Touring Matsushita’s smart house of the future

People are constantly predicting what new gadgets and innovations will revolutionize our homes over the coming years, and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., better known by its Panasonic brand name, recently unveiled a real-life preview of what the future may hold.

The company unveiled its second-generation HII (Home Information Infrastructure) house in the centre of its Multimedia Center in Tokyo. Since the first-generation house was put on display, the project has gained a letter “e” and become the eHII house to reflect the concepts of e-living in a networked society, the company explained.

More so than its predecessor, the new house focuses on home networking, and that means that almost everything, from the television and DVD player to the microwave and toilet, are on the domestic network.

At the centre of the network is a home gateway station that has both Ethernet and HomePNA (Home Phone Networking Alliance) wireline and PHS (Personal Handyphone System) wireless ports for connection to devices in the home. It is linked to a variety of wide-area networks including the Internet, satellite broadcasting systems and third generation W-CDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) wireless networks.

The first innovation built into the house hits you before you even step inside. Looking much like a conventional video phone entry system, Matsushita’s new version enables the house owner to see who is at the door and talk with them via a video cellphone, even when they are not at home.

Innovations in the bedroom include an electronic health checker that will monitor several aspects of the user’s health and can also be programmed to send data to health professionals. In the case of a problem, the user can interact with a doctor from the system or data gathered can alert the doctor to a potential problem and lead to a more comprehensive check-up.

A robot pet, in the form of a teddy bear, was also in the bedroom to keep the home-owner company. Sony Corp. has long been predicting the market for such products will be big in the future and is already selling its Aibo entertainment robot. Matsushita’s pet robot is only a prototype now but is further evidence that other electronics companies share Sony’s view.

The kitchen hosts of gadgets-packed devices from the refrigerator to the microwave oven. A voice memo panel on the refrigerator provided a high-tech replacement for a note attached with a magnet and even allowed users to call in from mobile phones and listen to stored memos or add memos of their own. The microwave was intelligent enough to tailor cooking to the food being prepared, and the kitchen was also home to the main management system for the house.

The system monitors all functions of the home and also keeps a watch on energy usage to keep waste at a minimum. Energy consumption is further reduced through a series of solar panels on the roof of the house that provide electricity to run the home.

The living room and office/hobby rooms are packed with gadgets, although many of them are already available in electronics stories. Features included a wall-hanging PDP (Plasma Display Panel), digital satellite receiver, DVD video player and fibre-to-the-home gateway station. Owners can use the TV to monitor the home information system and keep an eye on all the high-tech systems.

– IDG News Service