CES 2018: Smart home tech trends you need to know

Nanoleaf light panels and its HomeKit-compatible dodecahedron remote.
Nanoleaf

From massive TV displays to robots of all stripes, there’s no shortage of eye-popping moments at CES, the annual trade show for the latest and greatest in consumer tech, automotives, and beyond. But the most memorable moment for me at this year’s event, which wrapped up last Friday, came from an unexpectedly poignant tour of the iHome booth.

Introduced in 2005, iHome made its name with bedside docking stations for iPods, predating today’s smart home tech with a handy device that combined clock-radio, charging, and speaker functions into one. I owned an iHome iPod-docking clock-radio throughout college and loved it.

Walking through the iHome booth in 2018, I was struck (and dizzied) by the sheer breadth of products the company now made. In addition to aromatherapy diffusers and vanity mirrors—both with built-in Bluetooth speakers—iHome’s bedside lineup also includes models offering wireless charging, models with an integrated charging perch for the Apple Watch, and, inevitably, models with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant built in. What? When did this all happen?

iHome’s Alexa and Google Assistant-enabled devices were designed in collaboration with Amazon and Google.
iHome
Though they retain the basic and very useful digital clock feature, along with a physical snooze button.
iHome

The answer is, of course, just in these last couple of years. That’s the state of home tech now, where everything in the house—whether we’re ready for it or not—seems to be embracing not only wireless connectivity but also services powered by artificial intelligence.

The vehicle for this vision of the smart home could be those new-age iHome devices that package AI assistants into a more traditional, less intimidating alarm clock exterior. Or it could be familiar smart speakers, like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, which everyone has already been receiving as holiday gifts. Or it could be your usual appliances that will just all run on AI.

In fact, Samsung announced at CES that it’s aiming to make all its products not only internet-connected by 2020 but also “intelligent”, via its smart voice assistant Bixby (Yup, Alexa and co. have a new friendcompetitor).

Indeed, the biggest takeaway on the smart home front is that it still feels like only the beginning. Tech companies are finding so many ways to deliver the connected smart home that it seems likely to find us one way or another, eventually.

Below, take a look at a few specific and provocative smart home trends and products that may be widely relevant sooner than later.

Fully wireless kitchen

This compact kitchen from Urbaneer features wireless charging countertops.
Jenny Xie

One of the most “futuristic” yet timely technologies I came across was this wireless kitchen developed by Michigan-based startup Urbaneer with small spaces in mind. We’ve been tracking wireless charging furniture for a while, but this kitchen design amps up the technology and in a practical way. Compatible appliances charge and run right on the countertops, so that those surfaces become a cooktop when needed and free counter space the rest of the time.

A wireless kitchen would also cut down on cords in the kitchen, especially important near sinks. The kitchen “island” shown in the photo above sits on wheels for extra flexibility. Everything in the exhibit, from the wireless countertops to the Philips and Haier devices that work with them, are actually already on the market.

Smarter home deliveries

A look at how August Access works.
August

Last fall, Walmart and Amazon triggered a collective shudder when they announced in-home delivery services that use smart locks and security cameras to let couriers into your house while you monitor the process remotely via an app. Well, brace yourselves for more of that.

At CES, major smart lock maker August, which partnered with Walmart for its in-home delivery pilot, announced it’s opening up the service (now called August Access) to the broad network of retailers that work with same-day delivery startup Deliv.

One of those planter boxes is not like the other.
BoxLock

A more consumer-facing solution for this so-called “last mile delivery” challenge comes from BoxLock, a startup that makes an internet-connected security padlock geared towards residential deliveries. BoxLock Home, compatible with all major shipping carriers and any locking storage container, opens only after a package is scanned and verified. The product is currently accepting preorders for $99 on Indiegogo.

Next-level “remote controls”

Nanoleaf

Physical remote controls aren’t going away in the smart home. They’re just shifting shapes. At last year’s CES, I was fascinated by the plethora of startups making products that boil smart home control down to the press of literal buttons. Those companies, like Flic and Senic, are still around and growing, adding new integrations for smart lights, speakers, thermostats, and more.

Another interesting approach to tactile smart home control comes from Nanoleaf, which makes modular, internet-connected light panels. This year, the company debuted the Nanoleaf Remote, a palm-sized dodecahedron that works with Apple HomeKit. Each of the remote’s dozen sides can be programmed to launch a different command, be it a specific lighting scene created by the panels or settings for any HomeKit-compatible device, from locks and cameras to outlets and fans.

And then there’s Talon, a $129 smart ring that lets you, among other things, turn on the light with a wave of your hand.

Using data for better sleep and health

Sleep creates a lot of data, as seen in this app-view of Sleep Number’s SleepIQ technology.
Sleep Number

From smart alarm clocks to a breathing sleep robot you can cuddle with, sleep tech was back with a flourish at CES 2018—”the ideas are moving faster than the research” is how the Verge puts it. While it’s still too early to tell if any particular solution will be life-changing, the big-picture tease in this space is the vision that the massive amount of biometric data being collected—whether via fitness trackers or smart beds—can help improve personal and public health.

Smart bed maker Sleep Number, for example, analyzes billions of biometric data points in its SleepIQ platform (separated from personal info data, of course) every night and claims the technology can one day predict medical conditions like sleep apnea or a heart attack, monitor patient recovery, and identify flus and epidemics as they spread.

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