Get set for smarter homes as Internet of Things takes off

LG's Hub Robot, a digital assistant powered by Amazon's Alexa software, can answer questions and make orders online. Bosch's board of management member Werner Struth introducing Kuri, a home robot assistant developed by the company's subsidiary Mayfi
Bosch's board of management member Werner Struth introducing Kuri, a home robot assistant developed by the company's subsidiary Mayfield Robotics.PHOTO: REUTERS
LG's Hub Robot, a digital assistant powered by Amazon's Alexa software, can answer questions and make orders online. Bosch's board of management member Werner Struth introducing Kuri, a home robot assistant developed by the company's subsidiary Mayfi
Samsung's QLED TV at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Thursday. The Korean electronics giant announced that every one of its TVs in 2017 will be a smart TV.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
LG's Hub Robot, a digital assistant powered by Amazon's Alexa software, can answer questions and make orders online. Bosch's board of management member Werner Struth introducing Kuri, a home robot assistant developed by the company's subsidiary Mayfi
LG's Hub Robot, a digital assistant powered by Amazon's Alexa software, can answer questions and make orders online.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Imagine fridges that can keep track of your groceries, or robots you can command to switch on the lights and give you weather updates.

If the first day of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas on Thursday was anything to go by, such Internet-connected devices and digital assistants powered by artificial intelligence could play a bigger role in homes this year.

Such devices have been a mainstay at the global tech trade show, but 2017 may be the year that connected devices, also known as the Internet of Things (IoT), cross the tipping point into being affordable and easy to use, setting the ground for smarter homes.

"This is the year IoT takes off," said Ms Tracy Tsai, research vice-president of market research firm Gartner's personal technologies team. She said improvements in technology and clearer company business models mean connected devices have become more practical and useful.

Big brand names such as Samsung, Lenovo and LG are throwing their weight behind such devices and technology.

Mr Tim Baxter, president and chief operating officer of Samsung Electronics America, said IoT is now what guides the company's "overall strategy".

LG's Hub Robot, a digital assistant powered by Amazon's Alexa software, can answer questions and make orders online. Bosch's board of management member Werner Struth introducing Kuri, a home robot assistant developed by the company's subsidiary Mayfi
Operating system DuerOS' general manager Jing Kun showing off Chinese Internet giant Baidu's home unit known as "Little Fish". PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

"We have IoT capabilities now in every home appliance category," said Mr Baxter. "Every 2017 Samsung TV will be a smart TV."

Samsung is extending a software that links fridges to the Internet to even more fridges. The software lets users connect their fridges to the Internet to keep track of groceries. It also connects users' TV sets and smartphones to their fridges.

Even everyday home objects are getting connected.

French-based start-up Kolibree unveiled a smart toothbrush, complete with artificial intelligence that analyses brushing patterns, sends the data to an app and provides recommendations on how to better brush your teeth.

Companies at CES also rolled out a number of digital assistants, which connect to the Internet and other devices, and can perform a variety of tasks - controlling lights and other appliances - by listening out for voice commands.

Chinese PC maker Lenovo unveiled its new Smart Assistant, powered by Amazon's Alexa software. The tube-like gizmo is functionally identical to Amazon's Echo home assistant device, but comes with better speakers, for one thing.

Integrating artificial intelligence into such IoT devices and solutions will make them smarter, and able to process and analyse data more intelligently, said Ms Shaily Shah, an IoT research manager at IDC.

Manufacturers are also finding ways to fit voice-activated digital assistants into robots.

German engineering and electronics company Bosch announced a robot assistant, named Kuri, developed by its United States-based subsidiary, Mayfield Robotics.

The 50cm, oval-shaped home companion robot is equipped with cameras as its "eyes" and is fitted with microphones and speakers. It can roll around the house to keep track of children.

South Korean electronics firm LG also unveiled a digital robot assistant, the Hub Robot. Powered by Amazon's Alexa, it can be connected to other devices, so users can control other smart home appliances with just one robot. It can also answer questions and make orders online.

These products may hit the market this year, but it may be a while before consumers replace all items in their home with smart devices.

"It is likely that consumers will slowly integrate IoT into their homes, but they will be unlikely to upgrade their homes all at once. This process will likely take another two to three years," said Mr Tim Chuah, associate director for automation and electronics at Frost and Sullivan Asia-Pacific.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2017, with the headline 'Get set for smarter homes as Internet of Things takes off'. Print Edition | Subscribe