“High-Touch” Appliances the Next Generation?

A voice-controlled microwave oven and a remotely controlled vacuum cleaner are two of the “high-touch” appliances that may be available soon if U.S. consumers want them, according to Dr. Andris Freivalds, associate professor of industrial engineering at Penn State.

He defines “high touch” as “providing consumers with the high tech and the feel or touch they want in modern electronic appliances.”

Freivalds is conducting response tests to five high-touch appliances-the vac and microwave, as well as a television, audio system, and videocassette recorder-under development by Daewoo Co., Seoul, Korea -based appliance maker.

“I haven’t seen anything like any of these products at the last two consumer electronics shows, and I think the public is ready for them,” says Freivalds. He is in touch with both students and adults and sending evaluations and suggestions back to the manufacturer.

“High-touch appliances would be useful to the elderly or physically disabled, allowing them more control over their world,” says Freivalds.

Here is a brief on each of the five high-touch appliances.

*Microwave oven: The appliance can be programmed with two voice commands, one to open the door and one to close it, solving the problem of full hands. One display screen calls up prerecorded recipes. Another shows a picture of the completed dish.

* Vacuum cleaner: By attaching the power head directly to the underside of the canister, the appliance can be operated by remote control.

* Television: Adjustments for tilt, swivel, and forward and backward motion are added to normal remote-control options. A microprocessor records addresses, telephone numbers and messages. The TV can be programmed to turn on at a specific time, serving as a calendar-reminder system. Four preset video options include modes for viewing in bright or dark rooms, a standard setting, and romantic setting. The audio’s four preset options are narrative, music, sports and romantic.

* Audio system: A tuner, amplifier, tape deck, compact-disk player, turntable, and six speakers offer a full menu. The stacked, round units rotate by remote control, with only the unit in use visible. The system comes with a wireless earphone remote-control option. Two of the six speakers are wireless cubes that can be moved into another room.

*Videocassette recorder: The TVCR is a combination television and VCR with an expert system that guides users through programming functions. The TVCR has a flat TV screen about the size of a paperback book that can be removed from the recorder and carried into another room. An earphone plugs into the remote-control unit providing the user with wireless audio. The VCR, complete with a tuner, can operate as a TV or VCR.

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