The 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, takes place this year in Las Vegas between January 7 and January 10. The annual event is a very important trade show for the consumer electronics and appliances industry, and it’s where many manufacturers get the chance to showcase their newest developed technologies before they hit retail markets.
The CES industry show is typically when the next big trends in consumer technologies are made widely apparent to the media. Past events have heralded the coming of HDTV as well as mobile electronic devices, including tablets and smartphones. In fact, the almost ubiquitous nature of these mobile devices are supporting the newest trend emerging from the CES: the “Internet of Things.”
Internet of Things
Expert technology analysts have forecasted that, by the year 2050, there will be a total of 50 billion devices operating worldwide which are connected to the Internet. According to this article published by LATimes.com, that equals about 5 devices for every human being that will be living at that time.
The “Internet of Things” is a topic that has taken the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show by storm. There are many firms that exhibited smart appliance options that either provide some form of Internet control or data analysis to owners. By connecting data sensors, objects and electronic devices, consumer electronic manufacturers are hoping to market the idea that consumers can live even easier lives through Internet based cloud services. Connectivity is the future.
For example, this article from PCWorld discusses a slow cooker appliance developed by Belkin that can be operated remotely through an app available on smartphones and similar devices. Users could load ingredients into a slow cooker, leave for work and then turn on the cooker while at work and even be able to adjust the temperature if necessary. The slow cooker will be available in Spring 2014 and will cost about $100.
Appliance manufacturers have also been quick to point out the ability of everyday objects to improve the livelihoods of their owners through data analysis. French technology developer Kolibree showed off an electric toothbrush that includes both a gyrometer and an accelerometer. Data collected by these sensors can be uploaded to app servers that can tell a user if they brushed properly. Another French firm, Babolat, will be selling a tennis racket that sends data on a user’s swing patterns to an app, helping an owner find out whether their stroke is applying top spin to the ball and more.
Smart Home Networks
Many believe that the home will be the next major growth area for the Internet of Things. Refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, thermostats and many more appliances throughout the home can be outfitted with computer sensors, creating the futuristic idea of the smart home.
However, connectivity problems between smart appliances and home networks could keep the proliferation of connected appliances at a much slower rate. Different technological firms use their own proprietary software to control appliances. Different frequencies and channels of communication can also make some connected appliances incompatible with certain home network options.
At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, a few vendors in attendance showcased their ability to make the smart home network a concrete reality in the coming years. Currently, most of these smart appliances communicate with devices and other appliances through one of two communication systems: Z Wave and Zigbee. Both standards have numerous vendors developing products to communicate on their proprietary systems, preventing interconnectivity with other devices. One Toronto technology developer, MMB Networks, is developing a hub that provides appliance compatibility with both Zigbee and Z Wave. The company plans to offer the hub within a year for a price of about $150 per unit.
This underscores just one of the many problems facing the eventual arrival of the Internet of Things. Smart appliances are interesting, but can be cumbersome to use and control through many applications. Currently, appliance developers have been creating their own apps, meaning that a single person would have to access many different apps to operate their various smart appliances throughout the home.
This makes it difficult to jump over one of the biggest hurdles that any technology faces in the open market: ease of use. If technology doesn’t make life easier, it won’t see as many sales as other, more practical technologies will. The dream would be to have a single app through which all home appliances and systems could be controlled. Currently, however, surveys show that only 28 percent of Americans are very interested in controlling appliances through their electronic devices, and that more than half don’t care as of yet.
Even if consumers wanted widespread proliferation of these connected technologies right now, a few other obstacles need to be addressed before long. Whenever new wireless networking technologies are developed, data security is a big concern among consumers. Most appliances won’t have the same security measures that desktop computers take against hackers. Also, the sheer amount of data processed can be cumbersome for appliance manufacturers to handle.
The Internet of Things is likely an inevitability, to judge by the fervor of the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show. With a future that may include smart fridges that can build healthy shopping lists, doors that unlock as a tenant approaches with his device and thermostats that can be programmed from smartphones, the home of the near future may closely resemble the smart home that used to be relegated to science fiction.