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Tomorrow's kitchen: Cooking up food and information

By DAVE GUSSOW Times Technology Editor

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 21, 1999


The kitchen is king for family life, and technology companies are looking for ways to make it the home's electronics center, too.

Numerous gadgets are being developed that combine the traditional functions of an appliance with Internet access and communications.

They include:

* Connected refrigerator. The maze of paper messages stuck on the door of today's refrigerators would be replaced by an electronics center complete with voice and video messages, e-mail, Internet surfing, shopping online and a cooking guide. A prototype was rolled out this year by Electrolux and Frigidaire (www.frigidaire.com).

* Microwave bank. The microwave won't be just for cooking anymore. The Microwave Bank from NCR Corp. (www.ncr.com) takes advantage of the touch pad controls on today's microwave and turns the unit's window into a monitor. People can bank, pay bills and surf the Internet while their food cooks.

* Smart garbage can. NCR's Knowledge Lab also has created the Intelligent Bin. Items are scanned in as they are tossed out. It sorts recyclable items and automatically creates a shopping list to replace used goods.

* Information appliance. This one doesn't piggyback on another kitchen appliance. It looks like a TV, but the Advantage 2000 from CMI Worldwide (www.cmiworldwide.com) does more: Internet access and e-mail, a security monitor, appliance manager, TV and music CD player.

* Robot vacuum cleaner. The Robot Vac by Eureka (www.eureka.com/whatsnew/robotvac.htm) does its dirty work when no one is around. The battery-operated prototype, which is guided by sonar, has a microprocessor and software that can be programmed to get around the house.

* Screen phones. This device promises one-touch access to the Internet and e-mail in a telephone-like device, which is on the market from CIDCO (www.cidco.com). At least one competitor is expected this summer.

* Portable Web pads. The prototype of the WebPAD by Cyrix (www.cyrix.com) created a buzz at the Fall Comdex show in Las Vegas. The device, weighing about 3 pounds and the size of a sheet of letter paper, 8.5 inches by 11 inches, allows Internet access anywhere in the house through a wireless connection. It is expected on the market this year, at a cost of less than $500.

* Remote control. Several companies are working on systems that will allow people to turn on appliances or check the house through Web-based or phone devices. It means the oven can be ready to go when you walk into the house to cook dinner, or the hot tub will be bubbling after a tough day.

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