At Last, Pie-in-the-Sky Concepts Come Home

By J.W. Elphinstone
Associated Press
Saturday, September 27, 2008

Eat your heart out, George Jetson.

Technology can automate a house to the point where homeowners are alerted when food in the fridge goes bad, irrigation systems monitor dew levels and toilets medically analyze urine. Some of these gadgets even allow users to control systems on the road and by cellphone.

Smart-home features are still pricey, but costs are expected to come down as the demand for convenience grows and technology becomes more accessible and affordable.

"The future is here, but it's not equally distributed," said Ilya Billig, vice president of business development at technology company Lagotek. "Our goal is to make it so."

The company, based in Bellevue, Wash., last year introduced its newest automation software, called Home Intelligence Platform, that allows people to wirelessly control the television, computer, Internet, lighting, temperature, security and irrigation from an in-wall control panel, remote control or PDA.

The wireless technology is cheaper than hard-wired systems (around $10,000 for Lagotek's software versus up to $100,000 or more for hard-wired systems) and allows consumers to take their systems with them if they move.

When it comes to smart homes, clever products and systems are available for every room, said Ron Zimmer, president and chief executive of Continental Automated Buildings Association, a trade group that represents the home and commercial automation industry.

· Kitchen: LG Electronics offers a refrigerator that features a built-in cable-ready television, electronic cookbook and weather channel. It retails around $4,000.

Other refrigerators have advanced climate control and can track food expiration dates, while some appliances run self-diagnostic tests and alert you when something's awry before disaster occurs. All of these can run $3,000 and up.

· Security: Security systems are sophisticated enough these days that they not only sound an alarm if there's a fire, but also can be programmed to turn on the lights if the emergency is at night, call the fire or police department and call you if you're not home (at a cost of $10,000 and up).

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