Futuristic products promise ease, luxury

March 25, 2007|By Paul Owers and Chris Cobbs | Paul Owers and Chris Cobbs,McClatchy-Tribune

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Turn a wheel on the wall of the shower, scroll to your "Favorite" settings, touch the "Select" button and enjoy a steamy massage at 103 degrees.

Turn a knob on an in-wall oven and go to the setting for "Turkey." Select "Bake" and, 42 minutes later, your 12-pound bird is done to perfection.

From the bathroom to the kitchen and other parts of the home, product designers are borrowing from the familiar control devices we now use everyday with items like cell phones and portable music players.

New products that use a scrolling wheel with click button and an illuminated screen of menu choices - made famous by Apple Inc.'s iPod - were on display at the recent International Home Builders Show at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

One of the headliners was Kohler's DTV Custom Shower, which has multiple showerheads controlled by a digital interface that's set into the wall and features that ubiquitous wheel with the center button.

"Instead of mechanical valves and handles, we have a control wheel like you would find on other electronic devices," Kohler spokesman Michael Wandschneider said. "Obviously, technophiles will gravitate to it, but it's also for anyone who wants a high-end shower."

Depending on specific features, the system can cost more than $2,000 for the digital interface and shower components.

Another bath system from Kohler - C3 toilet seats with bidet functions - also borrows control features from common household products. Bidets offer water cleansing that's an alternative to toilet tissue.

Until recently, they were widely viewed as only for women or for people with certain medical conditions.

Each of the Kohler toilet seats is heated.

One model has a hand-held remote control that adjusts warm-air speed and water and seat temperature. The seats range in price from $750 to $1,300.

"They're very popular in Japan," said Shane Allis, a Kohler executive. "And we certainly see where they're gaining momentum in the States as well."

Also very hot is a new in-wall cook oven, the $7,895 TurboChef 30, which blows hot air at high speed to cooks meals as much as 15 times faster than conventional ovens.

Along with trimming about three hours off the cooking time for a turkey, the oven can do a baked potato in six minutes and a souffle in two minutes.

"It's controlled by a cook `wheel' with a computer-style screen," said Steve Beshara, chief branding officer for TurboChef Technologies Inc. "Nobody wants to open a manual, and you don't have to, using our cook wheel and user interface, which are as easy to operate as an ATM."

Yet another new control device - the finger - was on display as Black & Decker Corp. introduced a biometric door lock that opens by scanning a person's fingerprint.

The SmartScan lock can memorize the fingerprints of as many as 20 family members and friends. It can even give temporary access to repair technicians and house cleaners. It works on four AA batteries but allows for key access if the batteries fail. It'll be available in stores in June and sells for about $200.

"Right now, it's the only one of its kind for residential," said Leo Hancock, a sales manager for Black & Decker. "It's the wave of the future."

Sequiam Biometrics Inc. of Orlando, Fla., developed the lock, which is being test marketed by Kwikset Corp., a Black & Decker subsidiary.

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