Whirlpool is on a mission to smarten up its appliances.
By 2015, the company will “make all the electronically controlled appliances it produces—everywhere in the world—capable of receiving and responding to signals from smart grids,” says Bracken Darrell, president of Whirlpool Europe.
A smart grid is the wiser version of the old-fashioned electrical grid that powers this and other countries.
It enables communications between energy providers, consumers, and electronic devices, enabling the entire ecosystem to make smarter decisions about energy consumption.
Most notably, users will be able to make decisions based on the cost of electricity at any given moment – you know, like running the dishwasher in the middle of the night, rather than during the day when the electrical grid is over-burdened.
Today’s “smart meters” – the most visible reminders of the smart grid – allow utilities to vary their rates according to peak- and off-peak times.
But beyond that, the ecosystem is just beginning to get built.
What’s taking Whirlpool so long?
Whirlpool has been a front-runner in the race to deliver intelligent appliances, but the company hasn’t delivered much.
In the late 1990s, the company developed a full line of communicating products based on the Java-based Open Services Gateway Initiative (OSGi). Neither the products nor the initiative went anywhere. (UPDATE: Seems rumors of OSGi’s demise were exaggerated; see comment below from an exec with ProSys, developer of OSGi technology.)
Whirlpool’s most recent development for the connected kitchen, introduced last year, is Centralpark. The “connectivity” is little more than a power supply on the front of a freezer.
So will Whirlpool be able to deliver on its promise of an all-smart lineup?
Only if these two conditions are met, according to Darrell:
- The development by the end of 2010 of an open, global standard for transmitting signals to and receiving signals from a home appliance
- Appropriate policies that reward consumers, manufacturers and utilities for using and adding these new peak demand reduction capabilities
Whirlpool as been trying to come out with connected products since 2001, but so far has failed to deliver.
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Julie Jacobson is co-founder of EH Publishing and currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro, mostly in the areas of home automation, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. She majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. Julie is a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player with the scars to prove it. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.