Microwave Clothes Dryers May Recast Laundry Room

A MICROWAVE clothes dryer, which could prove to be as revolutionary in the laundry room as the microwave oven has been in the kitchen, may be commercially available as early as 1996, according to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, Calif.

The dryer offers significant advantages in speed and efficiency over standard dryers, says John Kesselring, manager of residential systems for EPRI, which is developing the dryer.

The new machines are about 25 percent more energy-efficient than conventional dryers; prototype microwave dryers for the home can dry normal loads 20 percent faster than conventional dryers and commercial microwave dryers 60 percent faster; and drying temperatures are significantly lower - about 95 degrees F compared with 110-160 degrees F for conventional dryers.

Lower temperatures mean that shrinkage and fabric wear are reduced, and some delicate fabrics that usually need to be dry cleaned can be washed by hand and dried in a microwave dryer.

Microwave drying differs fundamentally from conventional drying, Mr. Kesselring says. In standard dryers, the air is heated to about 320 degrees F and blown into a drum. As the heat is transferred from the air to the surface of the wet clothing, the clothes are heated directly, evaporating the water.

In a microwave dryer, however, microwaves target the water molecules clinging to the clothes rather than the fabric molecules, he says. The clothes themselves hardly heat up. The dryer can be plugged into a standard electrical outlet.

So far, EPRI has spent more than $1 million on the project, Kesselring says. The research is funded by the Electric Utility Industry, a consortium of national utilities. EPRI is still looking for a manufacturer, but says it it is planning a 12-month nationwide test on both its home-use and commercial models beginning in June.

While no price has been set, Kesselring says the dryer would have to retail for less than $1,000 to be attractive to consumers. Commercial-free TV tapes just ahead?

TV viewers can say goodbye to commercials on programs they have taped, thanks to new technology. The new system, brand-named Commercial Free, uses a special videocassette recorder to automatically eliminate commercials from a taped program.

Jerry Iggulden, president of Invention Management Associates in Encino, Calif., and developer of the Commercial-Free technology, says it is likely to be incorporated into VCRs by 1995 or 1996 and will add less than $60 to a VCR's retail price.

The technology uses software and a microprocessor that review the tape for certain video and audio features that occur at the beginning and end of each commercial - such as black frames, cuts or fades to black, and low-sound energy. While most television programs have one or two black frames separating scenes, TV commercials may have as many as 10.

When the VCR has finished recording, the software reviews the program to determine which video and audio patterns are commercial breaks based on timing and frequency. The software ``time stamps'' the commercial breaks with an identification code and stores them in memory. This creates a ``playback map'' that instructs the VCR to scan over the commercials. When the software detects a commercial, a blue-field is displayed on the TV screen for about five seconds as the machine automatically fast-forwards through the commercials.

When asked how broadcasters and advertisers might react to Commercial-Free technology, Iggulden says: ``The real problem for the advertising industry and broadcasters is not Commercial-Free technology, it's the fact that people hate commercials.'' When commercials are no longer ``a problem,'' he says, then the technology will no longer be necessary.

For now, Arista Technologies Inc. of Hauppauge, N.Y., will manufacture and market the technology as an add-on device called ``Commercial Brake,'' a box that sits on top of the VCR. Commercial Brake will be on the market by May, Iggulden says.

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