PCTV Net ASA of Norway has come up with a new set-top television device which it boasts will do a whole host of things that Microsoft Corp’s WebTV box can’t – including home automation features such as lighting and heating control. The new device, dubbed HomePilot, has just been launched in Norway and Sweden, and offers just a taste of what set-top boxes will be able to do in the future. HomePilot enables users to access all the functions you’d expect of current set-tops such as web browsing, home banking and email, as well as new features such as energy-saving, and control over heating, lighting, security, smoke alarms and even irrigation via standard power lines. The diskless set-top is built around Advanced Micro Devices Inc’s ElanSC400 microcontroller (CI No 3,114) and comes with 8Mb RAM, 4Mb flash memory, a 33.4kbps modem and four PCI slots for peripherals. The box comes with wireless infrared keyboard as standard and also features picture-in-picture technology, enabling viewers to use email and watch TV simultaneously. HomePilot uses QNX Inc’s Voyager Browser, an enhanced version of Spyglass Inc’s Device Mosaic browser which runs in QNX’s micro graphical user interface windowing system. The home automation functions rely on LonWorks Control Networks, technology which comes from Palo Alto, California based Echelon Corp. Users hook up the set-top to their phone line and then to a standard TV via a SCART cable.
Remote power metering
By plugging small control system nodes into wall sockets, users can set times and control energy use via their television. The intelligence in control network nodes is provided by the Neuron Multiprocessor, designed by Echelon and built and sold by Motorola Inc and Toshiba Corp. Morton Rynning, marketing director at Echelon, says the nodes are being developed to control functions such as remote power metering. The firm is currently talking to electricity and utilities companies about possible applications. Meanwhile, HomePilot looks to be the first consumer device to deliver this technology to the mass market. PCTV Net says it has signed a letter of intent with Swedish business to business communications firm Merkantil Data SA, which expects to shift 150,000 of the boxes in 1998. The company is also looking to sign deals with internet service providers who it expects will bundle the technology as a means of selling on-line services. PCTV says it also plans release an NC product next year but did not elaborate. HomePilot will initially be sold in Norway and Sweden; but the company is currently looking for partners in Europe. Pricing for the box is expected to be between $200 and $400 depending on its partners, with home control nodes retailing for around $30.
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