‘Smart’ tech goes from zany to brainy at CES
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich rides a segway

‘Smart’ tech goes from zany to brainy at CES

With many new innovations still being ‘conceptual prototype’ level, where is the smart money on ‘smart’ technologies this year? We looked at the latest goods coming out of CES, and what it all means for the Internet of Things.

Fortunately, we are at the zenith of new development and innovation in smart home, smart cities, wearables and all forms of mobile computing. Unfortunately, we are also at the peak of the hype cycle for many of these technologies, as has been evidenced by some of the zanier so-called ‘Proof of Concept’ developments that are coming to the fore.

So where are we being too conceptual and where are the winners and losers? The recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas is always a good industry barometer; so let’s dip our toes in.

Smart mat, for dummies

In the new world of connected devices, the term ‘smart mat’ means more than just one thing. Firstly, it’s a smart yoga mat to help inform would-be tantric gurus as to whether their feet posture and spinal curve ratio is up to standard. Apparently 5,000-years of ancient teaching needs updating with a new mat and an accompanying app. Gandhi wouldn’t approve, surely.

For those of us incapable of telling whether our ketchup bottles are empty or not, another new smart mat promises to alert us when we might need to restock on the world’s favourite condiment.  All the user needs to do it place the ketchup bottle on the smart mat and hey presto! It’s, er, full, or it’s not.

The technology also works for bottles of milk and other ‘difficult to comprehend’ household food items.

For those of us living in zero gravity, this innovation will clearly be a positive boon. Sarcasm-aside, the application of these technologies for the disabled could well be amazing.

CES 2016 also saw the introduction of a new ‘fridge cam’ to allow a remote user to log in and check on what shopping they might need. Once again, the application of these ‘innovations’ for the physically impaired makes much more sense.

A divide across the pond

So smart home development is growing like never before, but there is an imbalance. Penetration of home security monitoring systems, Internet-enabled camera doorbells such as the new ‘Ring’ product and connected home heating (and cooling) systems (such as Hive from British Gas) have been more widespread in Europe than the USA until now, but the trend is starting to be redressed.

Difficult to read and pronounce but easy to use might well be the slogan for AutonomouStuff. The automotive development platform company is working to advance autonomous driving by providing new platform components that quickly enable vehicle automation. This includes the vehicle, 3D perception sensors like LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), radar, cameras and some smart middleware software.

The firm’s USP hinges around the fact that its PolySync middleware is an automotive focused software platform that pulls together millions of data points from multiple perception sensors a second for safety. Testing out a self-driving car isn’t so much a question of kicking the tyres anymore; it’s more a question of asking the salesman how many middleware-enabled multiple perception sensors the machine has, right?

Internet of snowboarding

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich used the CES show to announce a series of collaborations with other industry brands that will use technology and data analytics to benefit people’s overall health, fitness and athletic performance. The chipmaker announced plans to work with ESPN and Red Bull Media House to design Intel-powered solutions for athletes

According to Krzanich, “The tiny low power Intel Curie module will be integrated into the Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle and Men’s Snowboard Big Air competitions to provide real-time data on athlete performance such as in-air rotations, jump height, jump distance, speed and force on landing. This access to new data will provide athletes with greater insights into their performance, provide additional metrics for on-air analysts, and change the fan experience both at home and in the stands.”

BBC News has already lauded Huawei for doing well at CES this year; the firm’s shares have skipped upwards despite the market being particularly unstable overall. The South Korean firm’s Consumer Business Group launched the Huawei Mate 8 smartphone, a productivity-driven device with enhanced power, efficiency and battery life.

Samsung cements fridge to centre of kitchen

Samsung Electronics brought it back home with a new refrigeration category that, “cements the refrigerator’s position as the centre of the kitchen,” apparently. While this sounds somewhat inconvenient, the firm insists that it has strongly reinvigorated the home appliance space with fresh thinking and functionality that have taken appliances from a ‘need’ to a ‘want’. No, actually, most of all did actually ‘need’ fridges in the first place, but thanks for the innovation anyway.

Samsung Electronics America senior VP and general manager for home appliances John Herrington explained that his firm’s new Family Hub Refrigerator would transform the communal kitchen experience.

Herrington’s comments come on the back this explanatory statement from the firm, “From more efficiently managing your groceries, to identifying foods you have or need, to tracking product expiration dates to cut down on waste, the Family Hub is your go-to resource to keep your kitchen fully stocked. In a revolutionary advancement in refrigerator technology, three high quality cameras inside the fridge capture an image every time the door closes. You can then access those images anytime using your smartphone and take a peek inside your fridge. Even if you’re at the store and forget to check on what you need for dinner that night, you can easily pull up the Samsung Smart Home app and have a look right into your Family Hub fridge.”

Ojas Rege, vice president of strategy at enterprise mobility services company MobileIron spoke to Internet of Business in line with this story. Rege agrees that many Internet of Things and smart technologies will continue to be mostly experimental in 2016.

“Every vendor will claim to do it, but very few will describe what ‘it’ actually is, let alone its use in a work environment,” he said.

But Rege argues that one subset of IoT, smartwatches, will start achieving its potential in 2016.

“The first generation of simple, low-value extension apps will be replaced by a second generation, that truly take advantage of new designs and methods of interaction. A compelling model, which allows users to consume small chunks of information in a hurry, will emerge for work as well as home,” he said.

He concludes by highlighting the successful adoption of the Apple Watch… and the launch of the Apple Watch 2 predicted in Q2 2016.

“Many professionals will likely expect to start using wearables as part of their jobs in the coming year. This could present a series of challenges for IT departments in managing the introduction of another connected device into the workplace, when many are yet to successfully integrate mobile devices.”

Smart tech is weird and wonderful

CES 2016 then, as expected, runs the full gamut of innovation types. From the zany prototype Proof of Concepts to the brainier applied real-world use case scenarios. The key, one suspects, is to feature a little of both on your smart technologies smörgåsbord as we now go forward.