Smart homes now in sight

INTERNATIONAL – For years, Samsung has pitched ­internet-connected TVs, fridges and other cornerstones of the home re- imagined for the data-overload era to customers. Now, the South Korean engineering-to-gadgets conglomerate is trying to go a step further: making the home itself.

Inside an airy, lavish model house in Seoul, Samsung’s virtual assistant, Bixby, can show visitors what’s inside the kitchen fridge while Amazon’s Alexa assistant controls the living-room lighting and air conditioning, and a speaker developed by Naver recommends music and TV shows. Samsung software overlays the in-house and competing products to create a unified control system, and so the company might someday be able to analyse the data created to refine its so-called internet of things (IoT).

“We are trying to combine various IoT technologies to create an environment where the house knows who you are,” said Kim Myung-suk, a vice-president overseeing the project.

The company’s first real test bed will be an apartment redevelopment project in the South Korean city of Busan. Owners of the 2600 units will be able to order a smart-home retrofit next month, and start moving in by August 2022.

Kim’s team declined to comment on how much it plans to charge.

“As homes get more connected, Samsung is likely to allow more of its devices to take commands from Alexa and Google Assistant, instead of restricting them to its proprietary Bixby,” said Bloomberg technology analyst Anthea Lai.

While the conglomerate is best known for Samsung Electronics, the No1 maker of smartphones, TVs and memory chips, its empire also includes Samsung C&T, the construction business overseeing the smart home pilot project. C&T built Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers.

“Samsung has significant potential to leverage its existing reach,” said Jonathan Collins, an analyst at ABI Research, which estimates that the world will include almost 300 million smart homes by 2022.

Of course, the company’s electronics arm has been talking up Jetsons-style homes for years, stymied by the limitations of data analysis and cost. Few consumers have been willing to pay the price of living in the near-ish future and the extreme monitoring involved seems a lot riskier at a moment when concerns about the technology industry’s privacy overreaches are growing louder.

For now, Samsung is pitching its houses to early-adopter types as it works on ways to make the homes more environmentally friendly, and much smarter still.

The company envisions a smart bathroom mirror that can analyse a customer’s health while she blinks sleep from her eyes, a bath she can order to fill with water at just the right temperature while she drives home, and lights that can automatically adjust to wavelengths that help her concentrate on her book or wind down as needed. 

–  Bloomberg / The Washington Post

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