New fight over how to connect smart devices

SMART MIRROR: An exhibitor plots a route on the BMW Connected Mirror at CES on Friday in Nevada. The concept also allows a user to view his schedule for the day or instruct a car to park itself, among other things.


    Jan 11, 2016

    New fight over how to connect smart devices

    THE battle to be at the centre of your digital life has taken on a new dimension amid a proliferation of connected devices.

    After smartphone wars, browser wars and platform wars, a fight is on to be the “hub” which connects the millions of connected objects,<WC1> from light bulbs to wearables to washing machines.

    At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) which concluded on Saturday, the contenders included robots, televisions, speaker hubs and even wearable trackers powered by artificial intelligence. And the connected car raced into the mix.

    South Korea’s LG unveiled its Smart ThinQ home hub, a speaker that lets a user communicate with and get alerts from connected appliances, security systems and even talk to cars.

    This allows the smart home and connected car to communicate with each other. And it can connect with older appliances with attachable sensors.

    It uses an open platform that can connect with devices using Google Nest, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and more.

    Samsung announced its TVs will act as command centres in smart homes by incorporating technology from Silicon Valley start-up SmartThings, which Samsung bought in 2014, allowing them to control devices synced to the platform.

    Chinese electronics giant Haier unveiled its Ubot personal assistant robot – a near-humanoid gadget which can control home appliances.

    Said Haier’s Kristen Smith: “He’s like a personal assistant who can turn on your TV and all your appliances and when you’re not home, he helps with surveillance.

    “The ultimate goal is to simplify your life, to take care of the things you worry about.”

    Segway, which is owned by China’s Ninebot, unveiled a personal transporter which morphs into a cute robotic personal assistant.

    The robot, made in collaboration with Intel and China’s Xiaomi, is open to developers, which could add on applications for security, entertainment or other activities.

    After riding it, the device sprouts arms and can navigate and interact with users with its sensors and artificial intelligence. It is expected to be commercialised later this year.

    More whimsically, Chinese startup UBTech Robotics unveiled Alpha 2, a prototype personal assistant humanoid which can respond and entertain.

    Said UBTech’s Jessica Pan: “You can talk to him and he will answer. He can give you the weather.” 

    The innovations at the show underscore the progress being made in computing and artificial intelligence, which can unleash new innovations.

    Israeli-based start-up OrCam, for example, unveiled a wearable artificial intelligence clip-on camera which “acts like a personal assistant, like Siri or Cortana, but with eyes and ears”, said OrCam marketing chief Eliav Rodman.

    OrCam co-founder Amnon Shashua said the device “can provide a real-time profile of people as they walk up to you during a conference, displaying their details on your smartphone or watch; it can track your eating habits.

    “It can even monitor the facial expressions of people you meet and topics of discussion and let you know in hindsight the quality of interaction you have with friends and family.” 

    Carmakers did not want to be left out either.

    Ford, for example, unveiled an alliance at CES with US online giant Amazon, aimed at allowing people to connect their cars into smart home networks.

    The tie-up will enable drivers to communicate with the hub and, for example, ask if their garage door is open or request an appointment with their mechanic.

    Other carmakers including BMW and Volkswagen showed systems that link up not only to a smartphone but also to home networks, enabling users to tap smart appliances or garage door openers, for example.

    BMW’s Connected Mirror concept, for instance, displays a user’s schedule for the day as he fusses over how he looks in the mirror, according to Tech Times. Using the mirror, a user could also instruct a smart BMW car to park itself in a garage.

    These new systems offer new connecting options but could create confusion because of multiple technical standards.

    Ron Montoya, from the auto research firm, said: “It almost forces you to get things within the same brand in order to match up.”

    Roger Kay, analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates, agreed, saying that there is no grand architecture, so everyone is making a land grab. “Everyone wants to be the hub.” 

    Mr Kay said until players such as Apple, Google and Microsoft agree on open standards, “it going to be difficult for this market to move forward”.