Time to do your e-laundry

The home of the future is coming soon to Italy, starting with a digital washing machine. The unit can be remote-controlled by cellular phone or through the Internet, and will go on sale in Italy next week. It will cost about $US1200. But it won't do everything for you: it still must be loaded by hand.

The kitchen of the future will soon be complete, according to a spokesperson for Italian domestic appliances manufacturer Merloni Elettrodomestici SpA.

"They are putting the finishing touches to a digital cooker and fridge, which should be ready by March," says Merloni spokesperson Nadia Marcellini.

The fact that Merloni is exploring the digital revolution in housewares is not a surprise. The company's chief executive officer, Francesco Caio, is a former head of Italy's second-largest mobile phone operator, Omnitel Pronto Italia SpA. Within three years, about a third of Merloni's domestic appliances will have some sort of digital connection, Caio predicts.

The new washing machine, named Margherita2000.com, is controlled by a digital microprocessor and fitted with a GSM modem connecting it to the telephone network and to the Internet, according to Merloni representatives.

If you install a Margherita2000.com, you'll be able to check the status of the machine on your own private Web page, activate it remotely, and get e-mail and short messages sent from a cell phone, according to the company. The messages are shown on a fluorescent display on the machine.

Margherita2000.com uses Web Ready Appliances Protocol, a Merloni protocol, to communicate with its owner and with other kitchen appliances.

"In order to promote a rapid development of new technologies adapted for domestic appliances, we are inclined to make WRAP, which is an open technology and therefore particularly well suited to become a world standard, available to the market," Caio says in a prepared statement.

The machines can be serviced remotely, 24 hours a day, including software upgrades.

Caio is also touting a 10in touch screen Web browser dubbed "Leon@rdo", which can download cooking instructions from Merloni's Web site directly to the oven. The browser would let you adjust the refrigerator temperature or the washing machine's program. You could also leave messages for other members of the family on the appliances' displays.

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Philip Willan

PC World

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