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High Tech at Home

November 02, 1987

Just because it has a microchip in it, doesn't mean it's going to sell. The hard lessons of high tech are hitting hard on home electronics makers, too.

The HomeMinder home automation controller system introduced in 1985 by General Electric was withdrawn earlier this year. The problem, however, may have had less to do with the HomeMinder's technology than its marketing strategy, which was aimed primarily at TV and entertainment system dealers, not home appliance outlets.

Other products, as well, have found the marketplace tough.

For example, a "hands-free" automatic faucet has apparently faded. The $300 system incorporated two infrared sensors at the base of the faucet. When the sensor's beam was interrupted by a hand, or anything else, water would flow. When the object was removed from the beam's path, the water stopped. In addition to a lot of fun for the kids, the manufacturer promised water savings of 82.3% for teeth brushing and hand washing and 81.8% for shaving.

And it hasn't been easy on dealers, either. Sensing an opportunity for advancement, Allen Nolte, a Laguna Beach carpenter, started installing Unity Systems' Home Manager a few years ago. But the market for home automation was far slower than Nolte expected and he was forced to return to carpentry. Now, he's giving home automation a second chance--but only part time.

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