Geek house
 
Not every gadget in a hi-tech home has proved a success, reports Marc Ambasna-Jones

Thursday May 16, 2002
The Guardian


Driving up to the mock-Tudor 1930s house there was little to suggest it was anything more than an ordinary home. A row of mature conifer trees crowded the entrance gate while a gravel drive led to a neatly mown front lawn.

Security was not visibly tight, apart from a small camera and redundant retinal scanner at the front door. But this was not a real house. This was Orange's hi-tech living laboratory where for the past 12 months, families have been watched Big Brother style, while they played with the latest wireless gizmos and gadgets.

The house, stuck in the middle of a Hatfield business park, has recently been doctored. Orange has taken the results from its observations and focus groups and made changes, kicking out the less commercially viable technologies. Orange House version 2.0 is supposed to be a more realistic view of how families (with a high disposable income, of course) could live over the next three to five years and beyond.

The interior of the house retained its character. The design and hi-tech gadgetry that survived the cull did not impinge on the fact that this was an old farmhouse (bought for 500,000 two years ago) where real people could live. And just to prove it, the phone company found four families, each of whom spent no more than two weeks in the house.

For their troubles, they were filmed through wall-mounted cameras and their behaviour and technology usage was studied and analysed by Orange staff and academics from the Digital World Research Centre at Surrey University.

According to Jon Carter, project manager for Orange at Home, by far the biggest success was the always-on broadband internet connection and the ability to wirelessly access music, computer games and DVDs from a variety of rooms, controlled by a central server at the back of the house. In mum and dad's room, a large pull-down screen enabled DVD viewing or network gaming from the bed. An interactive Smart Board gave the daughter access to web games and control of her Sony Aibo dog. Mobile web pads were used as remote control and internet access devices and the large flat screen TV with access to TiVo's Digital Video recorder was "a big hit with all ages", said Carter.

But not everything got such a glowing report. While the company gleaned

 
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