This year’s CES puts the smart in smart home
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CES is underway in Las Vegas this week. Formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, the annual event attracts tech companies large and small, along with developers, journalists and policymakers.
Jennifer Pattison Tuohy, who covers smart home technology for The Verge, is attending. She spoke with Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams about the new gadgets and the announcements being made in the smart home realm.
The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Jennifer Pattison Tuohy: One of the most important new changes in the smart home is a brand-new standard called Matter. This is basically a way to make the smart home a much easier, simpler solution for people who aren’t really deep into tech and connected devices. There’s a lot of chatter around it here — many companies announcing their products working with Matter. And basically all Matter is is a language for the smart home. And it was developed by Apple, Amazon, Google, Samsung and a whole host of companies who all got together and said, we need to work together to make the smart home an easier place for everyone to use and enjoy.
Kimberly Adams: What about everybody who has a lot of smart home devices already? Do they have to start from scratch?
Pattison Tuohy: That’s been something that we’ve all been watching carefully because the early promise with Matter, which is what has been developed by an organization called the Connectivity Standards Alliance. They’ve been working really hard so that we won’t have to all go buy new products. But unfortunately, it looks like that’s not going to be the case. There’s going to be some opportunities to bridge existing products into your smart home. So Philips Hue, they’ve announced that their existing products will work with Matter. So that’s great. But then a lot of companies announced products at CES this year, for example, GE Lighting has a line of lighting products called Cync, and they’re saying that only their new products will work with Matter. So it’s kind of a mixed bag. But one of the great things about Matter from a tech journalist perspective is that it’s going to really open up the smart home to people who aren’t already invested in it. Because to date, it has been complicated and confusing.
Adams: When you talk about smart homes, there are also a lot of things that technology can enable in people’s homes in regards to accessibility, whether that be because you are living with a physical disability, or even if you’re trying to age in place. What sort of technology have you seen along those lines?
Pattison Tuohy: So, that is a really interesting area. One thing in particular that I’ve seen here is using Wi-Fi sensing. So if you have Wi-Fi routers in your house, which most people do, the Wi-Fi waves can detect bodies of water, i.e., people. And so if they detect one falling, they can send an alert to a smartphone or even to a monitoring service and say we’ve detected a fall. And this is a much less obtrusive type of technology than, say, having a camera in someone’s house to check in on them.
Adams: Now, all of that is sort of hardware that might affect the way that we live in our homes and other places moving forward. What about software? We’ve had a lot of discussions this year around [artificial intelligence], cloud computing and cybersecurity. How’s all that showing up at CES this year?
Pattison Tuohy: Obviously, one of the main components of any smart solution in your home is the software that powers it. And I think one of the biggest benefits — and actually something that I’m seeing a lot of companies really pushing this year — is understanding why having connectivity is important. Why having the software and the cloud service that support your thermostat or your motion-sensing systems that are going to see if someone’s falling in your home — why do you need that connectivity? Obviously, there are concerns around privacy and data. And people, rightly so, want to know that their homes are private and secure. And so one of the big benefits about this type of software and over-the-air updates and the cloud is that the device that you bought two years ago, for example, today has more features and does more interesting, innovative things to help you than it did when you bought it. And you can’t really say that about most appliances in your home. And that’s another key area that I’ve been seeing at CES this year, is addressing e-waste. There are a lot of these gadgets in our homes, and unfortunately, tech has developed over the last decade or so a disposable mindset. We get a new phone every two years, we might get a new laptop every couple of years. But devices we put in our homes, they need to be in our homes for a decade or more ideally. We don’t want people replacing their thermostats or their door locks every couple of years. So there’s been a focus on showing the benefits of cloud connectivity because it’s going to keep your device working better and longer in your home and help prevent us generating more of this electronic waste.
Adams: Now, CES would not be CES without a little splash of quirky technology. What’s been your favorite bit of unusual tech that you’ve seen so far?
Pattison Tuohy: One kind of quirky one that actually has a lot of benefits and ties into aging in place: Withings, a company that is known for medical-related devices, has come out with a smart urine monitor which you put in your toilet. It will send you information about your health, how hydrated you are and what other kind of issues you may be able to detect through a urine test. Obviously, it’s not an actual medical test, but it’s giving you some sort of baseline and some information that you could share with your doctor. One of my favorite things that I would actually go out and buy, but is still slightly quirky, is the Bird Buddy, which is a bird feeder, has an AI camera built in. So, when a hummingbird comes to the feeder, it captures a video of it and it will send you an alert and tell you exactly what type of hummingbird it is. I just love that, you know, being able to connect to nature without being intrusive. That’s a really fun one.
Adams: My mother would love that.
Pattison Tuohy: Yeah, technology often makes us feel a bit disconnected from nature. So, I really like having something that helps bring it into your home in a way because you can watch it on your TV and it’s kind of neat. That’s a fun one.
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