OnStar is taking the Virtual Advisor out of the car and into the home. Users will soon be able to use the technology to access their home's alarm systems, garage doors, and thermostats from their cars, cell phones, or PDAs.
The Internet Home Alliance's (IHA) OnStar at Home pilot project is testing the technology on 100 households in the greater Detroit, Mich., area. These households, which have a home computer with cable or broadband Internet access and a home security system, have to use OnStar at Home for four months and provide feedback. The program took these homes and made them "connected," linking computers, TVs, lighting, HVAC, and safety and security systems to a centrally controlled network.
Thanks to OnStar at Home, participants can now remotely monitor and control their security systems, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, lighting, HVAC controls, interior cameras, door locks, phones, and garage door openers. With OnStar at Home, these systems are accessible through PCs, PDAs, cell phones, and the OnStar Virtual Advisor vehicle system (see the figure).
The system relies on contributions from a number of companies. GM's subsidiary OnStar provided the system's platform. Hewlett-Packard developed the application interfaces, including the project's Web site. Invensys supports the program with its home communications infrastructure, using a back-end server outside the home and a home control gateway inside the home. Panasonic is supplying the advanced telephone system and network-attached cameras or webcams. ADT Security's Safewatch iCenter security system is a vital element as well. IBM, Sears, Roebuck and Co., Sun Microsystems, Whirlpool, Cisco Systems, and Best Buy are contributing, too.
According to the IHA's U.S. Connected Home Products and Services report, released on December 17, 2002, products that address the family's needs are more appealing to connected-home users than products and services that suit entertainment and career applications. The OnStar at Home system was designed with these preferences in mind.
For example, a meal-preparation concept consisting of a single, coordinating interface and series of Kenmore Elite-quality appliances appealed to 15% of the households surveyed. A family communications concept that included cell phones with features like one-button family conference calling, instant messaging, GPS locating, e911 calling, time-stamped messages and reminders, emergency call overrides, and games, appealed to 14% of the households. A worklife-balance telecommuting concept that included a broadband (DSL or cable modem) connection to the Internet and a simplified virtual private network system, allowing for easy access to one's company network, appealed to 11% of the households.
The Home Pilot project was approved for action and preliminary research in May 2001 and launched in January 2002. System testing and integration began in April 2002. Independent research firm Zantheus Inc. will report further on the project's progress this spring. The IHA will publish the full results of this research on www.internethomealliance.com.