By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
The Smart Appliance Task Force of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) will likely complete its mission to develop a partial home-appliance network standard in the first quarter.
That's when it hopes to publish a generic standard that is only a first step toward the potential goal of inter-brand interoperability.
"Phase 1 simply standardizes the elements that are accessible and controllable remotely by users or service providers," explained Larry Wethje, AHAM's VP/engineering services. "It will let other people map to this with a higher level protocol such as LonWorks [powerline technology] or UPnP [Microsoft's Universal Plug and Play]," he said.
Individual appliance manufacturers will be able to choose a protocol to deliver messages to these devices, allowing for a particular brand's products to interoperate on a home network but not communicate with other brands unless a bridge is developed and installed, he continued.
AHAM hasn't reached a consensus on whether to go the next step to "provide interoperability so a GE could talk to a Whirlpool," Wethje said. "We resigned ourselves to the fact that that might not happen initially in the first phase of standardization work. We might start Phase 2 sometime next year, and it might lead to more interoperability, but for now, bridges will be required."
Even if Phase 2 produces a common protocol, however, it won't guarantee plug-and-play interoperability among brands unless Phase 2 also standardizes a transport layer. Without a transport-layer consensus, appliance manufacturers might adopt incompatible physical carriers such as HomePlug's powerline standard or the wireless 802.11b standard. Again, bridges would have to be built to get different brands to talk to each other.
The association hasn't yet decided on the scope of Phase 2's mission.
The Phase 1 standard, an AHAM mission statement says, is intended to "promote new appliance services and features enabled through networking by describing generic appliance models, objects, and high-level messages.
"The models define standardized elements of appliances that are accessible and controllable remotely by users, service providers, and other devices independent of the underlying network."
The initial standard will cover seven types of major appliances: clothes washers, refrigerator-freezers, clothes dryers, dishwashers, ranges (cooktop and oven), microwave ovens, and room air conditioners.
The next step will be to define the controllable functions of such appliances as a breadmaker, coffeemaker, combination oven (with special cook modes such as convection or microwave heating), freezer, oven, and rice cooker.
Based on the Phase 1 spec, Whirlpool hopes to deliver networked appliances in Q1 2002.
AHAM consultant Bill Rose said networked appliances will enable consumers to operate and monitor appliances from anywhere in the home and in some cases from anywhere in the world.
"Look," he said, "for appliances that can alert you when they have completed their job, download recipes while you watch that cooking show, and for energy-management features, remote service diagnostics and other time- and money-saving applications."
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