Back to the Future…Almost
Theresa Lanowitz | May 17, 2006
Do you recall the big vision of a few years ago…the one that said because of connected appliances in your house along with a low cost, pervasive and reliable network, when an appliance begins to fail, a simple message is sent to the appropriate repair person and before you even know your appliance has a problem a fix or patch has been dispensed.

I thought this concept was brilliant, with the exception of one fatal flaw…household appliances rarely break. Or, let me rephrase this, the unattractive ones that you want to replace but can only justify replacement if they break never fail!

I’ve lived my entire adult life not being able to justify replacing a traditional white appliance with a luxurious, high tech, minimalist design because the random and ugly but perfectly functioning white appliance would never break.

So, while I thought the concept was useful, I realized its practicality was lacking – those white appliances are just too durable – that old Maytag commercial is true. I finally moved into a new house with gleaming state of the art, high tech, stainless steel Jetson – like appliances. And, to tell the truth, I had kind of forgotten about the old promise / vision of self healing appliances. I thought that the promise / vision had been proffered to the public so frequently, that new appliances could probably communicate failure. Well, now that I was in my brand new house with my Jetson – like appliances I would have the opportunity to find out if that promise / vision had ever been delivered.

Within one month of being in my new house, my stainless steel, double decker Fisher & Paykel dishwasher displayed an error code message. It read “ERROR 2 – MOTOR” on both the top and bottom dishwasher – that’s right two of two dishwashers failed. My immediate thought was this promise / vision of self healing appliances is real. I waited to watch the next step. Well, the next step was the dishwasher just stopped. I had no clue what my next course of action should be. In my over 20 years as an adult I never had a white appliance fail. After some research, I called the repair person. Since my dishwasher was under warranty, the repair person had to call a representative. After three weeks of washing dishes by hand, a repair person arrived at my front door. Their mission, inspect the dishwasher to determine the problem. It seemed it was not sufficient that I reported the “ERROR 2 – MOTOR” problem. The repair person promptly pulled the error code up and told me the problem was the motor. Another two weeks went by and the repair person returned with the appropriate parts. After fixing the motor, the repair person commented on the ease of diagnosing the problem by just scrolling through the error code panel. He claimed the repair process was expedited! He has clearly been more than a little out of touch!

What could possibly be next…my Sub-Zero Wolf oven displayed an error code, I phoned the repair person and it’s been over a month, I still have no oven and not even a shadow of a repair person has phoned or stopped by. Maybe those ugly, white, clunky appliances aren’t so bad after all! Or maybe, just maybe the promise / vision of self healing appliances could be fulfilled. We have the technology, why not?

Today, Wind River announced the “Wind River Management Suite”. This technology will make it possible to use a pervasive low cost network to send diagnostic reports back to the originator, regardless of who or where they are. Now, there are no excuses. The devices can communicate! The raw technology materials are ready and waiting. The burden is now with the manufacturers.

What’s next?...exploring critical path technology.