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Published June 26 2010

Kitchen synched

Jon Kungel stands in the kitchen, doodles his finger on the screen of his tablet-thin Apple iPad, and cover art for the Black Crowes’ “By Your Side” album appears on a 63-inch plasma TV in the great room.

Not only is his approximately 9,000-song music library at his fingertips to distribute to the various areas of his south Fargo house at will, but the security and multi-zone climate control systems are right there, too.

It’s all part of the 35-year-old businessman’s home automation system, a system that his company, Custom Cinema and Sound, sells and installs.

And there’s more. Kungel opens up the kitchen pantry to reveal a Wii game console and Blu-ray disc player on a shelf below plastic storage containers and casserole dishes. The movies and games can be distributed and played on television screens at various points in the home.

The system in Kungel’s house can be set up to control everything from door locks to security cameras to pool covers and beyond and do so via the popular and portable Apple tablet computer.

And if the 9.6-inch tall, half-inch thick iPad gets too cumbersome, the system is accessible via an iPod Touch or iPhone, both of which fit in the palm of one’s hand.

There is “a lot that’s possible,” says Jim Carroll, co-founder of Massachusetts-based Savant Systems, which produces the Apple-based, hardware-software system that forms the backbone of Kungel’s systems. “It really gets to the limitation of what people can think of, right?”

If Kungel’s home automation system sounds cool, he’s installing an even cooler setup in the home that Jason Larkin is having built in Fargo’s Osgood neighborhood. Larkin’s system will control audio, video, thermostats, blinds, the pool cover, waterfall jets, the water on the pool slide and more.

Larkin says he “made the mistake” of asking Kungel what a person can control with the systems Kungel’s company installs.

“His eyes lit up,” says Larkin, who describes himself as a “techy-gadget kind of guy.”

As long as he has Internet access, Larkin says he’ll be able to operate the controls “from anywhere in the world.”

It all sounds a little like science fiction. Carroll, who is also president of Savant Systems, says someone told him that Captain Kirk, the futuristic hero on the TV show “Star Trek,” invented this marketplace.

“You know, he sat there with his La-Z-Boy … with the remote control on the arm and a wide screen TV in front of him,” Carroll says. “He had his buttons that he could do whatever he wanted to do from that one chair: drive the ship, ward off Klingons, whatever it took, you know?”

Installing one of the systems is sure to garner your home some cool points.

“I think a lot of (the appeal) is the ‘wow’ factor,” he says.

But there is also a practical side, too. For example, the system can be set up such that the homeowners get a text hit on their mobile phone if, for example, their daughter’s security code is entered at the home. Suppose that text comes during school hours.

“She’s not supposed to be home,” Carroll says. “It’s a school day, right? What’s going on? I can then go in and look at cameras and see what’s going on.”

The system can keep an eye on the maintenance guy through security cameras even when the homeowner isn’t home. And, yes, the system can be set up to unlock the door for him.

Kungel and Carroll both say that there are also potential energy savings. For example, the air conditioning can be cut back during summer hours when no one is home and then turned back up remotely from work before the homeowner returns.

And similar adjustments could be made for colder regions like the Dakotas.

Carroll says a simple system costs a few thousand dollars plus the cost of the iPad.

“With a system like that, you can control probably a typical 2,500- to 3,500-square-foot home,” including the lighting, heat/AC, security systems, and more, he says. “So for a relatively small price tag, you can manage a typical home.”

Of course, more complex systems can get significantly more expensive.

You might think that all of this technical wizardry would come with a steep learning curve. Kungel says his 4-and-a-half-year-old daughter can’t yet read, but she can operate an iPad.

“My daughter, I can just hand this (iPad) to her, and she’s got it figured out,” he says.

Of course, perhaps there is one downside to having all this technology at home. The rest of the world just hasn’t caught up yet.

“I go to my mom’s house,” Kungel says, “and she doesn’t even have a high-def TV, and it drives me nuts, you know?”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734