Technology reshaping homes of the future

Technology reshaping homes of the future

A kitchen that takes inventory of your refrigerator's contents and compiles a grocery list may seem like a far-off concept from an episode of "The Jetsons." Not for Angie's List members Patti and Brian Burke-Conte of Seattle.

"I've always been interested in the ways technology can change people's lives," says Brian, who has worked in the technology industry for years, and even managed the development of Microsoft's first browser in 1985. "When we built our home in 2003, it gave me an opportunity to try some of my ideas."

The family's home has a personality of its own — literally. She goes by the name of Cleopatra and is the intelligence behind running the home. Her face, which is similar to Angelina Jolie's, appears on a plasma screen mounted in the foyer where she greets her family of five as they enter.

"Instead of having physical keys, we have RFID tags on the backs of our watches," Brian says. "It's extremely helpful when you're carrying bags of groceries, and we don't have to worry about lost keys — we just disable the lost tag."

The kitchen is as equally high-tech as the rest of the house. Once the Burke-Contes have brought the groceries into the kitchen, they scan each item's UPC barcode with a standard reader like you see at your local grocer. When a food item is gone, they scan the container before throwing it away. The software compiles a shopping list for them and the couple is developing a system allowing them to place an order online and have groceries delivered to their front door. If that's not convenient enough, the new system will also provide meal suggestions and recipes using the food items in their pantry.

Derek Cowburn, president of highly-rated Distinctive Audio Visual Environments in McCordsville, says similar technology is available here in Indy, but he doesn't feel a UPC reader is practical compared to other applications.

"Everyone has a to-do or grocery list hanging on their refrigerator," Cowburn says. "It's more convenient if you have [a grocery list] recorded in your home automation system and texted to your cell phone."

There's no more shuffling through cookbooks for recipes either. "The biggest kitchen service we offer is a recipe management feature where you can pull up a recipe on a touch screen," he says.

Now the only thing missing is a robot that will cook your meal and clean up afterward. According to Cowburn, predicting the future is one thing — dreaming about it is another.

"I expect smart appliances will help monitor the cooking; artificial intelligence 'Sous Chefs' will schedule cooking steps; and an automated spice and supply pantry will place the needed materials at your fingertips. I hope the kitchen of the future still includes a place to sit and — of course — great friends to share a meal with."

The Burke-Contes' company, Fast Track, turned their technology into a suite of home-automation products available for purchase called SmarterHome, with software ranging from about $1,000 to $5,000. For more information, check out fasttrackteam.com.


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