THE RIGHT CON­NEC­TION

Kohler is us­ing IoT so­lu­tions to al­low home­own­ers to run in­te­grated kitchen and bath­room sys­tems with voice com­mand and mo­tion con­trol

Portfolio - - IMPRESSION - BY VIC­TOR CHEN

In­ten­tion­ally ubiq­ui­tous and un­ob­tru­sive, mod­ern tech­nol­ogy deeply per­me­ates our lives, of­ten in­sin­u­at­ing it­self in ar­eas where we least ex­pect it. In re­cent years, smart home de­vices have be­come the com­mon in­ter­face be­tween us and our daily rou­tines, from lis­ten­ing to world news, to con­nect­ing with peers, and ac­com­plish­ing a va­ri­ety of tasks, that it has some­how be­come unimag­in­able to func­tion with­out them.

Ms. An­gel Yang, pres­i­dent for Kitchen and Bath APAC at Kohler Co., ac­knowl­edges the im­por­tant role of tech­nol­ogy in ev­ery­day life, and how it has now be­come es­sen­tial to “bridge the gap be­tween au­ton­omy and de­sign by mak­ing homes more tech-savvy with­out com­pro­mis­ing style.” She is at the right place and time to be talk­ing about high-level de­sign and tech­nol­ogy in­te­gra­tion for homes, specif­i­cally for kitchens and bath­rooms, with the launch of the Kohler De­sign Ex­pe­ri­ence (KEC).

Since Septem­ber 2017, KEC Sin­ga­pore – the first in the Asia Pa­cific re­gion and one of seven world­wide – has been pro­vid­ing de­sign pro­fes­sion­als and con­sumers with an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence of the en­tire range of Kohler bath­room and kitchen sys­tems, al­low­ing them to ob­serve at close range how tech­nol­ogy has im­proved not only the func­tion­ing of each in­di­vid­ual prod­uct, but also how the in­tro­duc­tion of con­nec­tiv­ity has em­pow­ered them to de­liver an en­hanced and seam­less per­for­mance.

In­te­grated High-Tech So­lu­tions

Kohler Kon­nect, ex­plains Ms. Yang, uses ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy such as au­to­matic speech recog­ni­tion (ASR) to re­ceive, process and ex­e­cute spo­ken com­mands au­to­mat­i­cally. For ex­am­ple, this al­lows a con­sumer to in­struct a vir­tual as­sis­tant to run the bath vir­tu­ally

– at the right wa­ter tem­per­a­ture – us­ing an em­bed­ded tech­nol­ogy.

Kohler’s in­ter­nal tech­nol­ogy team de­vel­ops the IoT tech­nol­ogy on which the prod­ucts run. “We work with dif­fer­ent plat­forms to ac­ti­vate the sys­tem de­pend­ing on where our prod­ucts are used; in the US, we are on Ama­zon, and in China we are on Baidu.” In Sin­ga­pore, the team is cur­rently ex­plor­ing a few can­di­dates for a plat­form on which they can work.

“The whole so­lu­tion (tech­nol­ogy) is a long jour­ney, but it is one that is a ma­jor fo­cus for de­vel­op­ment. We need to get the tech­nolo­gies con­nected, and more im­por­tantly, we need to get them con­nect to real peo­ple’s lives – so that they will dra­mat­i­cally im­prove.” Tech­nolo­gies’ pen­e­tra­tion of peo­ple lives is cus­tom­ized and highly per­son­al­ized, M. Yang says. With it, one feels “very com­fort­able to go home or to be home. Ev­ery­thing in your home is set ac­cord­ing to your per­sonal choice: When you wake up in the morn­ing and you go to the bath­room, the light set­ting is pre-set ac­cord­ing to your pref­er­ence”.

Most im­por­tantly, tech­nol­ogy must be easy to use, Ms. Yang points out. “Some peo­ple like to use apps on their mo­bile phone, so we de­vel­oped an app, Kohler Kon­nect, that peo­ple can use to con­trol their bath­room sys­tems through voice com­mand, hands-free mo­tion con­trol, and per­son­al­ized pre­sets. They can down­load the apps on both iOS and An­droid plat­forms.”

Har­ness Growth In Asia

Kohler, a 145-year-old US com­pany, has about 300,000 em­ploy­ees and over 50 man­u­fac­tur­ing sites world­wide. Among its fo­cus is to har­ness growth out­side the US, par­tic­u­larly in Asia. “At Kohler, we pro­vide thought­ful de­sign and tech­nolo­gies that of­fer con­ve­nience and func­tion­al­ity to en­rich the lives of our con­sumers, mak­ing bathing and cook­ing more ful­fill­ing for ev­ery dis­cern­ing cus­tomer,” says Ms. Yang.

Since show­ing the en­tire Kohler Smart Home So­lu­tion suite to de­sign­ers and con­sumers, Ms. Yang con­firms re­ceiv­ing a lot of in­ter­est from prop­erty de­vel­op­ers. Con­nec­tiv­ity is a fea­ture among new, high-end res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ments in Sin­ga­pore, she points out, adding that they are ready to sup­ply the prod­ucts that will work with them. Other mar­kets in the re­gion may be slower in ac­cept­ing lead­ing-edge tech­nol­ogy in­te­gra­tion, but Sin­ga­pore as a leader in smart tech­nol­ogy is ready for it.

Ms. Yang also be­lieves be­ing in Sin­ga­pore is im­por­tant for the brand’s growth. She cites Sin­ga­pore as a hub for de­sign in Asia, where in­ter­na­tional de­sign tal­ents have set up shop. The pro­ject may be in Viet­nam or In­done­sia, or even as far as the US and UK, but of­ten there is par­tic­i­pa­tion from de­sign prac­tice based here, she em­pha­sizes. “The num­ber of projects and the pop­u­la­tion may be small com­pared to other coun­tries, but Sin­ga­pore is the place that a lot of other mar­kets are watch­ing.” Kohler’s South­east Asia head­quar­ter is in Sin­ga­pore, where an en­tire func­tional team serves the needs of spec­i­fiers and cus­tomers.

De­vel­op­ers, ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers are the key fo­cus of the KEC, what with its range of tech­ni­cal dis­plays, but con­sumers are def­i­nitely wel­come to walk in and go through the in­ter­ac­tive dis­plays, Ms. Yang re­it­er­ates. “In terms of re­tail, Kohler prod­ucts are avail­able in the out­lets of our re­tail part­ners, but we wel­come con­sumers to come here. If you fol­low our so­cial me­dia, for ex­am­ple, our Face­book posts, you will find a lot of in­ter­ac­tive and in­for­ma­tive posts – the rea­son is we want to get con­nected to the cus­tomers.”

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