URL-based Controls for Home Appliances

Ichiro Satoh

(Join work with Tatsuo Nakajima and Flash contents designed by Yuji Kenmotsu)


This work presents an approach for building user interfaces for network-enabled appliances. The approach provides URL-based commands for controlling appliances and web-based management systems for appliances and client-side devices. Since URL notations can be widely used in most modern documents, including, HTML, Flash, and PowerPoint, the approach enables content creators and end-users to easily develop users interfaces for their home appliances as visual documents that can contain URLs by using their favorite editor applications. A notable contribution of the approach to appliance design is to make user interfaces for controlling appliances open and to promote the production of various, useful user interfaces.


The concept of ubiquitous computing enables everyday objects, including appliances, to be smart by embedding network-enabled computing devices. For example, some home appliance manufacturers in Japan provide network-enabled VCRs that allow a user to control them from his/her client-side computing devices, such as PCs and smart phones through networks. However, the user is often required to use specific software to communicate with the VCRs because of differences in protocols and user interfaces. Such software is not open, in the sense that its user interface cannot be edited and customized by end-users or third parties. On the other hand, there are many software packages that enable us to easily create and edit documents for the web and presentations, such as HTML, Macromedia Flash, and Microsoft PowerPoint. We should allow such visible documents to be used as user-interfaces to control and monitor appliances, without modifying the applications or document formats.

URL-enable Documents as Control Panels for Appliances

To solve these problems, we propose an approach for using the URL as an intermediate representation, to not only specifying but also controlling appliances. This is because the URL is one of the simplest ways of identifying networked devices, and most existing user-side devices, such as smart cellular phones, PDAs, PCs, and most existing modern visible documents, including HTML, Macromedia Flash, MS-PowerPoint, and MS-Word, can support URL. There are a lot of tools available to create and edit them. Because of the popularity of URLs with content-creators and web-designers, our URL-based approach enables content-creators and web-designers to easily design user interfaces for appliances. However, since URLs themselves are designed to identify resources available in a network, they cannot operate appliances. Therefore, our method will enable URLs to control appliances without modifying the URL syntax. That is, the extensions are defined within the syntax of the standard URL and can be easily and naturally be embedded in the visible content.

Flash-based Control Panels for Appliances

Among them, Macromedia's Flash is an enriched document for building highly visual, interactive content and applications displayed on web browsers and is popular from content-creators, in particular web-designers. The Flash itself is developed by Macromedia but its format specification, called SWT, is open and several third parties, including free software, have offered editors for the document. Also, the document itself is independent of the underlying operating systems and hardware. The Flash runtime system is available in Windows-PC, Windows CE, and MacOS without modifying the files themselves. Macromedia and other companies provide interactive editors that allow content creators or end-users to easily edit enriched Flash documents.

The above Flash content is executable but cannot control any appliances.

The above interface is a Flash document and created by a young excellent designer, Mr. Yuji Kenmotsu (Tama Art University), by using Macromedia's Flash. For example, on the bedroom and living room icons are buttons for referring to the corresponding URL-based commands to turn the corresponding lights in these rooms on/off. When a user pushes the button allocated on the bedroom of the Flash document, the document tries to access the following URL:


The server specified as my.home.com receives an HTTP request whose URI is /bedroom/?function=light&!power=on, where ?function=light is a query about lights on the bedroom and !power=on turns the light in the bedroom on. The server controls power outlets through a commercial protocol called X10 and the lights are controlled by switching their power sources on or off, according to the X10 protocol.


We are grateful to Mr. Yuji Kenmotsu for his excellent visual design on Flash-based control panals for home appliances.

Ichiro Satoh (E-mail: ichiro@nii.ac.jp)

Ph.D, Associate Professor
National Institute of Informatics
2-1-2 Hitotsubashi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-8430 Japan
Tel: +81-3-4212-2546
Fax: +81-3-3556-1916