The House of the Future is Here
Two New Hampshire companies are pioneers in robotic and home automation technology.
New Hampshire may be a small state, but two businesses, HomeSeer Technologies and Vgo Communications, can be credited with big innovations. With a robotic eye or a cell phone application, computer technology has given us the power to monitor our businesses, our families and our finances at home and abroad.
Those of you who have read George Orwell's book "1984" (published in 1948) with the omnipotent god-like presence of "Big Brother" monitoring your every move, or Alvin Toffler's book "Future Shock" and the riveting documentary film based on "Future Shock" narrated by the all powerful Orson Welles, remember how compelling and somewhat frightening the advent of modern technology was portrayed. Though many of the revelations revealed in "Future Shock" back in 1970 are still not ready for public consumption, those "techies" eager to fine-tune control of their homes, their expenses and their security are reveling in the latest advances.
And those advances are many. Forget about worrying whether or not you left the stove on, just check the status via the web or your phone. Can't be home to see the kids get back from school? Just program a recording to tell them to start their homework and forget about TV. Worried about an elderly relative that may have fallen? Someday you could remotely drive a robot around the house to see that everything is well. Vgo Communications and HomeSeer Technologies are on the cutting edge of all this and more.
What the Future May HoldOn June 8, 2010, the robotic industry gave birth to a sleek automated robot named Vgo. Weighing in at 16 pounds and 48 inches tall, this robot will increase productivity, reduce costs and overcome the challenge of being in more than one place at a time.
Introduced at the InfoComm Tradeshow in Las Vegas by proud developers VGO Communications of Nashua, this robot will only speak when spoken to and only go where directed - a parent or employer's dream! Vgo's website (www.vgocom.com) provides the evolution of this fascinating robot.
Vgo Communications describes its invention as a tool that "reinforces the combination of visual and video elements with motion. Disciplined engineering has produced a graceful and intelligent form factor, a simple yet powerful remote control application user interface, high quality video images and amazing pick-up and fidelity. All without the need for the consuming set up and training." So, if you have ever wished you could be a "fly on the wall" in your absence from activities at home or at work, this is your chance.
Vgo is the result of more than two years of development and partner evaluations and more than a year of customer trials as a working model in over 40 companies in a range of industries including retail and health care.
Vgo in the Workplace"Active presence" devices have not been available for the workplace until now," says Brad Kayton, CEO of Vgo Communications.
Vgo allows a "visual presence" for those who cannot physically be present and is used for remote management and coaching of outbound staff. Interestingly, the "active presence" of the robot's friendly oversight commands greater attention than a physical person.
Vgo also serves as a support tool for live interaction between employees and supervisors and as a result, serves to increase productivity. One company realized a 30 percent increase in sales over one quarter. The $5,000 price tag for the Vgo robot paid for itself in the first month.
For now, this type of technology may only be useful in the commercial world and is likely out of reach for the majority of homeowners, but as time goes on advances like this may someday be as commonplace as a simple security alarm. Determining the value of a Vgo in home use would be difficult to measure, though the benefits could be invaluable when you consider the importance of keeping a close eye on the home front and its priceless contents.
Possible Home ApplicationsThough the makers can't speak for the bedside manner of Vgo, its rolling mobility allows health care providers to not only "be" in a distinct location, but to move around in that location, monitor patients and consult directly with those in need whether in a hospital, assisted care living facility or in the comfort and privacy of their own homes.
Anyone who has experienced the anxiety of calling to check on an elderly parent or child when the phone goes unanswered will appreciate the ability to drive the Vgo with a computer joystick or mouse and an Internet connection to some precise location in the home. The screen on the head of the Vgo provides the operator a field of vision where directed.
For example, if someone has fallen behind the sofa out of sight, the four microphones allow you to pick-up sound throughout the room, and an audio system lets you speak or call out; you can even take a picture to transmit for local emergency care. As an extension of home security systems such robotics could "awaken" when an intruder is sensed and track it down, sending images to the owner or the police.
Many such components are not yet available, but "capabilities are custom designed around the user," explains Thomas Ryden, co-founder and COO of Vgo Communications.
Remote Control HomeWhile the Vgo may not as yet welcome you home at night with a warm embrace and a cool drink, there are other currently available ways to monitor your home while you're on vacation, keep an eye on energy consumption and even welcome the kids home while you're still at work.
The inventions of HomeSeer Technologies of Bedford will be sure to keep the home fires burning with its advanced remote capabilities.
Not only can they insure you never come home to a cold, dark house again, you can alter the settings at any time using a computer, iPhone, iPad, iPod or other remote device. Ever leave on a trip wondering if you turned down the heat or turned off the sprinkler? Worry no more.
In 1998 HomeSeer pioneered an internet-controlled form of home automation. They provide web-based management for both user interface and custom interface. Both options can be managed remotely using any web browser, which allows for easy configuration on or off site. Installers can easily make schedule changes or troubleshoot issues without ever leaving the office.
Monitor Energy UseAutomation software and systems have sensors installed in the power panel that wirelessly transmit information you can access via computer or phone. Or you can build your own customs touch screens for granular control.
You can actually remotely check your daily power consumption from an individual source.
Mark Colgrove, director of sales and marketing for HomeSeer Technologies, gives an example of the level of control. "I can check and see that today, the kids consumed $3.62 worth of electricity by watching television and compare that with yesterday's reading of $2.46. Over the period of a month, escalating usage for this one item could cause me to go over budget. "
"Remotely I can actually program my Energy Management System to shut down if power consumption gets above a certain level. Once the house is activated, it behaves differently. An Energy Monitoring System coupled with a controller can program an 'Energy Emergency State,' that would automatically shut down specific items designated as 'non-critical,' or ask for an e-mail alert or text that speaks to the house."
This text or e-mail message is converted to a verbal announcement that is broadcast through the house with an audio output like your stereo speaker system or a wall-mounted seven inch intercom screen system.
A House that TalksHomeSeer Technologies offers 16 different voices to verbalize your text message. If you won't be home in time to greet the kids as they get off the school bus at 3:20, you can send a text and the realistic voice of Neospeak Sally or Paul can broadcast your message saying "Help yourself to a fresh-baked brownie - and don't forget to let out the dog and do your homework. Be home soon!" And you could program a different voice for different purposes; the voice of a British butler announcing the arrival of guests pulling into the driveway, or the deep, foreboding voice of Damian to automatically respond to a broken window.
Keep Criminals FooledYou can create certain automation behavior to correspond with an event like travel, programming different lights or televisions to go on and off and window treatments to raise and lower in random order to simulate activity in the house while away. You can automate all of the systems in your house from home theatres to irrigation, motion detectors, security and weather monitoring, all the way down to the towel-warming rack.
"We haven't turned on a light in almost six years and we home schooled five kids." Colgrove laughs. "I try to be careful not to over-automate, it's a balancing act; you really need to consider the needs of the household."
There is one area that's off-limits for automation in the Colgrove household, "I don't want people feeling that they are being timed while in the bathroom - though I have considered having a humidity sensor trigger an exhaust fan."
In the age of "information overload," it's hard to believe that oft-used phrase was actually coined in "Future Shock" 40 years ago, before computers became a household item. But this newest technology, advanced as it seems, is devised to consolidate household management and simplify your life. The greatest challenge will be for the "techies" out there who just won't be able to resist playing with the infinite abilities to control their environment, just because they can. NH
A Gadget for Every RoomAdvances in technology aren't limited to devices that monitor your home - they come in all shapes and sizes, from refrigerators that display nutritional information and regulate temperature with a touch of an LCD screen, to shower panels that control multiple water streams, ambient lighting and much more. Locally, Standard of New England (www.standardne.com, Portsmouth) and Baron's Major Brands (www.baronsmajorbrands.com, Salem, Manchester, Plaistow, Concord and Laconia) offer the national brands listed below.
Whirlpool Vantage washers and dryers have a LCD screen, a USB port to upload future upgrades, energy efficiency technology and the capability to customize and store different cycles.
A Kohler DTV II Digital Showering interface that combines sound, ambient lighting, water flow and temperature into a total spa environment right in your own home.
A GE Profile refrigerator that has an innovative media center with a seven-inch LCD screen above the water and ice dispenser that displays nutritional information, recipe substitutions and even family photos.
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