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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Smarten up the home: technological innovations that will shape the way we live

AI and the Internet of Things are reshaping how we live at home – everything from watching TV on the fridge to telling the bed to make itself

The Dialog Oven by Miele. Courtesy Miele
The Dialog Oven by Miele. Courtesy Miele

You arrive at your front door after a long day at the office. You don’t need to worry about finding your keys – you just stamp a special code on to your doormat with your feet and the door swings open.

The temperature in your home will already be at optimum, since your AC has been alerted to your impending arrival and switched itself on.

You’ll call out and ask your AI butler to dim the lights, play your favourite song and order you apizza meal. And then you’ll sink into your sofa, which is modular and, using an app, can be arranged into a number of different configurations.

Welcome to your future home.

The 2017 edition of IFA, the world’s largest consumer electronics fair, took place in Berlin earlier this week and offered a fascinating snapshot of how many of us will be living in the not-too-distant future. The overriding message is that our homes are set to get smarter and smarter, while we get lazier and lazier.

Wires will become almost entirely redundant; TVs will become ever more connected (not to mention slimmer and brighter, with even better sound quality); things like such as Google Assistant and Alexa will be ubiquitous; and artificial intelligence will do a lot of the thinking for you.

It starts at your front door. Unveiled at IFA 2017, the new Somfy Connected Doorlock app allows you to use your smartphone or a special chip card to lock and unlock your door. Every time someone enters or leaves your house, you’ll receive an alert, so you’ll know straight away if there’s been a break-in.

You’ll also be able to give friends and neighbours automatic access to your home – so you’ll never need to leave a spare key under that flowerpot again. These access permissions can be changed or deleted at any time.

Next up, the kitchen, which is a veritable hotbed of innovative activity. During the show, Panasonic unveiled a prototype of its “collaborative kitchen”, which comes with an AI advisor that will assist you with your cooking by suggesting recipes, and accessing and imparting advice from professional chefs.

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Already on the market is the June Intelligent Oven, which uses a camera to look at the food you’re cooking and determine how best to cook it. The internal HD camera, coupled with Food ID technology, automatically identifies a variety of foods before selecting the correct Adaptive Preset Cook program and cooking your food according to your preferences.

If you’d like to be more hands-on, an iOS app allows you to control your oven from your phone; you can watch your food being cooked and be notified when your meal is ready to be served.

German appliance maker Miele presented its interpretation of an intelligent oven at IFA. The premise is similar – an oven that you can communicate with and that will adapt itself to the task at hand – but the way it cooks is slightly different.

Due to go on sale in October 2018 next year, the Dialog Oven cooks food using a mixture of electromagnetic waves, traditional radiant heat and a convection fan, which, according to Miele, is a faster and gentler way to prepare your food. The electromagnetic waves are also used to monitor the texture, temperature and readiness of your food, and will adjust accordingly.

Fridges are also becoming increasingly intelligent. First uUnveiled last year (with a 2.0 version introduced in January), the Samsung Family Hub promises to centralise your food management, as well as help you organise and connect with the rest of the family. There are ten 10 different refrigerator models, in various sizes, equipped with these new functions.

The Family Hub fridge. Courtesy Samsung
The Family Hub fridge. Courtesy Samsung

One of the fridge doors features a 21.5-inch LED touchscreen, where you can create shopping lists (which can be shared with family members if it’s their turn to go to the storehops) and keep track of expiry notifications. Three interior cameras allow you to look inside your fridge from wherever you are – and images of items that need to be replenished can be immediately added to the Shopping List feature.

You’re able to create and share calendars, transforming your fridge into a centralised, digital bulletin board for the entire family, while also checking the weather and asking for the time, using voice commands if preferred. But, the handiest feature, in our book, is the ability to mirror whatever is playing on your Samsung TV on to your fridge door, so you’ll no longer have to pause, or miss out, when you pop into the kitchen for a mid-movie snack refill.

If doing the laundry is your least favourite household task, Panasonic has something in the pipeline for you. The brand used IFA as a platform to unveil a prototype of its Sustainable Maintainer, an intelligent system set to revolutionise laundry day.

The maintainer will automatically identify material types and apparel manufacturers, and chooses the optimum washing cycle appropriate for dirt levels. Users just place dirty clothes on a shelf, from where they’re whisked into the built-in washing machine, dried and folded by robotic arms.

Smart Nora is the first contact-free snoring solution. Courtesy Nora
Smart Nora is the first contact-free snoring solution. Courtesy Nora

In the bedroom, meanwhile, technology is being used to facilitate a perfect night’s sleep. Hailed as the world’s first contact-free snoring solution, the Smart Nora consists of a pillow insert, paired with a pebble- like device that is attached to your head board and a box-like case that should be placed next to your bed.

Offering a 100 per cent money back guarantee, the device uses sensors to detect the sound of snoring and will vibrate gently to shift the snorer’s sleeping position. This changes the positioning of the sleeper’s airways and stops them snoring.

After a good night of (snore-free) sleep, your bed will make itself with the Smart Duvet. The system consists of a simple, breathable, lightweight, inflatable sheet that’s positioned between your duvet and duvet cover. This, in turn, is connected to an air blower that’s small enough to be concealed under your bed. When you activate the Smartduvet, the sheet’s air chamber is filled – miraculously shifting your duvet back into place.

The Smartduvet connects to your smartphone, with an app that allows you to preset a different bed-making time each day (meaning you can easily allow for a sleep-in on the weekends). Next month, an updated version of the product will be released, allowing you to control the temperature of your bed, preheating or cooling it ahead of time, to ensure conditions are optimum when you slip between the sheets.

In living rooms, meanwhile, expect AI butlers to become ubiquitous. “Robots are arriving in your house, and they’re going to know a lot about you,” joked IFA co-organiser Roland Stehle during the show.

Tech titans Google and Amazon have now both launched intelligent personal assistants, with Alexa and Google Assistant on hand to help wherever they can. Making an appearance at IFA 2017 was Sanbot Nano, a home assistant robot equipped with Amazon’s Alexa. The intelligent, cloud-enabled robot offers smart home control and remote monitoring capabilities, and will be available for purchasestarting in October by next month.

The Sanbot Nano. Courtesy Sanbot
The Sanbot Nano. Courtesy Sanbot

Sanbot Nano stands at 78 centimetres tall and is equipped with over50 sensors to avoid objects in its way, recognise voices and know when someone enters the room. It can also order pizza, request a car, track fitness stats, control your TV, play music from your streaming provider and so on. It will pair with smart home devices to control lights, thermostats and appliances, while allowing allowingyou to live-stream video.

Whether or not the Sanbot Nano will take the place of canines as man’s new best friend remains to be seen, but we wouldn’t bet against it. Either way, expect robots, smart appliances, intelligent pillows and a whole host of other technological innovations in a home near you, sooner rather than later.