Looking to the Horizon: Amazon Smart Oven and More Smart Household Devices

Smart home technology has come a long way in a short space of time. It’s not just brought with it all the functionality seen in these posts, but it has awoken many entrepreneurs to new possibilities and there is a whole lot more smart tech in the pipeline.

How do I know? Because sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo mean you can play a part in bringing a new idea to market. Both allow people with an idea to share it – along with their plans to bring it to market and their funding goals.

You can browse the sites and if there’s an idea you like you can be one of the first to buy, or even invest a little more if you’re keen.

The more established companies are not adverse to giving away pieces of their plans too, from time to time.

Apple trailed the HomePod smart speaker a long time before it was commercially available, for example.

Although firms love to surprise audiences with big announcements, that is harder for them to do before news slips out, especially if they’re moving into a new area and need access to retailer support.

Rather than lose control of the news as a sales rep gives the game away, firms are now compelled to share early.

As well as the big announcements, it’s also a fact that, day in, day out, the artificial intelligence behind each of the digital assistance is improving.

That’s important because it’s never been true of other appliances in your home; your computer and your phone, yes, but the idea that something more solid might learn new tricks without having to be replaced is spreading throughout the home.

AMAZON SMART OVEN

You might wonder what use a smart oven has, but in truth there's a lot to be said for it.

Most modern microwaves feature a number of different heating modes better suited to certain types of food that will combat sogginess etc.

The problem is, except for maybe defrost, no one ever uses them because they're only accessible through an array of complicated button controls and sometimes a chart built into the design - it all feels a bit eighties.

Amazon's smart oven doesn't look very different, but it does feature a button that, when pressed, attracts the attention of your nearest Echo.

You can then say 'cook a potato' and the Amazon Smart Oven will automatically choose the best settings.

All of a sudden you don't need to remember cooking times, which means you might start to use the microwave for more meals than just packets with 'microwave for 3 minutes' on the back.

Better yet, there is the prospect of half-decent microwave ovens gaining this skill in time, like those with built-in grills (the kind that melt cheese nicely).

That's not to say that there aren't still some silly aspects -you can tell Alexa to stop the microwave too, but isn't it easier to just press the button? Nonetheless, there is a strong use case for this machine, which is already on sale at Amazon.com, and it represents a positive step.

DASH PANCAKE BOT

If you've ever stayed at a motel in Texas, you might have encountered a breakfast­waffle toaster in the shape of that state, just below the wall-mounted TV showing Fox News. I know I did.

Developing that idea one step further is the Pancake Bot, which takes 3D print designs from your computer (via SD card) and turns them into shaped pancakes. The batter is ejected from a computer-controlled moving head and squirted onto a heated plate.

While this is really just a novelty to impress at trade shows with breakfast buffets, it is an impressive one that actually works (and was successfully funded via Kickstarter and is now available at Amazon).

PIUM SMART DIFFUSER

Pium smart diffuser

Billed as 'Your Personal Aromatherapist', this Kickstarter product hints at the possibilities for smart tech to take over even those aspects of your home environment that seem organic.

The Pium is a diffuser that is able to accept a variety of capsules; for example, you might want to place one in the office with a fresh minty scent that can begin freshening the air before you arrive using geolocation or a command from your Apple Watch.

It's an exciting product as it stands for those who look for harmony in their environment, but it's possible to imagine a future where diffusers have more than one capsule and are able to mix perfumes to create differing environments without the need to change capsules.

HAPILABS SMART FORK

Hapilabs smart fork

This Bluetooth-enabled fork - already available in the US - is designed to give users feedback on how quickly it's used to shovel food into the mouth.

Based on the simple truth that if we eat too fast we barely notice when we've had enough, this motion sensor based device is intended to help people learn to slow down and develop better eating habits.

While it might not be the future itself, it clearly highlights the room for technology to develop into this space.

Perhaps the most difficult problem in the health arena that tech has yet to solve is a way of monitoring how many calories we're consuming without requiring tiresome examination of food labels.

Combining that data with all the exercise measurements we're already seeing could provide a complete picture of health data and revolutionize medicine and dieting.

KNOCKI SMART CONTROLLER

Knocki smart sensor

When new technology comes along many people want to show it off, so early products can be somewhat unsubtle in their design.

But as the smart home goes mainstream there is more of a desire to blend in with existing style choices.

The Knocki is an example of the kind of product that might help do this. Using sensors, it detects taps or 'knocks', and can be set up to work with most popular smart home devices so that different patterns of knocks perform one or more actions.

One knock to turn lights on and two to turn them off, for example, while three knocks might start your kettle.

Knocki has received its funding, been through alpha and beta product-manufacturing tests and as of mid-2020 you can purchase this device on the official site at https://knocki.com/ starting at $89.

SLIDE SMART CURTAINS

Slide smart curtains

There are already some clever curtain solutions available, but surprisingly few are smart home connected.

Slide is a successfully funded lndieGoGo campaign with a planned release date this winter.

Its goal is to create a device, which you fit yourself and at a fairly reasonable cost; it features small attachments for the outermost ring on your curtain which connect to a wire that is pulled from a motor on the side.

The key selling a point is the IFTTT (and, presumably, Routines and Shortcuts integration) which will make it possible to have the curtains gently open and spill natural light into your room to help you rise naturally.

SMART HOME ROBOTS

Cruzr home robot

It's impossible to look to the future without touching on the possibilities afforded by robotics.

So far, robotics firms have struggled against the relatively tangible benefits offered by smart speakers, but Ubtech - among others - seems well placed to change all that.

Ubtech is likely to be best known this Christmas for its First Order Storm Trooper, which features facial recognition, voice command capability, the ability to patrol (walking on his legs) or stand guard.

Going forward the company has already demonstrated both Cruzr, a 1.2m-tall robot with facial recognition, which can roll on its ‘omni-wheels’ to anyone it sees and greet them with a handshake.

Its face is a screen and the whole bot has a very Lost in Space feel, but the customers are clearly intended to be commercial.

It is designed to be programmed to suit the needs of the client, for example, it might use its five-hour battery as a patrol to augment regular security.

Ubtech also showed, at CES 2018, the beginnings of the robot we all crave - a robot butler. It is bipedal and already able to climb the stairs, although it has a very small torso and no arms. Yet.

And went on sale in 2019 for a 'relatively affordable' price (at this point, though, a very nice car would fit in the same price bracket), but it's exciting to see that these problems are close to being solved.

BEYOND THE DEVICES

Amazing devices are one thing, but software improvements will change our lives too.

Understanding households - At the moment, smart home technology relies heavily on being told what to do by our phones, but this doesn't make for a very natural relationship with other members of the household.

The person who sets things up finds everything works for them, but does their partner enjoy the same experience? Do their children (and should they?).

Now that smart assistants can learn to distinguish users by voice (helping avoid mix-ups when adding items to calendars, for example) it's possible to imagine things being a lot more useful. Commands like 'set the lights the way

I like them' ought to make sense if the smart speaker knows which room it is in and who is commanding it.

Security begins at home - At the moment you could easily make the argument that a lot of smart home functions somewhat pass the buck when it comes to security, assuming that the facial recognition or fingerprint scanner on the user's phone means that any command they receive is okay. It's not impossible that we'll start to see devices becoming a little more discerning.

Integration and interoperability - With shortcuts and routines representing so much of the promise of the smart home, no consumer enjoys having to worry about whether a new device will work with their existing ones.

In May, a third of Britons surveyed said that they didn't trust smart home technology (most were unsure), proving there is definitely some kind of incentive for a cross-platform standard.

Although a potentially gloomy outlook that can't be ignored is that a post-Brexit UK-only standard is created which puts manufacturers off bothering with the relatively small market.

Going mobile - The Apple Watch has offered the ability to use mobile data connectivity since 2017, and it is far from the only device with cellular (mobile) integration - pet trackers are another example where remote connectivity brings genuine advantages. As 4 and 5G networks grow, it will only become more practical for devices to feature connections to the internet that work anywhere.