Americans love their ipods and their big plasma-screen TVs, but the United States is still far behind the curve compared with Asia when it comes to wireless technology and home automation.

Sure, much has been reported on how the Japanese love their cell phones, but a really good example of home automation at work is South Korea, where Samsung has its homevita automation system installed in about 4,000 apartments nationwide. The system lets homeowners manage everyday household items such as washing machines, lights, security cameras, and air conditioners with a touch panel, radio frequency device, cell phone, or PDA; in addition, homeowners can access and manage devices through a password-controlled Web site. The system costs from $2 to $3 per square foot, depending on the configuration.

Just to get a sense of perspective, the average South Korean family lives in a 1,200-square-foot apartment with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, and a kitchen.

“Home automation is very popular in Korea,” says Harold Cho, director of Samsung's Home Solutions Business Team. “People especially like controlling home devices from the outside with a cell phone.”

Cho says there are some lifestyle trends specific to South Korea that helped drive the adoption of home automation. Here are two examples:

FULL CONTROL: Samsung's homevita system gives homeowners a full view of their home network. South Koreans use homevita to manage daily household tasks such as controlling lights, air conditioners, and even washing machines.
FULL CONTROL: Samsung's homevita system gives homeowners a full view of their home network. South Koreans use homevita to manage daily household tasks such as controlling lights, air conditioners, and even washing machines.

Checking natural gas. Most Koreans use natural gas for their stoves, but there is great concern over the possibility of leaks that could cause explosions. Homeowners like being able to check the status of the gas valve and especially like the convenience of being able to shut the gas valve remotely if they forgot to do so before they left the apartment.

Soaking clothes in the washer. Koreans like to soak their clothes in the washing machine for a couple of hours before having the machine go into the spin cycle, after which the clothes are moved to a clothesline. Homevita lets homeowners soak clothes and then remotely turn the spin cycle on while they are out. The idea is to have the clothes ready for the clothesline when they get home.

The homevita system is managed by a gateway that communicates with the different home devices over power line, Ethernet, and wireless networking. The gateway is bundled into a touch panel that is placed close to the front door or on a living room wall.

Each apartment also has a network camera next to the front door. When people come home, they can check the system to see if any activity or movement has happened during the day. Samsung is also considering connecting a panic button to homeowners' cell phones so that in case of an emergency or a break-in, the cell phone would ring.

Cho says the security cameras are very popular with families that have young children: “Each house can watch how their kids are playing in a common area playground through the touchscreen wall pad.”

Samsung's goal is to have homevita installed in nearly 15,000 apartments by the end of 2006. The next step will be to roll out multimedia features, such as a karaoke service, or medical applications in which health data would reside inside monitoring devices and be sent to a doctor's office or a hospital.

Olivier Manuel, Samsung's senior manager of new business development, says Samsung is testing homevita at select communities in the United States, but the company wants to take it one step at a time in this country.

“People still have a bad taste in their mouths from when the smart home was rolled out years ago,” notes Manuel. “When we introduce homevita in the United States, we want to be sure it works.”

Americans are creatures of convenience. And they are also quick to jump on the bandwagon if a technology works. Homevita just might be the product that brings home automation to the masses in this country.