Household appliances and devices are about to get connected to the outside world through cyberspace.
Among the technologies Microsoft highlighted at CES last week year is a hardware and software platform for the next generation of more useful and flexible household objects, appliances and accessories.
The Windows-based platform is the result of a collaboration between Microsoft and a recently formed company called Fugoo.
Two of the concept designs featured in a video at the booth are a "net" clock that, in addition to giving the time, can also download and display a stock ticker and local traffic and weather reports; and a digital photo frame that can not only download photos, but can also be programmed to display anything else available on the Internet, from current news headlines and sports scores to full-length movies.
"The combination of Fugoo's platform and Microsoft Windows opens up almost limitless possibilities for transforming ordinary household items, allowing them to perform all sorts of new functions and services," says Steve Guggenheimer, corporate vice-president of the OEM division at Microsoft. "Imagine having your alarm clock not
only wake you up but also remind you what your first appointment of the day is and calculate how long it will take you to drive to work based on current traffic conditions."
Fugoo was started a year ago by John Hui and Chris Chung, who previously co-founded eMachines, and by Wayne Inouye, a former CEO of eMachines and Gateway. The name Fugoo is a variant of fugu, a delicacy among sashimi aficionados, and a nod to another Hui venture, FUHU, which is developing the user interface for the Fugoo platform.
"Many vendors are trying to come up with a multipurpose magic bullet to satisfy all the information needs in the home," says Hui. "But this sort of solution is bound to be expensive and complex. We're taking a fundamentally different approach, building devices with computing power and Internet connections to perform specific functions in order to keep costs low and the user interface simple."
Hui has coined the term "neo-diginet" to describe this new generation of Internet-linked devices. "Our platform will make it fast, easy and affordable to build an almost unlimited variety of neo-diginet devices – from digital photo frames to coffee makers and refrigerators- that will redefine the term 'household appliance,'" he says.
Hui notes that because Internet connections are bidirectional, they can be used to upload as well as download data. For example, it might be possible to build a Fugoo-compatible computer mouse that doubles as a blood-pressure or blood-glucose monitor. Such a device would allow physicians to keep tabs on their hypertensive and diabetic patients between checkups by uploading data from the mouse.
Fugoo expects the first neo-diginet devices to hit the market in late 2009.