CES: IBM to showcase smart home devices

IBM is pushing for intelligent homes as Internet-connected household devices get access to more online content and services, company officials said on Monday.

Entertainment devices like TVs are connecting to online services like Netflix to watch movies, but services can be expanded to cut electricity bills, monitor health and keep homes safe, said Scott Burnett, director of IBM's digital convergence group.

IBM will display gadgets that enable automation and monitoring features at the International Consumer Electronics Show to be held in Las Vegas between Jan. 7 and Jan. 10. The company will show off smart meters, health devices, security monitors and TVs that use IBM's software platform to access and monitor data.

For example, IBM researchers will demonstrate a virtual smarter home prototype with advanced security features. Through a virtual three-dimensional replica of the house, visitors will be able to observe and control the security elements, with the ability to remotely control shutters, doors and surveillance cameras.

Other devices on display will include a smart thermostat from Emerson Technology that allows users to regulate home air conditioning and heating through PCs and mobile phones, which could help cut heating and cooling bills.

Companies are already coming out with consumer electronics that make such services possible, Burnett said. For example, utility companies like Pacific Gas and Electricity are rolling out smart meters for consumers to provision power usage during off-peak hours. Shaspa offers an automation plug that allows users to remotely lock doors through a surveillance system.

Consumers are finally warming to smarter devices though the concept of a smart home has been talked about for many years, Burnett said. Over the last five to eight years, homes have been readied for broadband use, and there will be close to 1.2 billion connected consumer electronics devices in use by 2013, he said, citing statistics from research company iSuppli.

Customers are also looking for better ways to monitor health through tools like Internet-connected medical devices, Burnett said. Companies including IBM and Vignet will demonstrate a system that includes a pulse oximeter that can check the oxygen levels in blood. If oxygen levels are low, the system will alert health professionals.

Technology for such products is available, but they need to come at a reasonable cost and be easy to install, said Martin Kienzle, chief architect of IBM's digital convergence group.

Smart homes could get smarter, Burnett said. IBM envisions TVs with Web browsers that can host data from connected devices like lighting, thermostats and smart meters. Refrigerators could also adjust cooling temperatures based on the volume of items stored.

There is also an insatiable appetite for entertainment at homes, and smarter algorithms in devices like TVs could adjust programming and advertising, Burnett said. IBM will demonstrate entertainment technologies including a HbbTV (Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV), which converges television with information from the Internet.

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