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Obviously, the home automation industry is still in its infancy. At this point, there's a high degree of proprietary differentiation from system to system, and the home automation manufacturers seem to like it this way. The industry seems in no hurry to standardize and share customers.

And yet, there is opportunity. Although we haven't yet arrived at Java-enabled ovens and .NET-enabled dishwashers, the possibility is there. But first the mainstream appliance manufacturers must decide as an industry to support hardware abstraction in the kitchen. This means providing a set of standardized device drivers and communication protocols to control the various appliances in the field. Java/.NET drivers running over TCP/IP is the most probable approach. Yet nothing is written in stone.

In the meantime, home automation vendors are working on the software end to make it easier for electricians and home automation engineers to configure touch screen input devices. Vantage Controls has released a product, DesignerToolBox, that makes the user-input implementation of home automations a lot easier. DesignerToolBox is a set of Macromedia Flash controls that allows a home automation engineer to use Flash to create graphical user interface applications customized to a specific home. Thus, instead of writing lines of code, the home automation engineer uses drag-and-drop to create useful touch screen GUIs under Flash, at a considerable savings in engineering man-hours.

At some point, as the price of home automation decreases and the demand increases, the industry will need to standardize to meet demand. And when this happens, it's not far-fetched to believe that kitchen appliance manufacturers will abstract their products in order to make them Windows- and Java-enabled, which in turn will make installation and control configuration a lot easier and a lot cheaper. When this happens, it really might be possible to go home, go over to the home replicator, and order "Tea, Earl Gray, hot," just like Captain Picard does on Star Trek. All you really need is a Java-enabled water dispenser, water heater, tea dispenser, and cupboard, all which will be found in the truly wired kitchen. And that day, my friends, may not be that far off.

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