Appliance calls repair man
(Sunday Times London; 02/28/99)
A WASHING MACHINE that senses when it is about to break down and logs on to
the Internet to arrange for an engineer to fix it will go on sale next year,
writes Sean Hargrave .
Merloni, the Italian company that owns the Ariston brand, says the machines
will include a touchscreen liquid-crystal display (LCD), modem and telephone
socket so they can be connected to the Net.
Several manufacturers' machines already on the market can alert owners -
through a user-unfriendly numerical code - when a fault develops. But the new
machine takes this a step further.
As soon as it detects a problem, the washing machine will dial a support
centre that is due to be set up later this year in Britain. The unit will tell
an operator what is wrong and what parts an engineer is likely to need.
Francesco Caio, chief executive of Merloni, says the whole process of
repairs will be handled remotely.
"You will not have to wait for the machine to go wrong and then have to get
on the phone to try and get somebody round to fix it," he says. "If the
customer doesn't mind, the call centre could keep a list of times in the day
when it is convenient to send an engineer round. The computer could then offer
the washing machine a selection of dates and times.
"The first thing the customer would know about a problem is a message on the
LCD saying that a fault was developing and which one of these dates and times
would be best to send somebody round to have a look at it."
Ariston says the new range of kitchen hardware, which will later include
ovens, dishwashers, freezers and fridges, will form a network in which machines
can talk to one another.
This will eventually mean that one of the units, probably the washing
machine, will act as a central server that checks on the condition of the other
units. If a fault develops with one of the machines it can be picked up by the
server and reported to the call centre.
Ariston also has plans for launching ovens that come supplied with Net
terminals. These will allow owners to download recipes from the Net on to a
flat LCD display as well as send and receive e-mail.
The announcement by Merloni comes a month after Electrolux launched a fridge
that links to the Net. A scanner in the fridge door can be used to read
barcodes from products so a shopping list can be e-mailed to a supermarket,
which can then deliver the goods.