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Java-enabled air conditioners readied

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InfoWorld

(IDG) -- With the skyrocketing costs of electricity dominating the news during the last several months, a deal announced this week between Carrier, makers of air conditioners, and IBM will come as a breath of fresh air to utility-bill-weary consumers.

Carrier, in Farmington, Conn., is one of the leading consumer and commercial providers of heating, ventilating, and refrigeration systems. The company inked a deal last week with IBM that will put Java-enabled microchips inside carrier air conditioners to allow air conditioner owners to remotely set the temperature or to switch on or off their air conditioners. The system will also send fault code and diagnostic alerts in real time to a service technician's cell phones or PDAs. Alerts can also be sent via e-mail or fax.

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Any Carrier owner with wireless or wired access to Carrier's Myappliance.com Web site will also have access to their own units. While the price of Web-enabled air conditioners will not increase, Carrier will charge an additional fee for the service. Pricing was not announced.

The IBM chip and software within the unit will be on the GSM (Global System for Mobile communicatons) wireless network and will be managed by IBM services. IBM designed the system using embedded Java connected to Web servers, which serve up the site to any mobile or desktop device.

According to a Carrier spokesman, the company believes the service will give its dealers a competitive edge by allowing them to offer commercial and consumer customers faster response times as well as the ability to log and monitor performance to pre-empt any potential problems.

"Everyone looks at the utility of dialing up and changing the temperature but from a service standpoint, the dealer can look the unit up on his computer and send someone out and [service personnel will] know why they are coming out. Or, the dealer might even call the owner and say, 'hey you haven't changed the filter in a year,'" said Jon Shaw, a Carrier spokesman.

Carrier will first launch its Myappliance Web set this summer on WAP (Wireless Application Protocol)-enabled cell phones in Europe, where the GSM network is a standard. The service will be extended to North America, according to Shaw. But he added that because there is no single reliable wireless network in North America, it may take some time.

However, this quarter Carrier will launch a program with utility companies here in the United States to install Web-enabled thermostats for customers. The pilot programs ran with Peugeot Sound Electric and Connecticut Light and Power.

Not only will the consumer be able to regulate temperature remotely but the utility will be able to look in on the consumer household and change the settings.

"On a hot day at three in the afternoon when no one is home, the utility can see what you are running your system at, and they can bump it up from two to six degrees without the customer's immediate permission," Shaw said.

Shaw explained by signing up for the Web-enabled thermostat program, the consumer grants permission to the utility to change the temperature but the consumer does have override capability.

Shaw declined to say what utility companies other than Peugeot Sound and Connecticut Light and Power will offer the service, but did say there have been preliminary talks with a California utility.

Carrier parent company United Technologies also owns Otis Elevator, and Shaw said the remote diagnostics will be rolled out as well as in-elevator advertising on Web-enabled displays.

IBM also has deals similar to the one with Carrier with Whirlpool for its appliances and with Turbochef, a manufacturer of high-tech microwaves.



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