by Rob Chevalier

Comdex 2000 in Las Vegas, the Promised Land for geeks, gadget-mongers and the vendors who supply their addictions, again lived up to its reputation. This year, industry leaders have bedazzled us with their arrays of colorfully improved, suspiciously Apple-like products and while most of the media buzz focused on the major trend towards "wireless connectivity" by the industry, there is a subtler and far more interesting product revolution awaiting unwitting consumers.

Normally, the "Home of the Future" type exhibit is an abstract collection of expensive cutting-edge research and design that may or may not see commercial reality for at least 20 years. But Cisco's "Home of the Future" is the first of it's kind to use all commercially available products and existing technology standards. "Our 'Home of the Future' can be built today, and by anyone with a modest budget" says Dean Haberer, a Cisco representative. Indeed, all of the products used in the Cisco exhibit are made by well-known manufactures and are all currently available through selected retailers. The most novel application of which is the little reviewed 'Kitchen of the Future'. Maybe all technology journalists have just come to avoid any and all "Home of the Future" exhibitions. If so, they may be missing a major paradigm shift that is taking place right now in the kitchens of homes all across America. As always, loyal PcTyrant readers will again be one-step ahead of their peers in break-rooms everywhere. After reluctantly entering Cisco's "Home of the Future", much to our surprise, we were blown-away by technological changes found in the "Kitchen of the Future".

There is a scene in the movie classic "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" where Mr. Wonka (Gene Wilder) unlocks the door to his factory "paradise" by playing the first two measures of Beethoven's 5th on a miniature piano. As cute as the idea at first appears, there is much more significance to this concept; and apparently, this was not missed by the product designers at several home appliance icons. From KitchenAid and Cuisinart to Sony and Martha Stewart, the turf war over market dominance of kitchens across America has begun. Surprisingly, the technology that makes up the nucleus of the current frenzy is nothing new at all. MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) has been used by musicians since the late 1970's to control racks of synthesizers and other musical devices. Basically, MIDI is a very simple and well-defined language for storing and transmitting song data between musical devices. Instead of recording a sound as with an analog tape recorder, MIDI describes the specific notes to play, how hard to play them, and how long to hold them down. It is the nuts and bolts of the music. You might by wondering how MIDI could possible be used in home appliance products when it was designed only to describe musical data? Though the specification was designed only with the representation of music in mind, certainly other devices could be devised that code decode and interpret MIDI data in new ways. If the "Kitchen of the Future" display at Comdex 2000 is any indication, someday, more people may begin associating MIDI with cooking that with music.

The makers of the Cuisinart brand product-line demonstrated the new MIDI-enabled 'TOB-160MI Toaster Oven'. The state-of-the-art Exact Heat Sensor and Your Choice Browning Memory ensure that everything is cooked to perfection. Program perfect toast on the sleek Weighted Keyboard Controls - separate Bagel, Defrost, Reheat, and 4-Slice chords make it easy. The large LCD window clearly displays time and temperature, and the entire unit wipes clean. With a slide-out crumb tray; baking/broiling pan; automatic shutoff; and the capacity to roast a 4 -pound chicken, bake a loaf of homemade bread, or turn out a 9-inch pie, this compact Toaster Oven Broiler fits in anywhere. Simply playing a C major triad arpeggio on the weighted hammer action keys instructs the unit to defrost a frozen loaf of bread. Playing a C minor would have instructed the toaster to defrost something smaller like a bagel or a muffin. The Keyboard is pressure sensitive too. The harder you play, the hotter the oven will cook. Softer use of the keyboard controls results in cooler operation. It should be obvious now, that the use of MIDI as a universal User Interface in home appliances is enormously powerful. And the industries willingness to adopt (or hijack) MIDI as an underlying protocol has many interesting benefits. Because the MIDI specification is very well specified and documented, products can be redesigned and on store shelves very rapidly. Because of the concepts of a "network" and "channels" are inherent to the MIDI specification, it easily lends it's self to the idea of several of home appliances; a symphony if you will, talking and controlling each other quite well. One appliance can serve as a "controller", meaning that instructions can be played or scripted, to automate not only it, but other MIDI-enabled devices as well. The idea is to be able to walk into the kitchen in the morning and by playing a phrase from your favorite tune, you could activate your toaster, coffee pot, tv, email, and heater all at the same time. Extremely powerful stuff, yet it's all done with proven, existing and inexpensive technology.

Not wasting any time, KitchenAid has done the remarkable task of MIDI-Enabling their entire product line, from blenders to ovens. "We felt that this was something we absolutely had to do", confesses Linda Neilson, a Senior Sales Rep for KitchenAid. "It's the risk of losing your entire purpose in the marketplace due to narrow-mindedness or an unwillingness to 'think outside of the box'. I really think that is the mistake being made by the US Postal Service and the music industry at large. A business simply cannot ignore emerging technologies at a glance. One that does may be out of business within 5 years,.. and I'm talking about major companies like Coca-Cola and Kmart." Even Sony's efforts to provide "everything to everybody" on the planet doesn't stop at the new Playstation 2 gaming console. Sony is committed to being the world leader in robotic devices too. That little pup AIBO may really be a "Trojan Horse" in more ways than one (see my previous article for more info on Sony's AIBO). Their newest version of AIBO, the ERS-210T Intelligent Toaster should be hitting American shelves by mid Feb. 2001 with the promise of never having to smell burnt toast again. As soon as it can make waffles, I'm seriously thinking about investing in one of the culinary canines!

Cuisinart TOB-160MI has 12 hammer action weighted keys (velocity, release velocity, aftertouch sensitive) and the capacity to roast a 4 - pound chicken. Also includes 1 USB port, Midi in and 3 Midi outs.

KitchenAid has revamped their entire line of products to include full Midi support.

Never to be bested, Sony has introduced the new ERS-210T, AIBO INTELLIGENT TOASTER. With full Midi and USB support, this pup can control an entire kitchen of Midi compliant appliances and never burns toast, thanks to it's improved sniffer.

Casio's "KTC-731 Controller/Portable Range" not only controls 256 different Midi appliances simultaneously, but includes 4 electrically controlled burners for heating and warming as well! Cooks can define separate regions of the keyboard to control various kitchen appliances. Complex arrangements can be stored in the internal sequencer. Though we found that the sequencer's interface was functionally very basic, we are impressed with it's 520,000 events per song capacity.

Casio's KTC-731 Controller/Portable Range can not only control 256 different Midi appliances simultaneously, but includes 4 electrically controlled burners for heating and warming.

Even Martha Stewart, sensing market saturation of the magazine genre she started after the introduction of Oprah's "O" and Rosie's take over of "McCall", has keenly picked up on the MIDI-Appliance trend. Martha's "MIDIstation" is the flagship of her new line of Midi-enabled Kitchen accessories. Basically a Midi hub, the MS-MH48 includes 4 Midi Inputs, 8 Midi Outputs and a stereo headphone jack. Martha's MIDIstation is a junction box that other MIDI-enable appliances can be plugged into, thus allowing them all to communicate in a small network. On the drawing board, Martha Stewart's new 'Networking' line of home products is slated to include a 66 key weighted hammer action controller, a joint venture with Kenmore to create a MIDI dishwasher, and an entire line of designer MIDI cables and adapters, all color coded of course. Thus, it appears that MIDI, a 30 year old specification for transmitting digital music is poised to radically change the landscape of kitchens across America. And many consumers will be caught completely off-guard because so many of us so called technology journalists had arbitrarily ruled out all "Home of the Future" exhibitions as wimpy wastes of time.

Martha Stewarts MIDIstation is the flagship of her new line of Midi-enabled Kitchen appliances. Basically a Midi hub, the MS-MH48 includes 4 Midi Inputs, 8 Midi Outputs and a stereo headphone jack. A must for any modern kitchen with more than 3 Midi capable appliances.

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