ERCIM News No.47, October 2001 [contents]

Wired and Smart: from the Fridge to the Bathtub

by Franz Miller

There’s a smart wired house in Duisburg; even the car and the garden are integrated in the network. The ‘Innovation Center for the Intelligent House’ will be used by researchers and industrial firms as a workshop and testing ground for future forms of living and working.

On the Internet, you can even take a look at the far side of the moon whenever you like, but you can’t look to see whether you’ve left the hot plate switched on in the kitchen at home. The Internet and mobile communications have penetrated every last remote spot of the globe, but strangely enough, the places closest to our daily lives, our homes, are still cut off from the communication networks. Household appliances and domestic systems are isolated from one another, silently dumb. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to enable all of these appliances to communicate, and link them together in an ‘intelligent house’? If we set up a network to connect heating systems, security alarms, TVs, fridges, thermostats, movement sensors, lighting and window shutters, we would be able to create completely new functions and save money too. The wired, partially automated and remotely controlled home, the ‘smart house’, is one of the biggest innovation projects of this decade.

The aim of smart-house technology is to save energy, increase security and comfort, and to provide the basis for a range of new services. Researchers all over the world are working on the vision of the ‘intelligent house’ – experimental houses are already in operation in the USA, Japan, Holland, Sweden and Switzerland. But a great number of questions still remain open: Which data transmission standards are likely to be most widely used? How can we make the best use of what is technically feasible? And above all: What do people want in their homes?

The residential half of inHaus is fully furnished and equipped, enabling the present state of the art to be tested. The residential half of inHaus is fully furnished and equipped, enabling the present state of the art to be tested. © Fraunhofer IMS / Axel Struwe.

Controlling inHaus from the car.© Fraunhofer IMS / Axel Struwe; Volkswagen AG.
Controlling inHaus from the car. The inHaus complex integrates all of the functions of an experimental, networked dwelling house and a workshop of the future. Practically all of the installations are hidden behind the walls and tiles
© Fraunhofer IMS / Axel Struwe.

Now Germany, too, can join the ranks of the innovators, with its own large-scale experimental project. The Innovation Center for the Intelligent House, or ‘inHaus’ for short, opened in April in Duisburg. In a project initially scheduled to run for five years, this otherwise ordinary semi-detached house will be used to develop, test and demonstrate many of the ways in which modern progress in information technology and communications can be integrated into our everyday private and working lives. Two features make inHaus stand out from other similar projects: It is both an experimental laboratory for living and a workshop for innovation, and will therefore continue to change in the light of new developments. And it is an open system, ready to accommodate all suppliers and concepts. This innovation center for future forms of living and working in a ‘smart environment’ is being supported by a broadly based consortium of firms, headed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS in Duisburg, who have all chosen to coordinate their components so that they work together.

The beginnings of inHaus date back five years, to the time when the first concepts for data networks in domestic buildings were formed. So far, such networks have not made the breakthrough to the mass market, because there were no standards or integration concepts. The existing solutions tend to be isolated projects. Over the next five years, the Duisburg innovation center hopes to pave the way to series production.

The inHaus complex is housed in a pair of connected buildings. One is an authentic home, with the laboratory for living and a home office, supplemented by a car (the connect-Passat) and an intelligent garden. The other is a research and development workshop, containing a bathroom laboratory, a kitchen laboratory, the future craftsman’s workshop, the central building utilities room and a planning and advice office, which also handles teleservices.

Klaus Scherer of the IMS, initiator of the project and now project manager for strategy and marketing, defines the objectives as follows: “On the one hand we want to find out how various appliances, components and infra-structures, which often operate on the basis of extremely different standards applicable in different professional fields, can be made to work together in a single system, in a useful and efficient way. In other words: find ways for technologies to understand each other better. And on the other hand we want to find ways for technology and people to understand each other better. The aim is to provide people with genuine support in their living environment, in their world of work, in communications and in mobility. This means, for instance, that the technology must as simple as possible to operate.”

The operators of inHaus are testing several networks simultaneously, both cabled and wireless. The system integration solutions are largely based on Internet technology. The IMS has embedded this technology in the appliances and system components (‘embedded Internet’). The multimedia home cabling system HomeWay links TVs, telephones and personal computers, and provides any required service in any room of the house. Hometronic and EIB networks use wireless and cable connections to control all electrical elements, including heating – fully automatically or by manual keypads, via remote control or telephone and Internet. To allow the Internet messages to leave the house, the IMS and its partners have developed a Residential Gateway, as the central element linking the external and internal data networks. It works both ways, so inHaus residents can connect with the appliances in their home while they are at work – to check their status or issue remote-control commands. Another major element, providing links with services in the outside world, is ‘Smart Home’, a novel Internet service platform that is connected to the Hometronic wireless network in the inHaus complex. Special emphasis has been placed on new functions for saving energy: Sensors in the rooms measure the temperature, humidity and air quality, and automatically open and close the motor-driven windows. If a thunderstorm approaches, the house automatically makes sure that everything is weatherproof. When the occupants leave the house, the heating switches itself down to economy level.

“In ten years or so,” predicts Klaus Scherer, “the intelligent house will have become a normal part of everybody’s life.” Already today, it is possible to catch a glimpse of the way of life and working to come.

The inHaus partners are: Ackermann, BurgWächter/Secu, Deutsche Telekom/ T-Systems, Fraunhofer IMS, Geberit, Grothe, Henkel, Honeywell, Kaldewei, Liebherr, Merten, Miele, Siedle, Sony, Stadtwerke Duisburg, Viessmann, Volkswagen, Winkhaus and ca. 60 component suppliers and sponsors


Please contact:
Klaus Scherer - Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems
Tel: +49 203 3783 2 11
E-mail: scherer@ims.fhg.de