Toshiba tipped to unwrap e-fridge

Toshiba brings us closer to a time when users will be able to log onto the Net via their kitchen appliances.

Japanese consumer electronics giant Toshiba is reportedly close to selling a range of Internet-enabled home appliances.

The first smart gadget to hit the shops is expected to be a Web-connected refridgerator.

The fridge will keep a record of the items stored inside it. Users would be able to log onto the device when they are out of the house--perhaps from work or an Internet cafe--to find out what food they already have.

Quoting company sources, Japanese Web site Asahi.com claims the fridge could be on sale as early as April 2002. Toshiba is also thought to be developing other Internet-enabled home products, including a microwave and an air conditioning system.

The smart-home appliance market is expected to show strong growth in the next few years, with many manufacturers working on new devices. LG Electronics has already created an Internet Fridge, complete with an LCD touchscreen and audio speakers, that can surf the Net, access email and even play MP3s.

Research suggests that many consumers would welcome an Internet-enabled device into their home. Ericsson recently organized a trial in which 50 families were supplied with a Screenfridge--a standard fridge that also had a high-speed Internet connection and a built-in touch-sensitive colour screen. Over two-thirds of the families were pleased with the Screenfridge, using it to check news on the Web, send email and SMS and search for recipes online.

Toshiba's is also working on an Internet fridge with a built-in Webcam--so owners can remotely see what shopping is needed. The company's microwave oven, which is still in development, is expected to be able to download recipes online, while a future air conditioner could be controlled from several different rooms in a house, via a wireless network.

Experts caution, however, that such smart appliances will probably be much more expensive than their low-tech equivalents.

Staff writer Graeme Wearden reported from London.

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