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BT - Smart-Electrics

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Smart-Electrics technology breakthrough could transform home security within two years

BT today announced a new technology, Smart-Electrics, which is set to revolutionise the protection of people and property in home and business settings.

It will make stolen TVs, videos and hi-fi equipment useless to burglars and provide an economical platform to monitor homes or workplaces for break-ins, fire, smoke and environmental factors.

The technology, patented by BT, could be available globally in a number of developed commercial forms within two years. It has powerful potential benefits for a number of industries, including all forms of electrical and electronic goods, insurance of property, contents, and health, energy utilities, and residential and commercial property letting and management.

Likely applications include:

- Protection of property against burglary
- Improved safety against fire and other risks including carbon monoxide poisoning
- In the longer term, a cost-effective basis for healthcare monitoring, home automation and utility meter reading services.

The technology is based on a simple intelligent 'home control centre' in the home or workplace to which nearby electrical appliances are registered through an appropriate low bit rate communications protocol. Subsequently any Smart-Electrics-equipped electrical item which is stolen will refuse to operate when plugged into the mains in an unauthorised location, making TVs, videos and hi-fi equipment with the Smart-Electrics circuitry useless to burglars.

In addition to the theft protection application the platform can connect a series of monitored sensors for various factors, ranging from life-threatening conditions such as smoke or high carbon monoxide levels to others such as temperature and humidity. Communicating at low bit rates via electricity cabling, appliances and sensors can pass information to the home control centre and, where desirable, onwards to central monitoring points which could operate warning systems and/or co-ordinate the necessary actions with emergency services including police and fire authorities.

Stewart Davies, BT's director of advanced communications engineering, said: "Valuable, portable items such as video recorders, hi-fi and television equipment feature in a high proportion of burglaries. Anything that is valuable and portable is potentially at risk. If property can be made useless to anyone who comes by it dishonestly, the incentives and rewards of crime are greatly reduced.

"While more than four out of five homes has a stand-alone smoke detector, only one in eight household fires is discovered as a result of these smoke detectors. BT's Smart-Electrics technology has much to offer in tackling these problems with a phased approach of using world class technology to protect people against theft and other risks."

Lord Sharman, chairman of the DTI's Foresight panel on the impact of technology on crime and crime prevention, said: "The deployment of facilities like those envisioned by Smart-Electrics technology holds great promise for reducing the profitability of property crime, especially burglary."

Discussions about embedding Smart-Electrics technology into the next generation of domestic consumer electronics equipment are under way with a number of major home electronics equipment manufacturers.

BT is developing commercial plans for Smart-Electrics within its in-house 'incubation unit' for fast-track development of high technology business opportunities which do not fit naturally into existing BT business units.

Stewart Davies said: "Many challenges remain, both technical and commercial, before this technology becomes part of everyday life but within the Smart-Electrics project team we have the determination and the skills to succeed."

Technical Notes - Smart-Electrics

Smart-Electrics theft protection uses location based tagging to monitor high value consumer electronic appliances. It enables appliances to become 'aware' of their location so they will fail to operate outside of their permitted environment - the appliance can be thought of as being coded to work only from a specific building's power supply or within a specific area.

Furthermore if recovered by the authorities, stolen goods can be interrogated to establish their rightful home enabling them to be returned. After a simple one button registration on purchase, Smart-Electrics requires no further customer action, appliances automatically 'learn' about their environment thereby ensuring that the system is user-friendly and does not intrude on or prevent everyday use by the legitimate owners. Smart-Electrics is derived from inventions at BT's research facilities at Adastral Park between 1994-7, for which European patent applications were filed. Further detail may be found by reference to the published European specifications nos.675626 and 960407. Patents and patent applications related to the system are also granted or pending in Europe, the USA and other countries. The challenge since the original invention has been to improve the implementation of the system so that it is:

1) truly secure - the tag can not be removed without destroying the appliance;
2) easy to use - there is no disruption of daily use by legitimate owners;
3) economic - enabling it to be built in to all appliances and added to all homes;
4) global - able to work consistently and reliably anywhere across the world.

The recent advances in low cost electronic manufacturing technology, the wide availability of secure encryption, the agreement of global standards for in home communications (power line and low power radio such as Bluetooth) and the rapid global take up of the Internet in the home combine to mean that the system is now both practicable and economic.

Once deployed Smart-Electrics technology will provide an economic global platform for the low bit rate control and automation of all electronic appliances enabling far more than the original anti-theft application. It will be at the heart of the exciting future development of smart homes and offices worldwide bringing the benefits to all at an affordable price.

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