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CES Roundup: Smart Home, Wearables, Connected Car

The largest trade show in the world is living up to its name, and as we predicted, IoT devices were cropping up all over the conference floor. Once home to the latest and greatest in TVs and Hi-Fi systems, CES has evolved to embrace mobile devices and now smart home kit, wearables, and connected car technology.

We will collate the more notable stories below, but many more can be found in the Around the Web section. The consumer market of the IoT is generating the most headlines currently, with the industrial giants seeing nothing particular new in the field, the trade bodies and standards organizations rumbling along in the background, and the silicon businesses pushing out more and more chips to cater for the emerging market. Here’s a rundown of what was announced at CES.

Smart home:

The most intriguing smart home news to emerge from CES was found in the slow trickle of HomeKit enabled devices that cropped up on the show floor. While none are yet Made for iPhone (MFI) certified, meaning Apple has yet to grant its stamp of approval, the HomeKit tech specs have been available to developers for some time now – despite Apple remaining characteristically tight lipped about the home automation protocol.

Nonetheless, if the developers have done their homework, the new products should be well-placed for retroactive certification – or hurried recalls and reimbursements if they were sloppy or if Apple changes its mind. Many outlets have reported that the HomeKit demos looked far from finished and often led to embarrassed reps scrambling for excuses; news which is likely to upset image-conscious Apple.

All the HomeKit devices on show used WiFi, and all required an Apple TV net top box if their owners want to control them using Apple’s Siri voice-enabled virtual assistant while outside the home network – meaning that the network isn’t self-sufficient and requires an iPhone or Apple TV’s presence at all times to function.

RIoT has previously written about the potential of the Apple TV to act as the central hub of an Apple smart home, especially if it added a low-power mesh protocol such as ZigBee (which is upgradeable to Google/Nest’s Thread if the market shifts), but as far as we know, the Apple TV will remain a WiFi and Bluetooth device.

So the $100 Apple TV does appear to be absolutely necessary for the HomeKit smart home, given that HomeKit’s main selling point is the use of Siri to control multiple of devices with just your voice. Telling Siri that you are going to bed would tell the home to turn off unnecessary lights, adjust the HVAC settings and perhaps put other media devices into sleep mode. Without Siri functionality while away from home, Apple has to convince buyers to add the cost of an Apple TV to their smart home wish lists – but could easily appease them on the back of a juicy deal for channels or content from its iTunes store.

But to the devices at hand, which are variously expected in Q1 and Q2 of this year, where Gridconnect has revealed a HomeKit compatible WiFi and ZigBee enabled wall outlet to add automation control to dumb devices that are powered by the mains supply. Incipio has also revealed three new HomeKit enabled devices, but declines to reveal the connectivity required. Its lightbulb adapter, wall plug and power strip promise to let users add smart control functions to dumb devices that can be controlled via an iPhone.

Both iDevices and iHome have HomeKit wall adapters too; the Switch and SmartPlug respectively. Lock maker Schlage has added the Sense lock to its portfolio, which promises Siri control to allow keyless entry, and Elgato has released a range of home sensors that give eyes to a HomeKit ecosystem. The six new products are a smart plug that measures electrical consumption, a connected smoke alarm, door and window sensors, a pipework-attached sensor to measure the temperature and flow of water in pipes, an internal room sensor to measure temperature, air quality, and humidity indoors, with the last sensor being the outdoors equivalent.

And speaking of the outdoors, Chamberlain has announced a new version of its connected garage door opener, as well as its new Notifi front door video camera and motion-triggered light – both of which are HomeKit compatible. Insteon has also announced a HomeKit version of its hub, which will bridge the gap between its proprietary protocol devices and those in the Apple ecosystem. The new Insteon Hub Pro will only work with iOS 8 (the iOS flavor which introduced HomeKit) and will cost $50 more than the regular $100 hub. In a similar vein, Lutron announced that it was adding ZigBee to its proprietary Clear Connect platform, as well as showing off an Apple Watch app to control its smart home system.

Moving on from HomeKit, semiconductor manufacturer Marvell and Kinoma Software have partnered to produce the Smart Home Cloud Center – a turnkey reference platform for telcos and OEMs to manage a smart home with, powered by Marvell’s ARM SoCs, and communicating via WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC, G.hn and ZigBee. TV software business iWedia also teased its OBLO home automation platform, based on WiFi, BLE, ZigBee and Z-Wave.

Belkin has launched 4 new ZigBee sensors to give its WeMo smart home platform a better view of the household’s comings and goings, and D-Link has a new hub (the DCH-GO20) that is AllJoyn compatible – the only such AllSeen Alliance news we spotted at CES. In addition to the AllSeen devices, D-Link has also added new WiFi and Z-Wave sensors, with a focus on home security. French company BeeWi, better known for its wireless audio products, used CES to announce that it was launching its smart home platform in the US, following success in Europe, Canada and Latin America.

Honeywell announced that it was adding a range of security sensors and alarms to its Lyric platform, and popular US security business First Alert released a thermostat, smoke alarm, safe and a smartwatch. Sticking with security, Yale launched an NFC-enabled deadbolt, and August announced a plug-in bridge unit to add WiFi connectivity to its Bluetooth door lock – allowing it to be controlled while away from home.

The smart home segment is most at home with the traditional staples of CES, and the TV is one of the best devices in the home to act as a control center to coordinate and interact with the installed devices. That’s the main thrust of EchoStar’s Sage set top and hardware family, which has received a UI refresh since we saw it at IBC, as well as adding a new feature to broadcast security alerts to the whole family and not just one device. The Sage platform, branded Sage by Hughes, will not charge a monthly subscription and will be sold on a device-cost basis. Also on the TV side of things, Zonoff and Staples Connect have partnered to push alerts onto the TV screen, so that users don’t miss them while engrossed in their content.

Lastly for the smart home roundup, Samsung-owned SmartThings announced that it would be releasing a redesigned hub, with a backup battery and cellular redundancy connectivity should the power or broadband connection fail. A premium subscription has been unveiled too, but this is only to push SMS alerts to a phone, with optional DVR capabilities for security cameras in the home.

Bluetooth Smart has also been added to the new hub, and SmartThings is promising many new third party integrations, thanks to its slimmed down sensors. Samsung also pledged $100m in funding to help developers create an open ecosystem, and reaffirmed its commitment to bringing the entirety of its diverse product portfolio online by 2020 – hopefully on the back of an open IoT.

Wearables:

Intel had perhaps the most significant piece of CES wearables news, with the launch of its Curie module – a Bluetooth Low Energy, Quark SoC powered unit that is meant to form the heart of new wearables from third party developers. Deftly plucked from the jacket of CEO Brian Krzanich, the button-sized Curie was hidden in plain sight for much of Intel’s keynote – a supercut of which is available in Around the Web. The module runs an open source real time OS (RTOS), and is focused on providing motion sensing to developers – the first of which is Oakley, a division of eyewear maker Luxottica which recently announced a partnership with Intel.

A number of notable wearables were on show, alongside a number of truly terrible devices, with an apparent focus on making the smartwatch a cheaper device. Coming in much cheaper than the $250-$300 price tag of the first Android Wear watches, Alcatel has revealed its $149 Onetouch Watch, which works with both Android Wear and iOS. Hoping to massively undercut its rivals, Alcatel’s watch sacrifices the Google voice control functionality – but hopes the price and iOS support will draw in the crowds.

Elsewhere in the pure smartwatch market, LG’s webOS made an appearance as the software behind Audi’s car-unlocking smartwatch, which got a lot of journalists very excited. So far, there are no confirmed webOS watches that can be bought without an accompanying Audi, but the descendent of PalmOS is having something of a resurgence on the wrist as well as in the TV.

An interesting new design from Linktop caught our eye too. Called the U2 (lawsuit pending?), the watch is being billed as the world’s first mechanical smart watch – a confusing term until you notice its screen. What the U2’s designers have done is installed a transparent OLED (TOLED) color screen on the top of a regular mechanical watch face. This allows it to display notifications when needed, but power off entirely when it has nothing to display. Linktop claims this gives it a 30 day battery life, which is much longer than other smartwatches. What’s more, the mechanical watch will continue telling the time if the electronic system’s battery dies.

Lenovo has also revealed its Vibe VB10 smartband, with e-ink screen and 7-day battery life. It is designed to monitor user activity, and supports iOS and Android. It will cost $89, and will begin shipping in April. Withings also revealed its Activité, which costs a lot more at $450 but more closely resembles a traditional watch. The Activité can monitor fitness and sleep cycles, but has been designed to blend into the background – unlike some of the more boisterous wearables on show.

Moving onto the pure fitness trackers now, and Fitbit has released its new $150 Charge and $250 Surge wearables, while Japan’s Jins was demonstrating its Meme glasses. Jins claims that integrating fitness sensors into spectacles provides a much more accurate picture of user activity, as they aren’t fooled by motion as easily as wrist-worn trackers. The nondescript black frames are also far less intrusive than the likes of Google Glass or Vuzix’s M100 – but that’s because they forgo a screen entirely and are purely focused on tracking user activity.

Epson also got in on the fitness tracker and smart glasses action at CES, launching its Epson Active range. Aimed more at the enterprise than the consumer market, the BT-200 smart glasses offer augmented reality apps for their wearer – with a price tag of $700. Epson also unveiled a much more affordable (but still not cheap) Runsense and Pulsense fitness trackers, as well as a $300 golf swing analyzer.

And on the luxury side of things, German watchmakers Montblanc has decided to reinvent the watch strap instead of the watch, adding a 4cm screen to its new e-Strap band to show notifications from a smartphone. It’s not cheap, priced at £250, but those in the market for a Montblanc watch likely won’t baulk at the price. Elsewhere, Swarovski and Misfit have partnered to create smart jewelry. Called the Swarovski Shine, the device tracks sleep and activity, and uses solar energy harvesting to avoid batteries altogether.

Connected Car:

In our final segment, and in addition to two separate articles covering Nvidia’s new X1 ship and autonomous vehicle ambitions, as well as Nexcom’s vehicular computing modules, CES 2015 was full of high-profile automotive announcements. We’ll cover the most IoT related ones below.

Elektrobit has teamed up with QNX to showcase its Street Detector software and the newest version of its Electronic Horizon Solution at CES, integrating the software into the QNX reference vehicle design, which visitors could virtually experience at CES. Elektrobit also expanded its agreement with Voicebox to collaborate on natural language processing techniques, to develop a multi-modal Human Machine Interface (HMI), capable of conversational interactions with the car’s occupants.

Broadcom unveiled a new NFC chip for the automotive market, which enables simplified tap-to-connect device pairing alongside a 60% reduced power envelope. Arynga teamed up with Intel to put its CarSync over-the-air updating platform into the Intel IVI platform, which Intel was demonstrating at the GENIVI Alliance booth.

And on that topic, the GENIVI Alliance, the Linux Foundation supported reference architecture for Tizen-based IVI systems, has announced that it will provide an open interface for Android Auto. Its open source middleware will now be extended to allow OEMs to support Google’s automotive platform – pending a licensing agreement.

Pioneer, a prominent aftermarket equipment OEM, is adding Android Auto to three of its new in-dash multimedia centers, allowing owners of older vehicles to upgrade to a smart car with a little tinkering. Parrot has also taken a similar approach with its new RNB6, but it supports Apple’s CarPlay as well as Android. Seattle-based software developer OpenCar has been showing off an IoT and telematics platform in partnership with Mazda, which promises both smart car as well as vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) functionality. GM is also integrating telematics tracking into its OnStar platform, letting all 2016 models push driving data to insurers to provide cheaper premiums to safer drivers.

Lastly, Toyota has followed Tesla’s open-sourced patents approach, releasing royalty-free patents related to its hydrogen cars for other developers to work on. Both companies are putting a charitable spin on the moves, but they are really attempts to entice other businesses into an ecosystem built around technology that the pair have sunk a lot of resources into – and hopefully avoid being passed-on if new developers find better ways of doing things and entice the industry to follow them instead.

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