When we talk about the ‘smart house’ or the ‘connected home’, it’s not all about robotic vacuum cleaners, Lutron lighting systems and Internet-connected fridges. That’s so 2004. It’s actually far simpler than that.
Think pervasive broadband connectivity and intelligent devices – a networked Internet of Things in your home that blurs the boundaries between automation, computing, entertainment and security.
This new vision for the smart house has broken cover in the form of Amazon’s Echo, a cylindrical speaker with built-in voice recognition and Internet connectivity. It, and products like it, could change the way we think about technology in the home.
Always on, always listening and always online, Echo is like having Siri, Google Now or Microsoft’s Cortana in your living room.
There are no keyboards to fiddle with. No screens to tap. Just tell Echo what you want it to do – e.g. play your favourite music, read you the latest news, give you a weather report, create a to-do list, even plunder Wikipedia for the answer to a question – and it will respond to you in a calm, friendly voice. A recent update also added smarthome-style controls, enabling Echo to control Belkin WeMo and Phillips Hue devices.
Jibo – the family robot
It’s not the first attempt to build an intelligent digital assistant for the home. Dr Cynthia Breazeal, director of the Personal Robots Group at MIT, is the brains behind Jibo.
Dubbed the ‘world’s first family robot’, the device is pitched as a chatty social companion that can alert you to reminders you’ve set or messages you’ve received, take photos for you (via two built-in digital cameras), and play with family members using a range of specially designed apps.
Unlike the Pringles-can design of Amazon’s Echo, Jibo looks like a cross between the Pixar desk lamp and Wall*E’s love interest, Eva. Breazeal is striving to humanize technology and so Jibo is designed to move and talk, while its circular ‘face’ displays digital expressions as you interact with it.
The concept has certainly resonated with the public. Jibo had a modest $100,000 funding goal on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, but smashed that target to raise over $2 million.
A real-life R2-D2
Keecker offers another glimpse into a future smart house and website Gigaom perhaps described it best when they called it “a real-life R2D2 for home entertainment and more.”
Rather than a tabletop gadget, this white pod is a wheeled robotic projector (with built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a subwoofer and six 25W speakers). You can use it to watch big-screen movies on any surface, browse the web and listen to music. It can also double up as a home security device, monitoring noise levels, temperature and unusual movements.
Turning your house into a smart house used to be a tricky challenge of integrating disparate systems. In the future, it could be as simple as plugging in one multi-talented box.
Would you buy Amazon’s Echo or Jibo? Let us know in the comments below.