But most have failed to live up to the vision articulated by people like Bill Gates, who has long sought to wire his entire home, and Martha Stewart, who envisioned a way for homemakers to receive an email when their kids arrive home or verify their pet has been fed while out of town.
But with Internet technology continuing to get more robust, a range of companies are making good headway.
One relatively quiet company that impressed me with a demo of its product last night is Utah-based Control4, which told me it has just raised $20 million more in financing. The round was led by Silicon Valley venture capital firm Foundation Capital.
With a single remote control, it lets you manage everything from your video-recording equipment to your thermostat. It even provides a way to let your local utility communicate with your home so that you can take action to reduce costs. For example, the utility can send your Control4 system a signal when its load is at peak, so that your system can automatically turn down your air conditioning, lighting and other energy-hogging devices.
The Control4 control box is about the size of a standard set-top box, and sells for $699. It manages everything by an Internet connection. It is about to sell a new version for $499, the company told me last night.
Control4 competes against Silicon Valley’s iControl, a company with a similar name that has also been working away for years on its own system to control your devices. iControl raised $15.5 million in April, led by Kleiner Perkins. There’s also 4HomeMedia, which raised $2.4 million from Pond.
Today, at the Supernova conference in San Francisco, Control4 will also announce plans to work with electronics company LG to build HDTV sets that allow hotel guests to control lighting, room temperature, draperies and entertainment systems through the television with a single remote control.
Control4 is already working with hospitals to give similar controls to nurses and doctors.