High-Tech, High-Style Kitchen
by Gareth Branwyn for Digital Living Today

We?ve wired up our home offices and kids bedrooms, we have a satellite or cable feed into the house and maybe a Net appliance so we can play along with Jeopardy while fluffing out on the couch. Where is the digital revolution heading next? Into your kitchen. At least that?s what a number of kitchen appliances and Web-based service providers are hoping.

One of the companies trying to foment this new revolution is Sunbeam (you know, the Mixmaster and electric skillet people). They're developing interconnected appliances and promoting a home appliance networking standard called HLT or "Home Linking Technology". The first wave of Sunbeam HLT-equipped appliances include a coffee machine, mixer, alarm clock and fire alarm. Other companies like Mr. Coffee, Coleman and First Alert have signed on to develop HLT-compliant tech too.

So how does it work? Like other home automation schemes, HLT uses your house's electrical wiring as a ready-made communications network. Believe it or not, computer data can be sent through these wires. And why would we want our appliances talking to each other? Here are a few examples: the alarm clock in your bedroom can alert the coffee maker in the kitchen that you've finally stopped whacking the snooze button and are actually ready for your morning caffeine IV drip to start. Or the bread machine can pop up an alert on the computer in the den to tell you that your Onion Cheese bread is ready and waiting to be slathered with butter while it's still hot. Or the bathroom scale can feed its data into your health and exercise software on your PC (and perhaps pop up notices telling you to lay off all the homemade bread).

It remains to be seen just how necessary such appliance interactivity really is, but the technology is intriguing and much of it has already proven itself with X-10 home automation systems (which also use home wiring). By the way, HLT promises to be compatible with X-10, e-Smart, Jini, Microsoft's Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) and other competing home networking standards.

Internet-connected refrigerators are not here yet (although Amana and others are working on them), but you can connect your fridge now via an online grocery service. They are popping up all over the country. Some have monthly membership fees and provide you with a special fridge that goes in your garage or outside your house. You can have standing orders for things or do regular weekly shopping on their sites. At the appointed day, they show up, load and lock your fridge. No more waiting in line while some bag lady dislodges a wad of coupons from her support stocking. The online store pricing is competitive, so the only added expense is the delivery/membership fee, which runs about $30 extra a month. Web-based grocery shopping is new and therefore limited to only a few major cities (though some ship dry goods nationwide). Your best bet for finding one in your area is to do a Web search on keywords such as "online grocery" and "delivery services."

If you want access to the Internet in your kitchen now: for accessing cooking sites, reading your email while your lasagna burns in the oven, or for ordering a pizza after said lasagna has carbonized, you can't go wrong with an iPhone. This combination telephone/speaker phone and Web/email appliance is a joy to use and a complete no brainer to set up. Just enter your basic information (name/rank/credit card number) and your zip code and you're good to go. It will even deliver your local morning e-paper, wire news stories and the local weather. It's like watching the Today Show without having to see Katie Couric get a Colonoscopy while you're trying to wolf down a bagel and coffee. The iPhone costs around $400 and there is a small monthly connection fee.

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