In AT&T's vision of the future, your home may be run by a tablet

In AT&T's vision of the future, your home may be run by a tablet
AT&T Digital Life, the home automation system due next year, is demoed at a Garden District home in New Orleans.
Tech Corner

POSTED: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 5:00am

UPDATED: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 5:04am

Imagine a near future when a single touch on your tablet or smartphone will start your coffee maker, lock your doors, turn on (or off) the lights and open a window.

Or maybe you'd use the same gadget to answer the doorbell and talk to a visitor, even if you're half a world away. Or maybe you'd get an e-mail telling you when the kids are home from school.

Oh, and the the same connectivity will also power a home-security system that, in effect, gives your doors, windows and most anything else in your house an Internet address so you can monitor and control them digitally.

AT&T says all that and more is on the way next year. Called "Digital Life," the system is the telecommunications giant's entree into the world of home security, an industry the company says was ripe for some serious innovation.

Digital Life will use sensors that assign individual Internet protocol, or IP, addresses to everything from a window to a refrigerator to, yes, a coffeemaker. Once linked up, they can then be controlled remotely by Apple, Android, BlackBerry and Windows devices.

The company says anything from a GPS device to a medicine bottle can be linked in to the system, which could have implications in fields ranging from fitness to independent living.

AT&T will be running some trials this summer in Atlanta and Dallas, and say subscriptions to the home-automation service will be available by the end of next year. No prices have been announced, although AT&T says they will be "extremely competitive."

Glenn Lurie, AT&T's president of Emerging Enterprises and Partnerships, sat down with CNN Tech recently in Atlanta to answer questions about the system, which he calls "disruptive" and a quantum leap that competitors in both the security and wireless industries will be hard-pressed to match.

Here's a condensed version of our conversation:

On why a company known for wireless service entered the home-security market:

This is a business that's very fragmented. It's a business where the biggest player has 6 million subscriptions. Nobody in that business has an all-IP network. When we launched Uverse, which is now obviously very successful, people said, "Wait a minute -- AT&T in the TV business? What are they doing?"

We look for industries that are disruptable. This happened to be one. This is one that's kind of ripe for someone to come in and really move it forward. We also look for industries that have old technology, that were just kind of sitting back and living off of old technology and this was one of those as well.

On preset 'programs' the system will run

When you get up in the morning and leave your home, what do you do? In my house, you get up, we make sure the doors are locked, that the kids didn't leave one open. You turn the alarm on. You turn a certain light on or off. You do all that, then you go and leave.

Well, that's a thing of the past. Now ... you would go on your phone as you're walking into the garage, driving away, and you would tap your program button, which you've already told your house what you want it to do. "I want the doors locked. Make sure they're locked. I want all the garages closed. Make sure they're closed. I want the alarm put on. I want this light turned on. I want the thermostat turned down."

It allows you to control your life, but you sit down and do it once and you're done. To me, that is the next level of that foundation. That is just totally cool.

On 'alerts'

When you think about alerts, you think about a sensor under your water heater that tells you to turn it off. It senses your water is being used at a greater rate than it should. Or if a window is broken. You really don't need to know if you don't have milk. [A time-honored prediction for home-automation services]. That's a silly scenario.

But the scenario here is, since all those refrigerators are basically computers, it senses your ice maker is about to break and asks you if you want it to make an appointment for you. Those kinds of things are futuristic, but very simple to do.

Other examples

In the future world when the doorbell rings, [Lurie's teen daughter] is going to grab her tablet and answer the door. There's going to be a camera with a microphone outside and she can see who's there. If it's somebody who says "I'm here to fix something," you can see ID. She can decide if she's going to open the door or not.

The same thing goes when I'm in Barcelona next year. If somebody comes to the door, I can answer my door from anywhere in the world because it's all IP. Those kind of scenarios are really exciting to us.

Wouldn't you want to know when you're at work that the door opened? You can ... program it to take a picture of what just came through the door and send a text to your phone. Now you know that, at 3:51, your kid is home. You haven't bugged them. You haven't told them to call you. You just know.

'Limitless' possibilities

The beauty of our system is we can put what I'll call the "Digital Life secret sauce" into any device. I'm going to put out a (software developers kit) and I'm going to allow every (manufacturer) on the planet to build and certify their devices on our system, so when you walk into Best Buy in the future and you decide you want to add a camera, you don't even have to call us.

You can get into some really crazy stuff. You can get into sensors outside in your backyard -- dirt and moisture sensors for farmers. This platform is so expandable. ... There isn't anything that's mobile and has current running through it that we're not going to try to connect.

Range of services that will be offered

We're going to try to launch a product that's ... [aimed at] the whole market. Somebody who wants to mack-daddy their house out, they can have a lot of fun. Somebody that wants just a simple alarm system ... no problem. We can do that as well. With all IP, it's cheaper.

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