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Smart appliances set to transform the home
by Staff Writers
Las Vegas (AFP) Jan 13, 2012

You're at work when you get word of unexpected dinner guests. No problem. Smart appliances to the rescue.

In a world made possible by innovations unveiled this week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, you could whip out your smartphone on your bus or train ride home.

You use the virtual joystick to steer your camera-equipped vacuum robot around the living room, activating the speaker to tell the dog to get off the couch.

You switch to the application on your phone which allows you to check recipes against the contents of your refrigerator, which sends you a text message telling you you're out of milk.

Once you've decided what you're going to cook, you inform your refrigerator, which tells the oven to begin pre-heating based on the recipe you've selected.

Floor-cleaning robots, refrigerators and ovens on display at the annual CES gadget fest can do all of the above -- and more.

"Smart appliances, while they've been kind of a pipe dream for the last couple of years, are really becoming a reality," said John Taylor, vice president of LG Electronics USA.

South Korea's LG is a leader in the field, which not only involves building Wi-Fi connectivity into appliances to allow them to communicate but also using real-time energy monitoring to save on electricity bills.

"Last year there were a lot of questions about when (smart appliances) are coming," said Kevin Messner, vice president of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.

"The progress we've made over the last year on smart appliances from where we were last year at CES to where we are today is just staggering," he said.

A refrigerator at the LG booth at CES has a touchscreen built into the front with a "food manager" function that provides an inventory of what's inside, where items are located -- orange juice, left door -- and expiration dates.

You compile the inventory of what's in your refrigerator by taking a photo of your receipt from the grocery store with your smartphone and sending it to your fridge, or by scanning the barcode of each item individually.

A refrigerator being offered by LG rival Samsung lets you shop from select stores by dragging and dropping icons of various items -- apples or eggs, for example -- on a touchscreen and having the groceries delivered to your door.

That service is currently only available in South Korea.

A floor-cleaning robot from LG has not one but three cameras and yes, you can call it from your smartphone and tell the dog to get off the furniture.

Warwick Stirling, global manager of energy and sustainability for Whirlpool, said smart appliances are just part of what is known as the "connected home."

"I see it as making household chores simpler, simplifying your life," Stirling said. "I don't think it's being Facebook friends with your fridge. And I don't think it's about surfing Facebook from your fridge."

"I think it's in its infancy," Stirling added of the era of smart appliances. "I think it's going to become real this year and it's going to get bigger and bigger and bigger over time."

Taylor said that while LG is "really bullish about the future of smart appliances," they are more expensive and are "certainly not going to be the majority of products in the marketplace" for some time to come.

"There is a certain level of consumer who wants the latest and greatest and will be attracted by some of the new smart features," he said.

Jon Van Dore, senior product development manager for China's Haier, said rapidly changing technology poses a particular challenge for home appliance manufacturers, whose products are intended to last for a long time.

"Technology has a life span of one to two years," Van Dore said, holding up his cellphone. "We have a life span of 10 to 20 years."

Wi-Fi connectivity and intelligent machines may be the wave of the future, Van Dore said, but he cited the cautionary tale of a rival appliance manufacturer who built a screen into a refrigerator a decade ago.

"It became obsolete in six months," he said. "It's still a good refrigerator but now it's got this old technology stuck to it."

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USB key opens home files from anywhere
Las Vegas (AFP) Jan 12, 2012 - A USB-style key that splits in two lets people open their home or work computer files from any Internet-linked computer.

Singapore-based iTwin was at the Consumer Electronics Show this week to entice technology fans with a way to avoid being out of touch with data on work or home machines no matter how far they roam.

"The iTwin acts like a cableless cable connecting you to your files," said company spokeswoman Kara Rosenthal.

"If you are on a business trip and don't know what files you need you can just access your hard drive from any other computer and have whatever files you want."

An iTwin user simply plugs the device, which is the size and shape of standard thumb drive, into their computer USB port and drags into it any data they wish even if it is an entire hard drive.

Half the gadget is left plugged into a home or work computer, while a user takes the other half with him or her to serve as a key.

Plugging the key into another Internet-connected computer automatically accesses files. Data is encrypted and password protected. Keys can be remotely disabled if lost or stolen.

At CES iTwin demonstrated a newly added "multi" feature that lets as many as 20 keys be synched to the part left in a home or work machine. ITwin devices were priced at $99.


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Google sees Android enhancing home appliances
Las Vegas (AFP) Jan 11, 2012
Google's Android software is best known for powering smartphones, but executive chairman Eric Schmidt sees a future where it could also help devices communicate at home. Schmidt outlined his vision for Android, which Google provides to hardware manufacturers for free, on a panel hosted by online technology news site CNET at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which opened on T ... read more

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