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Switched On: Towards telepresence's tipping point


Ross Rubin (@rossrubin) contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.

To steal a line from Las Vegas' tourism board, what happens in the custom install channel has stayed in the custom install channel. While technologies routinely filter down from the enterprise to consumers, products and services that are the province of professional system integrators rarely become something the average consumer can manage, despite their perceived coolness, convenience and, in the case of some electrical and thermostat control, cost benefits. Examples include automated lighting, heating and air conditioning, multi-room video, and surveillance.

But this is starting to change. One capability that has somewhat filtered through recently has been multi-room audio, which had to go wireless with the Sonos music system. While a Sonos system is still a relatively expensive product, but it is a drop in the bucket when compared with systems such as those from Russound. And telepresence may be getting next in line. The recent release of the Avaak Vue lives up to its promise of being a relatively simple and affordable product that extends webcams to walls, allowing consumers to peek in at will at what is going on at their home. Access is from a simple Web site that allows you to view up to 50 cameras around the home by dragging and dropping them onto a Web page.

The Vue system is also designed for the Twitter generation. You can share video recorded to Avaak's servers or live streams with a small group, and Avaak has plans to facilitate events with even larger audiences so that you can share your Windows 7 house party with the world. And you can expect more video efforts arrived at the home with Cisco's recent moves to acquire corporate videoconferencing company Tandberg and consumer camcorder company Pure Digital, makers of the Flip video camera.

But it's one thing to see what's happening in your home. How about affecting it? Schlage, the security division of industrial giant Ingersoll Rand, now offers the Z-Wave-based Schlage LiNK, a key component of which is a door lock that can be opened from most Web browsers and many cell phones. The lock can alert you when it's beenopened via text message. Even better, different members of the household can be given different codes for entry or you can assign a temporary code for, say, a babysitter or contractor without worrying about distributing a key.

The Schlage LiNK starter kit also starts at about $300, but it is designed to be a do-it-yourself product and is sold at major retailers such as Amazon, Radio Shack and Lowe's in addition to custom installers. More interestingly, though, it serves as a Trojan horse for a Z-Wave network, one of the major wireless home control standards that includes thousands of different products for controlling lights, cameras, drapes and practically anything else around a home, all remotely. In an age where many say privacy is dead for many and undesirable for some, new technology products are at least giving more consumers more option for affordably monitoring and controlling your home. Twenty-five years after 1984, we can now be our own Big Brother.

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