The average citizen has to use dozens of different switches and instruction manuals to make coffee, watch TV or listen to the radio or a CD. Fraunhofer research scientists found this far too complicated and decided to operate all devices with a single control unit.
A single push of a wrong button can send everything haywire. Operating technical devices can be a tricky business. The average household has an entire stack of remote control units, each one different from the next. Their widely varying menu navigation systems are enough to drive even a technical whizz to despair.
Fortunately, the end of this confusion is in sight. Fraunhofer researchers have developed a new, simple form of device control. “Multimedia TVs and kitchen appliances can be operated from a single control unit such as a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA),” says Klaus Scherer, head of the Systems and Application Technology department at the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS and director of the inHaus Innovation Center in Duisburg. Users can select the desired function via the menu, be it ‘open window’, ‘switch off oven’, ‘start dishwasher’ or ‘select TV program’. Everything works with the same device and on the same principle.
“The integrated system control unit, consisting of software and control technology, was designed and tested at the inHaus development laboratory,” says Scherer. Given that the ‘Media Center’ software for controlling multimedia computers has already sold over four million copies in Germany, he anticipates a flourishing market in this new generation of operating technology. The multimedia computer is increasingly replacing the conventional assortment of devices: TV sets, video and DVD players, hi-fi systems and PCs. “We have taken this trend a step further, creating a universal user interface that is compatible with many different devices – from consumer electronics and kitchen appliances to intelligent home systems.”
The crucial task in developing this new technology was to find a common language for the exchange of data. To ensure that the TV, the cooker and the window opener can all understand the messages being sent to them, the IMS researchers developed a new type of software. “This ‘middleware’ can link the system with any household or hi-fi device,” states Scherer. “All devices can be operated either from inside the home or from any desired location via the Internet.” System-compatible dishwashers, cookers, radiators and ventilation systems are about to be launched on the market. “By developing this system, we have created a simple, user-friendly solution for all standard homes,” explains Scherer.
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