How the smart, connected home is evolving from the manually-controlled use of tech to artificially-intelligent home automation.
The smart home is more ubiquitous than ever. Merely a decade ago, the idea of controlling different aspects of your living quarters with your voice, or through your mobile phone, would have seemed like a concept from the distant future. Now, the average person is using technology to improve their lives in their home on a daily basis, promoting an easier, cleaner and healthier living.
From smart air purifiers to artificially-intelligent vacuum bots that can map your room and hoover it efficiently at a time when you’re not around, our abodes are only getting smarter, and we’re not just talking about an app that can control your lights. The smart, connected home is shifting from the manually-controlled use of tech to AI-driven home automation.
And it’s only becoming more omnipresent. Networking hardware company Cisco says connected home applications, security and video surveillance will represent nearly half (46%) of total M2M connections by 2021. So if you’ve not already got your fingers on the beating pulse of home innovation, here’s how you can take your house into the future, and what we can expect to see in the coming years.
Clean as a whistle
Alongside the current “cleanfluencers” cleaning trend, recent research from robot vacuum company Neato Robotics revealed that Brits are taking new routes to cleaner homes for greater peace of mind by incorporating AI into everyday cleaning.
One such way is through super smart robotic vacuum cleaners. Last year, sales of these devices surged almost 10 percent, and are expected to grow even more in the coming years, thanks to their growing intelligence. Take Roomba’s latest iRobot s9+, for instance. Bundled with a new automatic dirt disposal feature, this voice-controlled, smart vacuum not only remembers a home’s floor plan and cleans specific rooms you can name using an attached app, but also automatically empties itself so you literally never get your hands dirty.
If you live in compact quarters and can’t really warrant splurging on luxury bots designed to clean an entire home, you can still get a helping hand from AI in the form of the CleanseBot. This neat device boasts 18 built-in sensors to blast away almost all germs and bacteria on any surface. Just switch it on and it’ll work its magic, sanitising and disinfecting anything from worktops to bed sheets in 30 minutes, all while you get on with something more important.
And when it comes to cleaning yourself, nothing is more intelligent than the bathroom tech from Kohler Konnect. Its DTV+ showering system allows you to create presets for sound, water, steam, and lighting and then activate these experiences through voice control. Another growing trend in self-sanitation is super smart toilet seats. Take Omigo, for example. This high-tech toilet seat replacement that aims to bring Japan to your bathroom and keep you cleaner than traditional methods while also being better for the environment. In terms of tech, there’s a night light with a soft illuminating blue light that greets you if you need to go in the middle of the night, a heated seat that can be warmed to the temperature of your preference and an activated carbon filter deodoriser.
Keeping the home clean isn’t just a job of dusting those hard-to-reach crevices. Clean air is just as important. Being invisible, we often forget about the pollutants and allergens air can contain, which are detrimental to our health. If you’re a city dweller, or living by a road, you’re more at risk. This was recognised by the Government earlier this year when it launched its Clean Air strategy 2019 to improve air quality in the UK. And while you think you’re escaping it in the house, think again - dodgy gases can easily become trapped in your abode. Thankfully, we don’t have to walk around in gas masks 24/7, but there are more subtle innovations out there to help make our living environments cleaner and safer than ever.
Dyson’s latest Pure Hot+Cool fan is perhaps the best example of AI at work when it comes to purification. This nifty bit of kit captures trapped gases in the home, ridding it of 99.95 percent of harmful ultrafine particles, all while either heating or cooling the room at the same time so it can be used year-round. And because it can both heat and cool as the name suggests, it can blow its way through winter as well as the warmer months with the ability to warn users of the number of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the air. It then detects and eradicates them on the spot. Spray a deodorant can, for example, or leave the window open during rush hour, and you can literally watch it clean the air around you.
In the future, perhaps this will evolve to be built into your windows or air vents and automatically controlled in the cloud so you don’t even need to think about it.
Can’t cook, won’t cook
According to the latest figures, the global AI-enabled kitchen appliances market is anticipated to reach revenues of more than $600 million (£475m) by 2024, growing by more than 49% during 2018-2024.
Leading vendors, especially of the Korean flavour such as Samsung and LG, are taking note of this and in recent years, have invested in AI enabled smart appliances which will attract the maximum number of consumers in the global market. Think connected refrigerators that tell you when you’re out of milk, clever ovens that know when your pasta bake is cooked before you do, and voice-activated dishwashers. But the level of AI in such appliances isn’t exactly earth-shattering.
Besides from doing the cooking for you, it could be argued that there’s a limit to the level of smart that these sorts of kitchen appliances can get. So what can we expect next? IBM could have the answer. Earlier this year, the tech giant revealed it’s also en route to developing tech that billions of home cooks can use to detect dangerous contaminants in their food. Using a cell phone or a countertop with AI sensors, IBM showed off a prototype where portable AI sensors can detect foodborne pathogens within produce.
“These mobile bacteria sensors could dramatically increase the speed of a pathogen test from days to seconds,” IBM said. “Allowing individuals up and down the food chain to detect the existence of harmful E. coli or Salmonella before it becomes an outbreak.”
Let machines entertain you
At the moment, automation in entertainment tech is pretty stagnant. In the last few years, we’ve seen the explosion of voice-activated TVs and speakers with personal assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, which serve as a control panel for your entire home, from music playback, lighting, heating, and the ability to turn any plug socket on or off. At first, this felt like a bit of a novelty. “Will people actually talk to their tech and tell it what they wanted it to do?” Many were dubious but eventually proven wrong. Amazon’s Alexa-controlled devices really took off and became a serious hit with the masses. By the end of 2018, 57 million Americans were smart speaker users.
While these devices are clever, they still have plenty of potential growth. According to CTOi Consulting, the utility of personal assistants will not be confined just to understanding what users want and even engage in everyday conversation. The real potential of personal assistants will lie in automating many day-to-day tasks and operating across all of a user’s electronic touch points, including connected cars, laptops, tablets and even public computers after the user has signed in, as well as IoT devices in the home and the TV itself.
Perhaps the secret for success with these innovations will lie in the ability of personal assistants to learn and become attuned to the preferences and habits of the user, with the real innovation happening in the AI and machine learning software behind the scenes.
“Static technology such as lighting fixtures, keypads and televisions could become more flexible in their configuration as a result, allowing them to be moved around when redesigning a room as simple as hanging a painting,” the report states.
“Motorised panels, hidden technology, in-wall audio-visual equipment and biodynamic lighting could all help transform single-purpose rooms into areas useful for multiple activities.”
So, think retractable roofs, windows and walls could go one step further, bridging indoor and outdoor areas in order to maximise the amount of space available to occupants, as populations increase and our homes become more compact.
“Getting rid of screens in favour of interactive touch interfaces on windows and turning walls and tables into interactive touchscreens have long been science-fiction dreams,” it adds.
Although there is no sign yet that this will become a reality anytime soon, Sony has experimented with portable projectors that can display touch screens onto walls, floors or tables. Then there’s adaptive glass, which adjusts window tint to manage glare, heat intake and sunlight, which would help to make our dwellings more comfortable and energy efficient. This technology has already been adopted by San Francisco airport and could potentially be adapted for residential buildings in the near future.
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