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Many of us would consider it a serious accomplishment just to get our computers hooked up to a home network. Are we prepared to bring our washers and dryers online as well?

That's the basic question behind tests being conducted by an industry group that includes Microsoft, Whirlpool, Hewlett-Packard and others. The system, dubbed Laundry Time, connects a washer and dryer to a wireless home network to deliver notifications to TV screens, PC monitors or cell phones about the status of a laundry load.

It also goes further, to let people control the washer and dryer from a distance -- pressing a button on the TV remote control, for example, to keep the dryer going a few extra minutes.

"Instead of being enslaved to the washer and dryer, you can allow yourself to be able to do things," said Tim Woods, vice president of ecosystem development for the Internet Home Alliance, the group behind the project. "You're coming home from the grocery store, and you get a notification from the dryer that says it's about to complete -- would you like to go into fluff cycle so not everything is wrinkled when you get home?"

Microsoft created the Laundry Time software, which works in conjunction with the company's Media Center PC and mobile-phone technology.

Initial consumer research showed that it would be critical to be able to control the laundry remotely, said Jonathan Cluts, Microsoft's director of consumer prototyping and strategy.

"That was the key element," Cluts said. Nobody wanted the message to say, "Your dryer has just spun down," without also giving them the ability to do something about it.

Of course, all this high-tech interconnectivity might not be for everyone.

"Wrinkles-schminkles," wrote Network World news editor Paul McNamara in a blog post about Laundry Time. "If you're taking phone calls from your laundry appliances while operating an automobile let's just say that a messy crease in the khakis is the least of your concerns."

Several families in Atlanta will test the Laundry Time system in an eight-week study scheduled to start this week. At this point, it's still a prototype, not a specific product that would be available at the PC or home appliance store anytime soon. The results of the study are slated to be made public early next year.

But alliance executive Woods said the companies involved in the initiative are likely to incorporate those results, and the general concepts, into their future product development plans.

From Seattle PI

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