Superheroes really do have some of the coolest toys. I’m very disappointed that I don’t have a metallic flying exoskeleton like Iron Man, but we may be catching up with some of the other tech shown on the silver screen, as we saw when the world’s major consumer electronics vendors gathered in Las Vegas again this year for the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
If there was one theme connecting all the news coming out of the show, it’s that computing systems with all the power of Tony Stark’s machine-based sidekick J.A.R.V.I.S. are becoming more of a reality every year. These systems are becoming increasingly embedded in our gadgets, our homes and even our cars.
Let’s take a look at how some of the new technologies introduced at this year’s CES are aimed at making our lives easier, in the home and beyond.
An Intelligent Home
In this area, there are really three competitors vying for your dollar: Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. At CES, manufacturers announce brand-new products or products that are still in development, so there aren’t always full details on pricing or availability. With that disclaimer, let’s get rolling.
Amazon has been adding its intelligent assistant Alexa to its own devices, including the Kindle, Fire TV and Echo, for a while now, but they’ve started to open up the technology to other manufacturers, and this led to a flood of announcements.
LG is combining WebOS with Amazon Alexa in order to have your fridge do things like adjust its settings, give you recipes and order groceries when you speak aloud and ask it to. You can even play music, although I’m skeptical about whether high-quality speakers are really being added to a refrigerator.
Mattel has a particularly interesting implementation of Alexa. It’s essentially a fully functioning Amazon Echo, but with a kid’s mode built right in. During the day, parents can use it to handle all the tasks you would normally use Alexa for, but if you say “Aristotle,” the device will engage a mode that will play games with your children, help them with their homework and assist you in putting them to sleep at night. It can also log diaper changes and feedings, and you can reorder necessary care supplies from participating retailers. Finally, the included camera gives you a video baby monitor.
There are also other integrations of Amazon’s technology. The Fire TV is being built into some television sets that will soon be heading to market, in addition to being used in both Ford and Volkswagen vehicles.
Other devices are also undergoing varying levels of Alexa integration. Integration means that unlike the devices listed above, these will receive commands through another Alexa-enabled device from the Echo family. Whirlpool is adding Alexa control to some of its appliances so that it can perform functions such as adjusting the temperature and the length of time that the appliances are turned on.
Still other devices control things like locks and light switches as well as a Wi-Fi router that can be used to read your password aloud, although you might want to be careful using that particular feature.
Unlike Amazon, Google and Apple have opted for integrations of their systems rather than full licensing of the technology. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot going on here.
Let’s start with the TVs this time around. Google Assistant is being added to the Nvidia Shield Android TV. While this is essentially similar to a TV with built-in Amazon Fire, you can choose to buy an add-on mic for $50 that will allow you to control not only TV shows but also other smart devices in your house.
Google, along with its other voice assistant competitors, will see its technology integrated into Bluetooth headphones from various companies this year, so you can engage the technology without the need to have your phone or another device nearby.
In other news, Belkin announced a new dimmer switch. They also have new mini smart plugs. You can plug these and the similar offerings of competitors into any non-smart device and then put the plug in the wall and make the device controllable from your phone or tablet or from Google Home. The Switchmate Bright will allow you to do a similar smart upgrade to any light by allowing you to snap it onto any light switch.
Both Google Home and Amazon Alexa will soon be able to control certain functions in your Hyundai, such as starting the car. Don’t worry, though – it asks for a PIN so that your car can’t be easily stolen.
Chrysler announced that they are putting a modified version of Android’s Nougat operating system into a future version of the Chrysler 300 for deeper integration between our phones and our cars.
Apple was a little late to the smart device hub game with HomeKit, its platform for connecting with smart appliances. Because of this, many devices made before the release of the protocol aren’t compatible with it. Focalcrest is aiming to change this with the Mixtile Hub, designed to serve as a bridge between your previously incompatible smart devices and your Apple TV, Apple Watch and iOS devices.
Elgato has a Bluetooth range extender to make it possible to use your existing HomeKit-connected hardware over longer distances, and Carrier is introducing its first HomeKit-compatible HVAC system later this year. There’s also the usual array of lights, switches and plugs that can be controlled by your iPhone.
On the just plain cool side, Nanoleaf has this kit of connected light panels that will soon be able to react to the music you play.
A Better Bed
If we spend about a third of our lives in bed, it stands to reason that we should be trying to get the best sleep possible. There have been advances in mattress material, including the invention of memory foam. However, very few have tried to use connected tech to improve our trips to dreamland.
A notable exception to this has been the Sleep Number. For years now, the company has given its users control of mattress firmness on both sides of the bed. With its new model, the Sleep Number 360, the company is looking to show off a few new tricks.
The bed now keeps track of the way you’re positioned at all times and adjusts airflow to better support you. It also keeps track of your breathing, which helps it know when to raise the head of the bed to keep you or your partner from snoring. This is an optional feature. Finally, the mattress touts feet-warming zones, although that type of thing has been seen on occasion since as far back as the 1990s.
A Cool Minivan?
I’m going to say upfront that I don’t think this particular vehicle is coming out anytime soon. But I had to include it anyway because I think the concept is just that cool.
In all the coverage I’ve seen, Fiat Chrysler refuses to call this a minivan. I’m going to go ahead and say that’s what it is, but it’s the coolest minivan you’ve ever seen. To start, it’s all electric and can go 250 miles when fully charged.
The van is self-driving, and each passenger can control what they’re listening to in their zone of the vehicle. Based on the video, it looks like there are tables that come up out of the floor. And finally, the front passenger doors slide forward instead of opening outward. This completely exposes the vehicle’s interior and should make it easier to get into.
It’s just an idea for now, but it’s definitely very cool.
If this stuff makes you want to tech up your life, you should check out some of the cool smart home technology already on the market. If you like what you see, we’ve got plenty more to share. Subscribe to the Zing Blog below!
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