Your house is set to become a sprawling, and cheap, computer network.
June 27, 2001 6:42 AM   Subscribe

Your house is set to become a sprawling, and cheap, computer network. Ninety technology companies — including Cisco Systems Inc., Intel Corp. and Motorola Inc. — are part of a group that announced a major breakthrough Tuesday in the years-long push to use power lines to transmit data. As early as October, consumers in Canada and the United States will be able to use any plug in their house to connect computers to each other and to the Web. No extra wiring will be required.
posted by tranquileye (32 comments total)
My house already is a sprawling network of cheap computers...
posted by andrewraff at 6:50 AM on June 27, 2001

Even more advanced applications such as Internet-enabled refrigerators will be available in two or three years as the cost of the technology falls far enough that it can be built into appliances, Mr. Kinaan said. "A lot of those products need to be plugged into the wall anyway, so, why not use the same wire for connectivity?"

When, god, when will they realize that THIS IS A STUPID IDEA? Just because you can put an "internet appliance" into every fucking thing you can doesn't mean it's a good idea, or that anyone will care. Gee, how about an internet enabled rug that will call the cleaners every time there's a stain? Or an internet-enabled futurist who can automatically download new dumbass ideas every time he runs out of cyberpunk novels?
posted by tweebiscuit at 6:51 AM on June 27, 2001

Another article here.
posted by machaus at 6:56 AM on June 27, 2001

One of the things this article doesn't mention is that Internet-by-power-line tends to produce absolutely intolerable levels of interference to large swaths of the radio spectrum, especially shortwave. The German power bureaucracy was planning such a service a few months ago and had to trash the whole thing because of this and other problems. So unless the reduction of interference is one of the breakthoroughs they're talking about...
posted by aaron at 7:03 AM on June 27, 2001

funny... i've already got a decent network, and it wasn't too expensive. it's called ethernet 10/100 with RJ-45 plugs. Wow, what a breakthrough.

"Don't Run Cable!!" Why not? It is not that expensive, and worth it to have dedicated networking that is efficient.

I've also got a network access point with wireless pc card in my laptop which I can carry anywhere in the house and still access the net.

My electrical circuits blow when I plug in an extra lamp, let alone networking my computers through them. Just run your lines, install jacks in the rooms, and be done with it.
posted by benjh at 7:09 AM on June 27, 2001

I'm with you, twee, but the heart of the matter is they want to put Internet access into those appliances so they can market stuff to you and/or compel you to buy things like upgrades.

The obvious ability to use screens on appliances as billboards is just the beginning.

Imagine coming home one day and discovering that your fridge will stop working in seven hours unless you download a "system upgrade".
posted by briank at 7:10 AM on June 27, 2001

What's really incredible about this article is that the reporter seems to be unaware of networking products (including INTEL's own ANYPOINT) that use an existing phone line to network computers without interfering with the use of the phone for 'normal' telephony.

I've been using this type of phone line networking for file, Net access, and device sharing amongst two PC's and printer for over a year. Luckily my house was built with phone jacks in almost every room but adding a phone jack is an easy task to rid a house of sprawling cables and manual switches.
posted by DBAPaul at 7:20 AM on June 27, 2001

seriously, i don't think a smart fridge is such a bad idea.

i don't watch tv, so i wouldn't mind a fridge that could display the weather or news. i wouldn't mind it keeping track of my expirables or serving up recipes either.

if all the online grocers weren't going under, i would also love to be able to have it order food on a regular basis.
posted by o2b at 7:21 AM on June 27, 2001

ok, so i'm done with the toilet paper...*beep* *sprinkle* hey! who did that. HEY!! you cant just eject me out of the seat!! HEY *BEEP* no! not that blow drier on my butt!! AAAGH!!! They've finally taken over!!! *BEEP*
posted by arnab at 7:29 AM on June 27, 2001

It sounds like a good idea to me - dial in to my house at work, turn on the a/c, defrost something for dinner, start up a load of laundry (I don't want to do it on a timer because I don't know too far ahead of time when I'll be home). Shouldn't take much bandwith for that. And I like the "order more beer" part, except who's going to deliver it now?
Maybe I'm just a sucker though, and I deserve for my fridge to stop working.
posted by hazyjane at 7:38 AM on June 27, 2001

hazy and o2b -- yeah, obviously there are some people who will like this sort of thing, though the failure of the online grocers may not bode well for companies that want to have your fridge automatically reorder food.

The company I used to work for designed a control terminal for just this sort of networked home appliance vision for the parent company of Ariston appliances a few years ago, and even then they were relying on the emergence of networking through electric lines because of the even-worse state of cabling infrastructure in Europe.

A friend of mine from that company has moved on to another major electronics manufacturer who wants to do the same thing.

Personally, the ONLY functionality I would ever want in a networked kitchen appliance is the ability to self-monitor and alert for necessary service, but that's just me.
posted by briank at 7:49 AM on June 27, 2001

"dial in to my house at work"
how low-tech. Didn't the Jetsons have a robot for those kinds of things?
posted by Sellersburg/Speed at 7:51 AM on June 27, 2001

Here's the device I was talking about, sorry for not linking it in the other post.
posted by briank at 7:54 AM on June 27, 2001

I think it would be useful to have the ability to do things like what hazyjane says. My only real worry is that my house would cease to be the, seemingly, only place left on the planet where I'm not advertised to constantly (when I'm not watching TV or websurfing, of course). If the fridge is going to need maintenance soon, tell me not Bubba the goddamn repairman.
posted by srw12 at 7:56 AM on June 27, 2001

"Beep... we're sorry, the refrigerator you requested is unavailable due to concerns over copyright issues.
It has come to our attention that you've been illegally using this receptacle to store items from Kraft foods, which has been a division of Kenmore/Apple as of this morning. We here at Whirlpool/Sun feel we've provided you with a quality refrigeration device these past many years, and frankly resent your brand disloyalty. Your service has been terminated. Surly teamsters will be around in the morning to retrieve our refrigerator from your house.
We would also like to remind that we own the bidet, and don't advise you go anywhere near it. Thank you."
posted by dong_resin at 8:00 AM on June 27, 2001

The obvious ability to use screens on appliances as billboards is just the beginning.

Smells like 1984 and the Telescreen.
posted by tsidel at 8:03 AM on June 27, 2001

I can certainly see getting to a point where I'll want to have a dedicated server running in my home at all times. Someplace to store movies, music and other data would be my primary use, but I'm sure over time there will be other reasons for wanting that. I don't want to have to have some dumb box running in a closet somewhere, and the fridge is always on anyway. It seems like a pretty good fit to me.
posted by willnot at 8:10 AM on June 27, 2001

Well, the networked appliances are only a part of this. And we've had internal home networking via electrical lines for a while now. It looks to me like the main breakthrough here is, first, being able to turn your electrical system into a feed to external broadband, and second, making this a viable consumer standard rather than several competing and incompatible systems from different manufacturers.

benjh: Yeah, you're lucky. You have heard that 99% of the built houses in this country do NOT come with built-in Ethernet? Perhaps? Yes, if you're wiring new, it's a great idea, but I certainly can't do that in my apartment.
posted by dhartung at 8:12 AM on June 27, 2001

Kinda takes the fun out of the whole "Is your fridge running" phone gag if you can ping their appliances first. However, just think of all the fun people will have hacking into other's appliances.
posted by fluxcreative at 8:28 AM on June 27, 2001

"Whu? Why is there kiddie porn in the freezer?!"
posted by dong_resin at 8:34 AM on June 27, 2001

I think that there's plenty-a-market for this kind of thing. In my house, the computer I'm on is 10 feet over horizontally, and a floor below my cable modem for my other computer. When I decided to network them, I had to run a 50 foot ethernet cable all the way through my wall to come out in a little hole down here.
I think it will be great to be able to access the internet from anywhere in your house. Because, just because you move the computer doesn't mean you need to move anything else. One week you're in the living room, the next the bedroom. Not all of us can afford the wireless lan, last time I checked it was around 300.
posted by starduck at 9:04 AM on June 27, 2001

Someone will hack into your refrigerator and turn the thermostat all the way down and freeze all your goods solid.

Think of the affect on the obese. Smart fridges could really hammer them.


Or time locks possibly for the frequent snackers.

Or auditing for sneaky eaters, like kids and ice cream.

The fridge could broadcast notifications to you at work.
"Johnny is at the ice cream"
posted by a3matrix at 9:24 AM on June 27, 2001

And what if your fridge goes bipolar on you?

"All you get is bacon or Cool Whip! Why?! Because I've got the freon and I'm calling the shots, meatboy!"

or something
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:34 AM on June 27, 2001

My goodness...who would have thought one would discover such technological unease and reactionary rejection lurking just below the surface amongst a population like this one...amazing.
posted by rushmc at 10:00 AM on June 27, 2001

It seems that there is a recognition of not only the good, but the possible negative affects of technology like this. I think there is a definite cost/benefit relationship to things like an entire home appliance network. Is having your fridge able to call the repairman or order groceries worth paying for something like system upgrades or constant advertising? For me the automation of things tends to take away from the spontaneity I sometimes enjoy in an experience.
posted by Sellersburg/Speed at 10:41 AM on June 27, 2001

Liked what I read in a rather peculiar home design/architecture magazine called Dwell about the "pathological" computerized refrigerator. From a February introduction to semi-satirical "significance of the new millennium" issue. "We" saved the article, the basic thesis of which is, "Western man's whole way of looking at the future is pretty stupid and backdated.":

"When we read the press release about Frigidaire's 'Screen Fridge' with its 'networking capability,' we once again look back at Kubrick's vision. We find ourselves getting nostalgic about the HAL 9000 computer. Long before the year 2001 arrived, the big, threatening IBM mainframe had withered away. But soon, if Frigidaire and Cisco and Sterling are right, every home will have a little HAL right in the middle of the kitchen. The original HAL was murderous, but the Screen Fridge will, at worst, be mischievous, ordering pizzas in the dead of night or going on eBay with your credit card to indulge a novelty-magnet fetish."
posted by raysmj at 10:46 AM on June 27, 2001

My issue with Internet Appliances is how ubiquitous the projections are getting. It's a variation on multiplying logical entities: just because we can stick a tiny PC in every damn thing doesn't mean it's necessary. A GPS in your car is one thing, or perhaps a monitor in a senior citizen's oven to warn the proper people when something goes wrong, but I can't imagine the ability to automatically order groceries will ever pay for itself. Think about it -- the ability to detect quantities of food in a fridge would be enormously complex, and therefore almost impossible. We'd be left with a PC set in the fridge door with a possibly built-in grocery ordering system -- but if such a service were available, why not just use your desktop computer? This sort is speculation of the worst Popular Science sort...
posted by tweebiscuit at 11:24 AM on June 27, 2001

Computers need to be replaced every three years or so. Refrigerators need to be replaced once every fifteen years.

Putting computers in refrigerators will quintuple the number of refrigerators sold.

That is why people who sell refrigerators want to put computers in them.
posted by swell at 1:41 PM on June 27, 2001

When, god, when will they realize that THIS IS A STUPID IDEA? Just because you can put an "internet appliance" into every fucking thing you can doesn't mean it's a good idea, or that anyone will care.

<sarcasm>When, god when will people realize that there is usually a market for everything and that large successful corporations have teams of people just dedicated to making sure that products in their pipeline have a target market which satisfies their profit expectations!?

And furthermore that if the product in question fails that it's the company absorbing the loss and not you!

And furthermore that just because you think it's a stupid idea, doesn't mean that it actually is!</sarcasm>

Seriously, it's not as if this is the government using your tax dollars to do something stupid (although that happens on a annoyingly consistent basis). This is a company who is free to fail or succeed...
posted by fooljay at 3:22 PM on June 27, 2001

The Pet Rock wasn't a good idea, except for the guy who made a tidy fortune.

It may not be incredibly necessary to have appliances on the net (like that weather toaster), but I can see a lot of applications where it would be mighty handy. Anyway, twee (for one): any idea how many ubiquitous chips are in the average car these days? Dozens. And we keep buyin' em nonetheless, and every year they add more, and before we know it we've all got one wired car. Yes, they will be ubiquitous, because somebody will come up with something stupid, useful, or just plain entertaining, like window screens made out of electronic paper so you can change the color, or keys that always tell your home network where they are, or library books that remind your network they need to be returned. It may seem ridiculously ostentatious today, but trust me, when I was a kid only Mannix had a car phone.
posted by dhartung at 5:09 PM on June 27, 2001

Can it store recipes... say goodbye rolodex! Sweet heaven that would be.
posted by stbalbach at 9:21 PM on June 27, 2001

Storing recipes -- hell, it would probably download recipies for what you had in your fridge, sponsored by various advertisers. (You know, the ones calling for Crisco brand shortening and Gold Circle flour...)

If it would calculate fractions or multiples for you, though, that would be nice. But what would data entry be like?
posted by kindall at 9:43 PM on June 27, 2001

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