July 18, 2006
Whirlpool Tests New Line of ‘Smart” Washers and Dryers
ATLANTA -- Whirlpool Corp. is looking to speed up the day when most consumers will be able to monitor and control appliances from their computers and cell phones.
The world's largest appliance company on Tuesday begins testing "smart" washing machines and dryers at three homes in metropolitan Atlanta.
In a recent demonstration of the project at a Whirlpool studio in Atlanta, messages from a specially equipped front-loading washer popped up in real time on a television screen in a different room.
Consumers can also get instant messages from computers or cell phones telling them, for instance, that a wash cycle is completed or that a dryer has not been turned on.
At the press of a button on a cell phone, families participating in the test can extend a drying cycle and perform other laundry tasks while running errands.
"Laundry is a drudgery," said Tim Woods, a vice president for the Internet Home Alliance, an umbrella group that is launching the study. "So why not take that pain away because you can apply technology and help consumers with a solution."
Whirlpool, which partnered with Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Procter & Gamble Co., Panasonic and Cingular Wireless in the project, wants to learn consumer attitudes and behavior toward "smart" appliances, and use this knowledge to develop products.
"Customers don't really know how they want to utilize high technology in appliances," said Lane Heilman, a manager for electronic applications at Whirlpool. "The issue is how to realize consumer value in that space."
As consumers look to save time, boost efficiency and make their homes more livable, "smart home" technology is gaining acceptance as manufacturers bring networking abilities to more devices.
"Attitudes are changing," said David Baumert, a program manager at Microsoft. "Younger folks view networked information services and devices as a matter of course rather than as something novel."
Marlene Bourne, principal analyst with Bourne Research, which tracks emerging technologies, said smart appliances that provide conveniences such as reducing energy use will likely find a home with consumers.
"If there's an application that provides a significant level of convenience, consumers may be apt to embrace that type of product and willing to spend more for it," Bourne said.
The three Atlanta homes selected for the project had to meet certain requirements, such as having at least two personal computers, compatible cell phones and a home network system already in place. The participating households include at least two children.