How the Internet of Things Is Transforming the Way We Live

Posted in Home Tech

Each time you put on your AirPods to enjoy music streamed from Spotify or track your daily steps with your Fitbit, you’re tapping into the Internet of things, or IoT. On the home front, IoT is the increasingly common ecosystem in which web-enabled appliances and devices (the “things”) communicate with one another and the cloud to seamlessly carry out tasks that would otherwise need to be done manually. 

“Today, we can use a mobile app or smart-TV hub to set automated timers for our entrance foyer lights, set the temperature for a bath or shut the window blinds. Homes can be equipped with smart irrigation, temperature sensors, Wi-Fi-controlled light bulbs, voice-controlled thermostats that can even read the news, and home energy monitors that let you track your electricity and water usage in real time,” says Jeremy Tay, co-founder and director of Singapore interior design studio Prestige Global Designs

“Home IoT enhances our living experience. As our smart products become more integrated, we’ll rely less on manual intervention.”

Flip a switch to turn on the lights, or start the day by turning on the coffee maker? How mundane! Virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant allow you to control smart devices within the home via voice commands, which also replace online text searches; affordably priced Wi-Fi smart plugs easily allow “dumb” devices such as an old stereo to be controlled or automated via an app. 

Automation, however, is just the beginning. The next level of IoT incorporates artificial intelligence (AI), allowing smart home appliances to not only relieve you of manual tasks, but also learn your habits and preferences, and eventually be able to perform tasks in anticipation of your needs. Products with AI already exist: the iRobot Roomba, for instance, can remember the layout of your home, create a map of the most efficient movement patterns and return to its charging station when its battery is low. 

AI also takes the existing “fuzzy logic” of washing machines to the next level. In September at the tech trade fair IFA 2019 in Berlin, LG announced time- and water-saving washing machines that can detect the load volume and clothing fabric type and, tapping into its cloud of big data, automatically apply the best wash cycle to minimise damage to the clothes. The machines can also be controlled using voice commands or the LG Smart ThinQ app.

Current smart ovens, too, can recognise food and automatically apply the right settings, and come with cameras that let you keep tabs on, say, how that roast is doing. A new concept oven by Whirlpool will project recipe suggestions with video instructions on the oven door based on family preferences as well as how much time everyone has for dinner (it syncs with their calendars); it’ll also reorganise recipe steps so different dishes can get prepped, cooked (on the appropriate oven shelf) and then plated at the same time. 

Gone are the days when you end up throwing out expired food because you bought more than the family needs. Smart fridges have inbuilt cameras to let you visually take stock; some track food’s expiry dates and even suggest recipes — and set other smart devices such as the oven — based on ingredients inside the fridge. Samsung’s Family Hub Smart Fridge also retrieves shopping lists shared by different members of the family, and groceries and food deliveries are but a few taps on a touchscreen away. Other bonuses: answer a phone call, converse with someone at your front door, and even mirror your Samsung TV on the fridge’s screen so you’re not left out if you’re cooking up a storm as the rest of the family catches the new episode of The Walking Dead.

With beacon technology, your smartwatch or smartphone, or a miniature Bluetooth tag that you can attach to, say, your bedroom slippers, enables high‑level customisation of a home’s spaces to individual preferences — for instance, changing the setting of the air conditioner, dimming the lights and turning on music when you step into a room. 

What we’ll soon see more of at home, thanks to IoT, are applications for healthcare and wellness, security, taking inventory, home-based learning and sustainability. The 5G rollout will only accelerate the capabilities, with faster connectivity to handle the huge volumes of data from smart devices. 

The innovative Allblanc Mirror Fit displays workout videos and lets you attend live fitness classes. In wearable devices, AI-enabled biometric trackers and fall detectors can help give the elderly as well as patients with chronic diseases such as asthma — and their family members — greater peace of mind. 

Home systems can send push notifications when the kids are safely home, or if a tap or device is left running (and allow you to shut it off remotely). Existing smart sensors and microphones can alert homeowners — and their security firms or emergency services — to gas or water leakages and even the sound of breaking glass or smoke detectors going off. 

While predictive maintenance is more widely applied in industrial contexts now, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes commonplace for manufacturers to monitor and analyse data regarding the condition of your home appliances. So, instead of servicing your air-conditioning system every three months regardless of necessity, a house call will be arranged only as required. This helps prevent annoying breakdowns and cuts maintenance costs. 

Bosch has developed a BML100PI projection module that enables manufacturers to create interactive smart shelves — whether in a fridge, a storage solution, a kitchen pantry or a wardrobe. 

With gesture and touch recognition, and used with a digital-assistant extension, it can take an inventory of the contents, pencil in a supermarket run on your calendar or show online shopping options if pantry supplies are low, make outfit recommendations based on the weather forecast, and so on. 

A sophisticated, well-planned IoT-enabled home can also boost a property’s resale value. According to Hazriq Surattee, founder of smart home consultancy Digital Homes Group, anyone designing a new home should future-proof their properties by laying Cat8 instead of Cat5e/Cat6 cables. He also suggests including more Cat8 Internet cables to allow for future IoT expansion and scalability, adding that it’s crucial to ensure that all your devices from different brands can be controlled from a single home automation ecosystem such as Control4.

Michelle Koh Morollo