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'Smart' homes not far away

By Julie Clothier for CNN

It may not look different from an ordinary home, but everything in the Eneo Lab show home is connected.
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Technology (general)

BARCELONA, Spain (CNN) -- The entry "home" in your mobile phone address book will have a whole new meaning in a few years -- your place of residence is likely to be clever enough to send SMS messages directly to you, and you will do the same to it.

Picture this scenario: it is a Friday night in the middle of winter and you are driving to your holiday home in the mountains for the weekend.

On your way there, you send your second residence a text message, which will activate the heating, so the place is nice and warm by the time you arrive.

Your main residence, meanwhile, may be vacant, but you can send it an SMS to turn the lights on and off a few times, giving the impression to potential burglars someone is there.

You can also monitor what is happening inside the house on your cell phone -- cameras inside the house will send real-time images direct to your phone.

Then, disaster strikes, and the washing machine leaks while you are not there, but so clever is your house, it will automatically turn off the water at the mains, and alert you that a plumber may need calling.

Sound far-fetched? For one family of four, living just outside Barcelona, these are the capabilities their home already has, and the company that designed the house says many of us will be enjoying these features in as little as two years.

The anonymous family live in an Eneo Labs show home -- they act as voluntary guinea pigs to try out the company's smart home concept.

Eneo Labs general manager Javier Zamora told CNN that the company was constantly developing its smart home technology, which would become increasingly common in the future.

He said smart houses were able to predict the user's routine and adapt accordingly.

"For centuries we have been building homes using only concrete and bricks, and more and more we need to provide 'intelligence' for our homes because we want those spaces to adapt to the user's requirements," he said.

Zamora said smart houses had two main components: an "information network," which was like a human body's nervous system in that all devices inside the house would be connected to it; and a "brain," which co-ordinated what was inside the home and connected it to what went on outside.

"Somehow the house will learn from the user's daily routine. Basically, the brain is a computer that is in the wall of the home. It's listening and adapting to the routines we have," Zamora said.

He said everything in the home would be connected, so that, for example, instead of having five different remote controls, for five different appliances, only one would be needed.

Settings would be personalized for different family members so children would not be exposed to inappropriate material on television or the Internet.

Blinds and curtains would automatically open when it was time for the inhabitant to wake up, and coffee would be prepared when that person entered the kitchen.

Eventually, the home would respond to voice commands.

It would also be security-conscious and aware of its occupants' well being, monitoring whether someone has a fall, and control temperature and light settings, depending on what is happening outside.

So, an awning in the garden would automatically retract if it was windy or come out if it was hot, and garden sprinklers will not operate if it is already raining.

Zamora said being environmentally friendly was a key aspect of homes of the future.

"We need to be more conscious about how we use energy. We have this opportunity not to use more energy but to use energy in a more rational way."

A British family of four, meanwhile, is preparing to move into a high-tech house where they will spend the next six months being monitored in a Big Brother-style project.

The Parnell family will have their every move followed by researchers from the University of Nottingham, who are studying how modern families use and live in homes, Britain's Press Association reported.

The futuristic five-bedroom house, which is split over four levels, boasts a range of labor-saving gizmos and gadgets, including self-cleaning windows, an automatic shirt ironer, a laundry chute and phones which double as intercoms between rooms, PA said.

A team from the University of Nottingham's School of Built Environment will monitor exactly how long each family member spends in each room of the house and at what times of the day.

Construction firm David Wilson Homes, who built the house, hope the study will help them tailor houses to meet the needs of modern family life.

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