Utility Week

UTILITY Week 5th February 2016

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UTILITY WEEK | 5TH - 11TH FEBRUARY 2016 | 29 Customers Analysis L ast month I visited the renowned Con- sumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas where, among headline-grabbing new developments for electric vehicles and wearable technology, I found connected home innovations aplenty. A number of important announcements for this technology arena were made at CES, including the new low-power, longer-range Wi-Fi standard, HaLow, which is being backed by Apple. O2 announced the UK launch date of its connected home services and Samsung paraded a series of new devel- opments, including the integration of smart TV with a "home hub" fridge. Behind such announcements, and many more, however, CES 2016 clearly defined the significance of one important trend for the connected home and the future of energy consumption – ambient sensing. Of the 20,000 new products on display, around 15,000 had sensors – a figure that reflects the decreasing costs of the technol- ogy. An enormous amount of floor space was devoted to wearables such as Fitbit activity trackers, connected cars, connected kitchen devices and connected entertainment, not to mention anthropomorphic robots for home and business applications, almost all of which supported ambient sensing and the ability to interact to varying extents with home controls relating to energy use. Siloed connected home companies should be concerned about this display of connected technology because it means scope creep in their core business can arise from a number of different directions. It was apparent at the show that ambient sensing is starting to blur the boundaries between connected things and the connected home. In the wearables market, for instance, the leading manufacturer alone shipped around 4 million units in a quarter last year. These devices can inform connected home systems about presence, whether the wearer is asleep or awake, their heart rate and, in the future, aspects of their health. Several major manufacturers unveiled electric and connected car offerings at CES this year. Aside from the clear overlap of this growing sector with the energy market because of its charging requirements, the connected car is also important because of the emerging capabilities to synchronise with smart home devices, picking up user preferences for home temperature/heating in addition to things such as music. Closer to home, connected innovations in the kitchen, bedroom and living room are clearly beginning to integrate products pri- marily designed to support communication and entertainment with broader definitions of comfort – including control of tempera- ture and the setting of preferences for power- hungry devices. In the kitchen, the focus remains largely on developing smarter fridges, including, at the high end, Samsung's Family Hub refrig- erator – an American-style fridge-freezer with a 21.5in touchscreen that can be used to communicate with the family, view recipes, monitor the fridge contents, and much more. The living room was targeted more than any other home space this year for increased connectivity. The rise of wireless speakers, one of which now supports a voice control- ler for connected home control, is old news. The new wave of connected living room tech- nology is centred on integrating smart TVs with connected home controls. Samsung, for instance, launched a high-end TV that con- tains SmartThings' multiprotocol smart hub. Across the living room, kitchen and bed- room, several companies have hit almost by accident on an integration strategy. In one approach, a lighting company is integrating wireless broadband repeaters, video cam- eras, microphones, speakers and presence detection into elegant light bulbs throughout the home. In an alternative approach, we are see- ing the anthropomorphism of the connected home. Many of the devices at CES aiming to incorporate personality are still more gim- mick than substance and it is easy to dismiss humanoid robotics as a technology trend for 30 years hence. IBM's CES keynote blew such compla- cency out of the water, however. It ended with a five-minute interview with Japanese developer SoBank's robot, Pepper, which moves with fluidity and displays extraordi- nary emotional intelligence and empathy. The robot is already being used to greet cus- tomers at SoBank Mobile's stores and coffee shops in Japan and will soon be advising on mortgage products in banks. There are also plans to install units in retirement homes to talk to and help elderly residents. The price point for this technology is just $2,000 plus $350 a month and I have been converted to believe that we may see such devices in the consumer domain and paying a key role in the connected home within 10 years. The trend towards connectivity in the liv- ing room, bedroom and kitchen is important because history tells us consumers will will- ingly open their wallets for products that are based on emotion and entertainment. The risk is that the consumer will buy compelling entertainment and communica- tions products and find themselves almost by accident in an ecosystem that also hap- pens to provide some smart thermostat or energy insight. Inertia may then result in many consumers staying with one of these flexible and high-quality ecosystems, leaving little space for relationships with traditional utilities. To counter this, the utilities need to part- ner the right ecosystems and develop an offering that goes deeper than simple remote control of a thermostat. Susan Furnell is a freelance consultant specialising in connected home technology Building the connected home Technology for the connected home was much in evidence at the Consumer Electronics Show; utilities need to harness the latest innovations or risk being left out in the cold, says Susan Furnell. SoftBank's robot is already being used in cafes

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