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INTERNATIONAL TRENDS

Last updated: 08 April, 2010

Open the mobile phone application offered by a French real estate agency and point your phone at a building along the Champs-Élysées or some other street in Paris. Within seconds, you will see the property’s value per square meter, superimposed over a live image of the building streamed through the phone’s camera.

Energy scoreboards

There will soon be new options for consumers who want to save money by using energy more efficiently. Companies are coming up with dozens of computer-based devices that monitor electricity costs, outlet by outlet, inside a home.
Intel has created a prototype for a home energy monitor that gathers information beamed to it from the appliances plugged into wall sockets, according to Joe Jensen, general manager of Intel’s embedded-computing division in Chandler, Ariz.
This sleek touch screen can hang on the kitchen wall or sit on a countertop. It can show, for example, which appliances are on and what they are costing to operate, he said.
The panel communicates wirelessly with the outlets, turning appliances off or on when instructed, or suggesting ways to change energy use in the house, he said. The Intel display is meant to entertain as well as instruct, Jensen said.
Family members may use its built-in camera to leave video messages for one
another.   Intel won’t be offering the home monitors directly to consumers. It is working with manufacturers that will use its designs and its processors to run their devices, Jensen said. A high-end version could cost consumers $400 or more, he said, but the
company is working with a high-volume manufacturer on a cheaper version. He
said some of the cost might eventually be underwritten by utilities that
could charge a small monthly fee for the unit, as part of campaigns to conserve
energy.

Tenrehte Technologies, a company based near Rochester, has developed an alternative device, called the Picowatt, that lets people use their smartphones or laptop computers, for example, to control lighting and appliances like air-conditioners.
The Picowatt, which plugs into an ordinary wall outlet, is small, slightly larger than a cell phone charger. But it can communicate with the
Wi-Fi router on a home network just as laptops do, said Jennifer Indovina, chief executive of Tenrehte. Plug an audio system, for example, into the Picowatt, then plug the Picowatt into a wall outlet, and it will calculate information on energy use and beam it to the router, she said.Once a Picowatt is plugged in, “it pulls the voltage to turn itself on and look for the router,” Indovina said. This process should be automatic, but because so many routers are on the market, she said, the Picowatt comes with a USB thumb
drive and a CD to use as a backup during installation to help routers identify its
signals.Manufacturers are also making appliances that might someday be adapted to communicate directly with utilities or with smart meters when they are installed.

Anne Eisenberg
NYT News Service


Real estate listings on your mobile

Open the mobile phone application offered by a French real estate agency and point your phone at a building along the Champs-Élysées or some other street in Paris. Within seconds, you will see the property’s value per square meter, superimposed over a live image of the building streamed through the phone’s camera.

Speed and convenience delivered with the aim of a smartphone. Could this be the new frontier of on-demand property search? The application, engineered by Layar, a company based in Amsterdam, uses “augmented reality” technology, or A R, to harness a phone’s camera, global positioning system and compass.

Elements like statistics and 3-D images are, essentially, layered over a live picture so the user gets a single view with all available information. These A R “mash-ups” already are being used to display information about tourist sites, chart subway stops and restaurants, allow interior designers to superimpose new furniture or colour schemes on a room, and give crime statistics for a specific area.

The A R Beatles Tour, for example, superimposes videos and 3-D models, like a yellow submarine, when a smartphone with the application is pointed at locations in London and Liverpool that were significant in the band’s career. But, “Does it provide users with information that they find valuable?” asked Simon Baker, chief executive of Classified Ad Ventures, the publisher of an online real estate site called Property Portal Watch. “Is there real value in using it? Will it fundamentally replace the way we do things? Or is it a gimmick?”

According to the French agency, MeilleursAgents.com, the results have been positive. Julien Cheyssial, one of the agency’s founders and its chief technology officer, said it took a developer only two days to customise the Layar browser with prices, based on city and agency records, and GPS coordinates.

Real estate businesses in Britain, the Netherlands and the United States already have about 35 similar applications using Layar, and more are being created in other parts of Europe as well as Russia, Australia, Korea and Japan, according to Maarten Lens-FitzGerald, one of Layar’s founders. “There’s a lot of capital, a lot of money in real estate so we expect realtor brands to use it as a service to their customers and customers to use it just out of curiosity,” he said.

Over all, Layar, which is an open platform, has attracted 1,000 developers who have created 2,000 programs for the iPhone 3GS and Google’s Android operating system.
Such innovations also could lead to legal challenges and privacy complaints. Officials in Switzerland and Germany have objected to Google’s taking pictures of homes and storefronts for Street View, a service that could be adapted to include an A R function. Yet even the French, who traditionally are reticent to talk about real estate prices, seem to be welcoming information.

R Scott Macintosh
NYT News Service


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