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Open your mind to the home automation era


Ever wished you could run some of your daily chores at the flick of a switch? Well, this may soon become reality thanks to an open source home automation and networking platform from IST project HOMETALK.

HOMETALK set out to overcome the problems posed by existing home networking, automation and control systems that automate procedures such as turning on the washing machine. As Christos Georgopoulos, CEO inAccess Networks, Greece, provider of a smart Home Gateway to the project explains: "For home automation service development, only closed solutions used to exist, each with a specific language that had to be mastered by specialist technicians. This did not help the progress of the service development market and could not build a critical mass of service developers that could support the requirements of the early adopters of the emerging Home Automation market."

The project partners decided to produce an open source platform to offer more freedom to service developers. "We offer it back in open-source in order to allow for input by other parties and to quickly gain adoption by developers," comments Georgopoulos, adding that the "target is to integrate the developer community and develop a standard base."

Designed with the requirements of service providers and operators in mind, HOMETALK is a platform from which they can offer their advanced services. The advantages include decreased development time, homogeneity such as a common language and the possibility to focus on the value-added service they offer rather than the need for interconnectivity.

The system combines previously unconnected appliances, such as a telephone and an oven, into one platform through a common reference point called a Residential Gateway, which has the necessary hardware interfaces and software protocol stacks to implement convergence between the different technologies. A number of systems can then be controlled from one platform to facilitate the process for user requests.

A more natural user interface

In HOMETALK, traditional Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) are speech-enabled with automatic speech recognition and text to speech generation capabilities to achieve a more natural user interaction. The user operates the system from a personal digital assistant (PDA) or an ordinary telephone by either programming or dictating into the PDA the actions they want HOMETALK-based systems to carry out, for example remotely switching on the oven for cooking.

Jan Sedivy, IBM Czech Republic, Project Manager of HOMETALK elaborates, "The central control/automation engine of Hometalk [called HERMES] includes a scheduler... It can register alarms that the user sets directly through the telephone by performing voice recognition." This allows the user to create various scenarios with the intelligent home devices such as programming lights to switch off at 11:00 and on at 16:00 daily.

Connected to devices on the home network, the platform allows for easy development of services that can offer elderly and disabled persons freedom at home to carry out tasks that might otherwise be difficult or not possible. A simple "emergency function" built on HOMETALK can telephone an elderly person’s children indicating that a sensor has been activated by a person falling over or if a special emergency button has been pressed. "It explains what happened [...] by synthesizing the appropriate message based on the exact situation [whilst] at the same time it talks calmly to the elderly person explaining that an appropriate person is in contact," says Sedivy.

The HOMETALK platform, which has now been finalised and delivered to the open source domain online at the project website address, will be trialled in Madrid, Spain (Telefonica users) and Athens, Greece (OTE users) from June 2004 until May 2005. HOMETALK has already presented prototypes of the platform at ’Net-at-home 03’ in Cannes, October 2003.

Jan Šedivý
Manager of Voice Technologies and Systems Group
IBM Czech Republic
V Parku 2294/4
Praha 4 - Chodov
Czech Republic
Tel: +42-02-72131182
Fax: +42-02-72131401

Source: Based on information from HOMETALK

Tara Morris | IST Results
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