2015 may be year houses get smarter

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By GAO YUAN in Beijing gaoyuan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

So what’s in the stars for you next year? You’ll need a for­tuneteller to an­swer you that. But one thing’s for sure, smart tech­nol­ogy will be an even more per­va­sive pres­ence in our daily lives. Let’s take a look in our crys­tal ball and see what a nor­mal work­day morn­ing could look like five years from now.

The minute you wake up, the cur­tains au­to­mat­i­cally slide aside. By the time you’ve brushed your teeth the tele­vi­sion is ready with the lat­est episode of your fa­vorite show that you missed the night be­fore. In the kitchen, the voice-con­trolled cof­fee ma­chine turns it­self on and brews your nec­es­sary kick-start to the day.

Can’t de­cide what to wear, your wardrobe sug­gests you wear your new sweater. “You look rav­ish­ing in it. Have a fun day!” it says.

Such smart home tech­nolo­gies have al­ready got a foot in the door.

In­dus­try in­sid­ers say 2015 will wit­ness a surge in smart house­hold ap­pli­ances in China, with some pre­dict­ing it will be Year One of the smart home era.

The idea of a smart home is pretty straight­for­ward: to put chips on ev­ery ap­pli­ance and con­nect them via the In­ter­net for eas­ier op­er­a­tion. But the re­sult will be stun­ning. By link­ing an ar­ray of ap­pli­ances to the same net­work, they will be able to share data and in­ter­act with each other, dra­mat­i­cally in­creas­ing the ef­fi­ciency and con­ve­nience they pro­vide.

A juice maker that reads smart­phone data could make the ex­act-fla­vored fruit mix its owner liked at that business event. A re­frig­er­a­tor that re­ceives recipes from that juice maker will know what kind of fruit needs buy­ing and can send a mes­sage to the gro­cery store to de­liver it.

Smart con­nected de­vices de­mand in China will cre­ate a hun­dred-bil­lion-yuan mar­ket in the com­ing years, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try re­search company IDC.

The smart home and ap­pli­ances, along with de­mands for wear­able de­vices and smart cars, will be the ma­jor rev­enue provider for the emerg­ing mar­ket, the IDC said. Router bat­tle­ground The hum­ble router has spent most of its life ac­cu­mu­lat­ing dust in the cor­ner of mil­lions of Chi­nese homes, but it is set to be­come the first bat­tle ground for ear­li­est smart home gad­gets man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Af­ford­able smart­phone man­u­fac­turer Xiaomi Corp, a fast-ris­ing star in the in­dus­try, was the first ma­jor player to lunch a smart router prod­uct in China. It serves as a data stor­age de­vice and con­trol cen­ter for other ap­pli­ances with wire­less con­nec­tiv­ity.

In mid-2014, top In­ter­net se­cu­rity company Qi­hoo 360 Tech­nol­ogy Co Ltd went headto-head with Xiaomi by in­tro­duc­ing a sim­i­lar func­tioned smart router at a much cheaper price. Zhou Hongyi, co-founder of Qi­hoo, claimed the smart home kit mar­ket will be the company’s next fo­cus be­cause of the enor­mous po­ten­tial de­mand.

Len­ovo Group Ltd and Huawei Tech­nolo­gies Co Ltd, along with a dozen tech­nol­ogy startups, have also en­tered the fray.

Xu Hao, a re­searcher from Beijing-based con­sul­tancy Analysys In­ter­na­tional, said the router’s po­ten­tial as a house­hold data trans­fer hub is now the key bat­tle­ground.

“Routers are the gate­keeper be­tween the ap­pli­ances and the Web, seiz­ing con­trol of the gate­keeper will give hard­ware providers a huge ad­van­tage to sell other smart elec­tron­ics,” Xu said.

More than 580,000 smart routers were sold in the coun­try in the third quar­ter of this year, a nearly 10 per­cent in­crease com­pared to the pre­vi­ous three-month pe­riod, data from Analysys In­ter­na­tional show.

While com­pa­nies are fight­ing to be the dom­i­nant router provider, an­a­lysts be­lieve the com­pe­ti­tion will also ex­tend to TVs, air con­di­tion­ers and house­hold light­ing sys­tems this year, as some com­pa­nies start to un­veil early-stage prod­ucts.

About a month ago, Xiaomi’s air pu­ri­fier that sends real-time pol­lu­tion up­dates to its own­ers was wel­comed by buy­ers in north­ern China where chok­ing smog af­fects mil­lions. Chal­lenges ahead Liu Dong, di­rec­tor of Ac­cen­ture Plc’s Beijing lab, said the smart home mar­ket needs a tech­nol­ogy boost from the In­ter­net of Things, an emerg­ing in­dus­try fo­cused on bring­ing ob­jects such as cars and ap­pli­ances onto the In­ter­net through em­bed­ded chips.

“Sim­i­lar to other sub­mar­kets, in the In­ter­net of Things in­dus­try, the data cre­ated by house­hold ap­pli­ances will grow ex­po­nen­tially in the fu­ture. Hard­ware mak­ers will need to pro­vide added-value to their cus­tomers by telling them how the data the company ac­quires can im­prove life qual­ity,” he said.

Lo­cal hard­ware ven­dors are try­ing to pro­vide an in­creas­ingly per­son­al­ized user ex­pe­ri­ence tak­ing ad­van­tage of the per­sonal data they col­lect.

Xu Xiaoli, North­east Asia Re­gional Di­rec­tor of Eric­s­son Con­sumer Lab, said the cat­e­gory of smart home de­vices is far beyond tra­di­tional elec­tron­ics.

“Ev­ery item in our home can be a data col­lec­tor once wired with chips. Prod­ucts that can talk to their owner are the fu­ture of the smart home mar­ket,” she said.

But build­ing a well-syn­chro­nized house­hold sys­tem will take years. “The com­plex­ity is the ma­jor hur­dle sep­a­rat­ing the imag­i­na­tion and re­al­ity,” said Xu from Analysys In­ter­na­tional.

“Be­cause the smart home con­cept re­mains in its early stage, hard­ware mak­ers need more time to fig­ure out a profit model and con­sumers also need time to un­der­stand how it works,” he said.

At the mo­ment, the majority of the elec­tron­ics la­beled “smart” can sim­ply record user ac­tiv­ity data and de­duce their pref­er­ences.

For ex­am­ple, a smart TV pro­motes Ti­tanic to its au­di­ence be­cause the viewer watched Avatar. The TV knows both movies were di­rected by James Cameron. Love me, love my dog.

How­ever, what the TV does not know is its au­di­ence watched Avatar be­cause it was a sci­ence fic­tion movie; hence the viewer would have pre­ferred In­ter­stel­lar or the Star Wars se­ries.

The more user data a smart ap­pli­ance masters, the more likely it will pro­vide tai­lored ser­vices. An­a­lysts be­lieve adding ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to smart home de­vices will im­prove the qual­ity of ser­vice in the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Mike Calcagno, Mi­crosoft Corp’s di­rec­tor of en­gi­neer­ing of on­line search ser­vice, which pow­ers the company’s AI as­sis­tant project, said mak­ing ma­chines to master so­phis­ti­cated logic think­ing is one of the key ways to im­prove the user ex­pe­ri­ence.

“To make AI ac­tively re­spond to hu­man ac­tiv­ity will en­large the area of the tech­nol­ogy,” Calcagno said.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Vis­i­tors ex­am­ine smart light­ing sys­tem on dis­play at an ex­hi­bi­tion in Beijing. The smart home con­cept has taken on a ris­ing num­ber of ur­ban res­i­dents in China.

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