Homes you'll talk to ... and other really cool stuff
BRACE yourself for a brave new world of otherwise normal people barking orders into their phones, watches and spectacles as they walk down the street.
The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2014 begins today in Las Vegas and the annual gadget fest will give an indication of how some of us might be living in the near future. Some 20,000 new products are set to go on display to the delight of more than 150,000 conference visitors.
A centrepiece of the event will be the Samsung Smart Home, a vision of domestic bliss in which household appliances respond to the voice of the homeowner with a level of obedience unmatched by even the most loyal of family pets.
"Going out!" the forgetful resident can yelp into a Samsung smartphone or Galaxy Gear smartwatch on departing through the front door - and the home lighting and all selected appliances will miraculously switch themselves off.
"Goodnight!" the lazy geek might purr at the remote control, turning the television off without having to press the off switch. According to Samsung, that same instruction will ensure that "lights are dimmed and gradually turned off" to ensure a minimal workload on the way to bed.
A "home view" feature allows homeowners to view the inside of their properties remotely by using cameras built in to Samsung appliances, such as a television or fridge.
A Smart Home app would be usable across Samsung's personal devices (such as smartwatches, smartphones and tablets) and would use remote computer servers to interact with the company's wide range of internet-connected household appliances, including fridges, washing machines, televisions, vacuum cleaners and air conditioning systems.
The idea of the intelligent home has been around for a long time. The notion of a fridge that could communicate on whether any of its contents were past their sell by dates was being discussed 20 years ago.
James Chandler, the head of mobile at Mindshare UK, said that the ubiquity of smartphones and the resultant growth in developing apps meant that there was a greater purpose to intelligent white goods because homeowners can connect to them remotely. He cited the Ninja Blocks security system (an idea backed on the
Kickstarter crowd funding platform), that uses a sensor to detect movement in the home or garage and sends an alert to the owner's phone.
"In the past you could have had loads of data being produced by a smart TV or a fridge but nothing would be happening with that data," he said. "Now I have a smartphone in my pocket I can get a message that I have had a break-in or the boiler has broken down and I can make a call instead of waiting until I get home at night to discover what's gone wrong."
Samsung has pledged to make its system compatible with household devices produced by other companies - although this has been questioned by observers who note that the Korean giant is notoriously competitive. Several rivals in the field will be exhibiting at CES, notably Archos, which operates a Smart Home tablet powered by Android, and LG which has a HomeChat system linked by SMS text messages.
Aside from the Smart Home, the buzz at this year's conference is around wearable technology, such as bracelets that monitor your health and measure your fitness. Analysts expect 1.5 million wearable devices to be sold in 2014, the year when the wearable computer Google Glass is expected to be launched in the UK.
Carrying a video camera in its lightweight glasses frame, Google Glass sells to US Google subscribers for $1500.
Again, users are encouraged to talk to the device. You may become accustomed to passers-by instructing their eyewear with the order: "OK Glass …Take a picture!"
After a year in which the snooping activities of America's National Security Agency have been exposed, CES exhibitors will need to convince the public that compiling even greater levels of personal data is a good thing.
The conference will see the unveiling of the latest versions of the super high definition 4K television sets being pioneered by LG and Samsung.
But perhaps the most quirky of all the intelligent household devices on show must be the world's first smart toothbrush. Here is a gadget that collects sufficient data to enable you to have dental hygiene competitions with other members of your household, a possible incentive to children.
The Kolibree Toothbrush connects to an app on your smartphone to give details on your brushing time as well as measuring the efficiency and thoroughness of your brushing technique, scoring between one and five stars. The app includes a graph in which members of the family can compare the length of their brushing sessions and their ability to remove plaque.