New Technology Brings Integration to the Home

CLEVELAND (AP) - Imagine being out to dinner when you get a text-message on your cell phone saying a water pipe at home has burst, or that you left the coffee pot on.

That's exactly what a new product by Cleveland-based Eaton Corp. can do.

The company's home automation system known as Home Heartbeat is scheduled to go on sale this summer. Several other companies are expected to release similar products later this year.

Eaton's wireless device provides a kind of electronic snapshot based on sensors at doors and water pipes or near appliances.

"It tells you how you left things," said Karen Primm, an Eaton spokeswoman. "It brings you peace of mind."

Some analysts said Eaton's emphasis on home awareness goes against traditional thinking about home automation, but that may be the product's biggest appeal.

"Typical home automation is ... about gadgetry and control," business consultant Glen Allmendinger wrote in a recent study.

Allmendinger, president of Harbor Research Inc., a research and consulting firm in Boston and San Francisco, said the industry is dominated by devices designed to do things like turn on lights or lower the window blinds when you come home.

For decades, thinking about home automation has been focused on gadgets like robots and videophones instead of real-life consumer needs, Allmendinger said.

Home Heartbeat can be programmed to send a text message or e-mail alert if a problem such as a water leak occurs. It also can be programmed to automatically shut off the water or even send reminders when it's time to bring home a gallon of milk or take medicines, Primm said.

The system was developed by the residential division of Eaton's electrical business, a longtime supplier of products such as circuit breakers. "Our products already are in a lot of homes," Primm said. "Now we are looking to get out of the basement."

Eaton had more than $9 billion in sales last year, mainly from industrial goods such as heavy truck transmissions. The Home Heartbeat is a major push into the consumer market, where Eaton already has some products such as the circuit breakers, which are sold at Home Depot and Lowe's, and golf-club grips available at Dick's Sporting Goods.

The home monitoring kit will cost about $150 and include a sensor, base station and an oversized electronic key. Additional sensors will cost about $50 each. It works with a wireless network.

Smarthome Inc. plans to join Eaton in the market later this year, said Ken Fairbanks, director of business development at the Irvine, Calif., distributor of home automation products.

Fairbanks said Smarthome plans to introduce its own system, a dual-band wireless network that combines radio frequency communications with a home's existing wiring for automatic or remote control of lighting, security, entertainment systems and appliances.

Fairbanks said both companies' products will help broaden the market by making home networks more affordable and easier to install.

"Much of the market now is relegated to gadgetologists or the rich and famous," he said.

On the Net:

Eaton Corp.: www.eaton.com

Loading