From self-cleaning toilets to digital showerheads, smart homes of the future on show at CES 2017
Home automation is slowly but surely becoming an affordable way to deliver more energy-efficient homes that offer better security, comfort and healthcare. This year's CES showed where we can expect the tech to head in 2017, extending well beyond the range of internet-connected fridges that first popped up several years ago. Basically any device that is powered by electricity is now able to be controlled via a variety of home automation systems, and these ranged from the absolutely useful to the utterly useless.
Once again Amazon's Alexa system took centre stage, with most companies relying upon Amazon Echo as the central hub to control their devices. It's no wonder, considering over 5 million of these units had sold by the end of 2016. Sadly it's still not available Down Under –perhaps our Aussie twang is too hard to decipher for Amazon's powerful server farms. However, Apple's increasingly popular HomeKit smart system – based on its Siri voice technology – had a much stronger presence this year. Unfortunately Google's Home system didn't quite make the splash that many had expected, with fewer partners announcing support for the recently released electronic ecosystem.
The Hydrao smart showerhead uses an LED light system to show how much water is being used.
When it comes to controlling your home lights, there were more options than ever, with dozens of different connected light bulb kits debuting at the show. The one that shone brightest was Belkin's new WeMo Dimmer kit, which is compatible with both Alexa and Google Home. Belkin's WeMo light kit has been available for almost a year already, but it could only switch lights on or off.
The latest version introduces the ability to tweak the brightness to match your mood. It can even be programmed to operate at various brightness levels according to the time of the day, or as a clever way to trick crooks into thinking you're home when you're not.
Ondilo ICO floats in your pool and monitors water quality.
Extending automation to the garage is Hyundai's new Google Home-connected cars. You'll be able to program the GPS from inside the house, and even fire up the engine with a simple voice command. Amazon has partnered with Ford instead, with its SYNC 3 system offering similar features. Most importantly, it also works with Aussie accents, with a localised version available Down Under.
Connected fridges have been around for several years now, but Samsung's new Family Hub Fridge brings a couple of cool new features to the kitchen. An Australian partnership with Woolworths means shoppers can plug their order onto the fridge's 21-inch touchscreen and have it delivered the next day. There's even cameras inside so you can check what needs replacing via your mobile while you're doing the shopping the old-fashioned way. The company also unveiled the v2.0 prototype of the fridge, which brings voice activation – perfect for reading recipe instructions without getting your greasy fingers all over the screen.
To help lower water costs, Hydrao smart showerhead uses an LED light system to show exactly how much water is being used, while real-time monitoring allows the user to adjust flow rate. It can even calculate exactly how much energy you're burning through during a long, hot shower.
An emerging area of home automation is healthcare products, with a range of gadgets designed to keep you and your family alive and kicking. The Avent uGrow "digital parenting platform" from Philips is far more than a simple camera and microphone baby-monitoring system, as optional extras include a heart rate monitor, humidifier and digital thermometer.
The Avent uGrow "digital parenting platform" from Philips.
If you'd like to keep track of your own vital signs such as heart and respiration rates without having to wear a fitness band, the new Dadam mobeat uses electromagnetic sensors to measure vitals without any physical contact. Don't fancy a trip to the dentist? Prophix by Onvi is a smart toothbrush that has a video camera and torch aimed directly at your teeth. Not only does it show problem spots, it will send photos directly to your dentist, allowing them to diagnose problem spots before the need for a drill.
Getting down and dirty is the Body Care smart toilet, which monitors how often you use the toilet, and can even clean itself. Even your cat's toilet has been given the smart-treatment; Litter Robot detects when kitty has taken care of business, and automatically separates freshly deposited packages from clean litter.
Body Care's self-cleaning smart toilet.
Pool owners will love Ondilo ICO, a small floating device designed for swimming pools that constantly monitors water quality, sending data back to your phone or PC to let you know when it's time to up chlorine levels.
Our favourite smart device of the show had to be Shadecraft Sunflower, a smart-umbrella that automatically tracks the position of the sun to ensure you're always in the shadows. Powered by solar cells on top of the shade, it also includes battery chargers for phones, as well as Bluetooth enabled speakers.
These were but a few of the new connected devices to debut at the show, alongside the usual range of door-locks, video cameras and power points. Most of these won't hit Aussie shores for some time, especially considering we're still waiting for a localised version of Amazon's Alexa Echo, but they do show just how interconnected the home of the future will be ... provided you can afford it.