With cell phones, pagers and computers becoming staples in everyday life, will kitchen appliances follow suit and jump into the home network? The electronics industry is cooking up support for so-called "smart" kitchens -- especially in new homes.

In fact, the Consumer Electronics Association calls smart kitchens -- those equipped with broadband-equipped home networks to connect appliances with cell phones, pagers, office computers, laptops, and other remote devices -- one of "5 Technologies to Watch" in a recent report.

"The need for speed coupled with the desire for old-fashioned 'home cookin' has led to the invention of several new products that could make the kitchen the center of the home," the CEA's report states.

The smart kitchen features refrigerators equipped with cable-ready TV screens, refrigerators that can monitor the shelf life of your in-box items, ovens that will download recipes from the Internet and can be temperature-controlled during the day, so all you have to do is make a call on your cell phone to get dinner cooking.

"The rapid expansion of high-speed home networks and the rollout of smart kitchen appliances looks like a marriage destined for success," the report states.

Many companies -- including Whirlpool, IBM, Sears and Hewlett-Packard -- are coming together to resolve some of the design issues associated with the smart kitchen.

The Internet Home Alliance says 42 percent of American single-family homeowners -- 26.1 million households -- are interested in new technology in a connected home.

The industry, the report says, is targeting the new home. Many homebuilders are pre-wiring the kitchen so the broadband connection will be in place when the homeowner moves in.

Americans are spending more time in the kitchen and welcome all the help and amenities they can get. On that note, the IHA has launched a pilot program called "Mealtime."

For six months twenty Boston homeowners have used an Internet-enabled refrigerator and oven, an entertainment center and wireless application protocol cell phone to control the kitchen appliances at and away from home.

But will the smart kitchen become as popular as the microwave?

The IHA says there are still some major hurdles:

  • The cost. Adding it all up, a smart kitchen can cost $10,000 to $20,000. Incorporating smart kitchens in new homes can help soften sticker shock.
  • Space limitations. Many older houses have smaller, cramped kitchens -- another reason to target new homes.
  • Consumer apprehension. Many homeowners are typically intimidated by new products, especially when technology is involved.
  • Convincing more Americans to jump on the high-speed Internet highway. While the growth rate of home networking is steady, the CEA says the industry needs to persuade more Americans to get high-speed Internet services and home networks so they'll ultimately, buy more products and get them connected.

Meanwhile, in another recently released survey, the IHA found that half of the new homes being constructed are built with at least one technology option mandated by the owner. Voted most important to current and prospective buyers are pre-wired cable/satellite TV and a home security system -- consumers said both should be standard in new homes.

Survey takers said structured wiring, multi-zone HVAC, an air purification system, a community-wide high-speed Internet connection, a home control/automation system and light control were "somewhat important."

Participants said they were often overwhelmed by the technology options; they were often the last-mentioned options and are often presented in a cursory, checklist fashion. They said they would like to purchase options after seeing them in a showroom setting.

"We were delighted to learn that the concept of the connected home is, indeed, becoming a reality," said Tim Woods, Internet Home Alliance's Vice President of Ecosystems Development. "The understanding of, and keen interest in, a wide array of technological products for new homes validates our belief that we are moving quickly toward a turning point where many of the 'futuristic' products and services will integrate into being standard components of new homes."

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