Microsoft technology to increase convenience. On January 13, 2000 G.E. signed an agreement with Microsoft to jointly participate in an effort to develop both the technology and the standards to allow appliances to take advantage of the Internet. G.E. displayed working prototypes of some of the initial designs inspired by this partnership at the 2000 National Association of Home Builders show.
The web-enabled refrigerator is just one of several "smart" appliance designs currently being tested by G.E. The Web fridge includes a detachable web pad that allows consumers to access the Internet. The pad can be used to surf the Internet, but the pad is also capable of monitoring household appliances remotely. The pad can indicate if a door has been left open, if the dishwasher is still running, or if your microwave has finished heating up your leftovers.
Additionally, the refrigerator can inventory the items it contains with a bar code scanner. Groceries are scanned as they’re placed in the refrigerator, and again as they’re removed. Using this technology, the web-fridge can tell a consumer if they're running low on any groceries, and the web pad allows the fridge to automatically re-order items from the store via the Internet, if so desired.
Web-enabled microwave ovens are also programmed to read bar codes, display recipe or ingredient information important for dietary needs, and then begin cooking with pre-programmed instructions.
Voice-activated operation technology is also being developed for the microwave. Cooks with occupied hands will be able to tell their microwaves what food it is preparing, and when to begin cooking. Browseable menus of food types and standard cooking times will also be accessed via voice commands, further simplifying the process of familiarizing and programming the device.
These appliances can self-diagnose problems and can alert the G.E. Answer Center if parts or service are needed. "The development of this technology will offer tremendous benefits to G.E. consumers," said Larry Johnston, president and CEO. "Imagine getting to work, turning on your desktop computer and receiving a message from your home appliance network that you left an oven burner on. With [this] technology, you could remotely access the oven from your work computer and turn it off."
G.E. is one of several members of the Universal Plug and Play Forum Steering Committee, driving development of new networkable devices and appliances. Other companies on the committee include Sony, Mitsubishi, Intel, IBM and Honeywell.
To view a Power Point presentation on home networking, go to