A European consortium has launched an initiative aiming to develop technology to power next-generation smart homes.
The European Application Home Alliance (TEAHA) comprises telcos, brown and white goods manufacturers, technology companies, research organisations and industry associations.
It plans to enable homeowners to 'phone' their house and tell it to start the laundry, fill the bath or turn up the central heating.
"The business model has not been clear: there have been too many different standards, and too many technologies that are not interoperable," said project coordinator Enrique Menduiña, manager of residential systems at Telefónica I+D.
"And, most importantly, people did not see these systems as being user friendly. They were generally viewed as too complex to use and maintain for the benefits they offered."
However, TEAHA conceded that obstacles have hindered wider uptake of smart-home systems in the past.
Menduiña attributed these difficulties to the multitude of different business factors involved when trying to connect home appliances with each other and to the wider world.
TEAHA said that appliance manufacturers, telecoms firms, utility companies, software designers and system installers have often taken very different paths toward deploying new technologies in the home.
Funded by the European Union's Information Society Technologies research organisation, TEAHA hopes to develop the first open smart-home platform to allow any home device to interoperate seamlessly with TEAHA systems using any technology from any manufacturer.
"Having your television tell you when your laundry is done, or the dishwasher has finished, is just one application," said Menduiña.
"The applications and services that are now possible can do anything from simple automation to surveillance, security, climate control and entertainment. "
TEAHA aims to achieve this interoperability by developing a middleware platform that mediates between different appliances and communication systems.
It is based on a software gateway through which information from all the different devices passes, regardless of the network they are using.
To ensure interoperability, the system is based on standards developed by the Open Services Gateway Initiative, an approach that can be adopted easily by appliance manufacturers.
"By taking an open approach, TEAHA avoids locking manufacturers into specific technologies," explained Menduiña.
"Instead it allows them to use a variety of technologies, thereby encouraging the development of different smart-home devices and appliances."
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