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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Home appliances get the smarts

Simplify time-consuming tasks with the press of a button, but the world of The Jetsons is not here yet
The Straits Times - November 5, 2014
By: Sherwin Loh
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Home appliances get the smarts Simplify time-consuming tasks with the press of a button, but the world of The Jetsons is not here yet.

Mention smart homes and images from Hollywood films and TV will probably fill your head.

In The Jetsons, robots did the household chores. In Back To The Future Part II, voice-activated TVs and wearable devices were part of the domestic scene.

Reality is very different though, as a fully networked smart home with appliances that "talk" to one another is still far away.

Companies often market a future in which a clever coffee machine will make a nice cuppa when it detects that you are awake. But they neglect to tell you that someone - not a machine - still has to put in the coffee powder and refill the cup caddy in the machine.

How about that smart refrigerator made to notify you when it is running low on milk and eggs? Will it also remind you about the leftover nasi goreng, cheeseburger and barbecued chicken wings that you have forgotten about?

In the United States, the concept of smart homes has been gaining traction, thanks to devices such as Google Nest, a network-enabled device that can control a home heating or air-conditioning system, and be linked to smoke alarms.

Alas, such systems will not fly in most Singapore homes, as US homes operate on the premise that they have central air-conditioning and heating.

Instead, some companies have come up with smarter appliances that just help with everyday life.

Samsung, LG and iRobot sell robot vacuum cleaners that can sweep and even wash your floors unsupervised. Smart TVs can be used to play games, access online content and even perform video chats.

Smart ovens can detect the weight of the raw foods within and cook them accordingly once you hit the Start button. A networked washing machine can be controlled with a smartphone, so users do not have to run to the laundry room to check if the wash cycle is complete.

There are kitchen appliances that speed up time-consuming tasks, such as making soya milk, porridge and fresh noodles, at the press of a button.

Research companies such as GfK Asia note that many households are adding such devices to their homes, although it has not categorised these items in its reports.

"Smart appliances, such as robotic vacuum cleaners, air fryers, and microwave ovens with weight detectors, are attractive options for younger households," said Ms Jasmine Lim, GfK Asia's account director for Home and Lifestyle.

There is also a market for smarter appliances that improve on the user's experience, said Mr Alvin Lee, managing director of Audio House.

He offered this example: "A simple device such as the Philips Airfryer cooks fried food with less oil. Health-conscious people want to enjoy their favourite food with new methods of preparation. Consumers are looking at smarter machines that make their lives easier."

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