Multiplatform home devices showcased at CES

Related: Annual showcase offers close-up look at new tech

By Dave Sebastian
BU News Service

LAS VEGAS — The day wasn’t over when most booths had closed up by 6 p.m. on the official CES show floor. Two days into the world’s largest tech conference, 127 companies met up with more than 1,500 reporters, industry analysts and investors at a Wynn Las Vegas hotel ballroom Jan. 8.

The annual after-hours exhibition, produced for the 17th time by public-relations firm ShowStoppers, showcased an array of wearable, education, gaming and even sex toy devices. It has become such a CES staple that companies paid the organization between $5,500 and $12,000 to participate in the exhibition, which is not officially affiliated with CES.

But if you walked through one of the ballroom’s lanes dotted with dim sum, tacos and dessert, you would spot a smart-home device here and there that is being featured at CES.

The smart home-themed exhibition aisles reflected a trend observed in the Consumer Technology Association’s latest sales and forecast report, which was presented to reporters and analysts Jan. 6. Smart-home products, which are heavy on automation, spur growth in the technology industry, serving as “a symphony of devices working together,” Ben Arnold, CTA’s senior director of innovation and trends, said at the presentation.

Here are some of the multi-device smart-home products BU News Service spotted at the exhibition:

Boston-based startup’s sensor only needs voice, not electric power, to wake up (before opening your trash can)

Vesper's voice-activated microphone pack
Vesper’s voice-activated microphone pack. (Photo by Dave Sebastian/BU News Service)
Vesper's microphone dunked into Budweiser beer to demonstrate its waterproof feature
Vesper’s microphone dunked into Budweiser beer to demonstrate its waterproof feature. (Photo by Dave Sebastian/BU News Service)

Have your hands ever been too full of junk to open the trash can? Released Jan. 8 at CES, luxury housewares designer simplehuman is incorporating Vesper Technologies Inc.’s MEMS microphone, which acts as a sensor, into a voice-activated trash can. The commands “open can” and “close can” will do the dirty job for you. The trash can will launch in February.

The microphone uses the ZeroPower Listening technology, which does not require electric power to activate it, Matthew Crowley, CEO of the Boston-based Vesper, told BU News Service. It is waterproof and can handle substances like beer, as demonstrated at the ShowStoppers exhibition. The sensor will then be powered by AAA batteries once it’s activated, before going dormant again in lieu of cues.

“Our customer, simplehuman, had situations where they have a motion sensor for the can, when people have trash in their hands or something kind of dirty garbage, it’s sometimes hard to waive their hand over the trash can,” Crowley said of how the concept came about.

Vesper will be providing Qualcomm Inc. with the microphone-sensor technology to complement the chipmaker’s expanding 5G technology, Crowley said. The sensor will be applied into a headset company’s product in the first half of 2019, Crowley said. He declined to specify the product and company’s name, describing it as “an Asian company that’s going to use one of the mainstream voice assistants.”

Qualcomm on Jan. 7 unveiled an AI-powered car dashboard that connects the vehicle with road conditions and features in-vehicle Amazon Alexa, Prime Video and Music, BU News Service reported.

Whirlpool Corp.’s new oven knows how long and how hot your food needs to be cooked

Whirlpool Corp.’s Smart Countertop Oven, unveiled Jan. 8 at CES, is a combo of cooking methods and the answers to your usual Google searches when cooking (How long should Brussels sprouts roast? How to make sure my steak’s medium-rare?).

Developed by WLabs Innovations, Whirlpool’s research arm, the oven identifies the inserted food, including the distinction between fresh and frozen, and cooks it with preset time and temperature. Users can choose to dictate commands using the oven’s in-machine voice recognition, powered by Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, to bake, slow-cook and even air-fry with the oven. It also can measure the food’s temperature.

Yummly Pro, a version of the Whirlpool’s acquired Yummly mobile app also announced at CES, can also send commands to the oven. The app can identify ingredients with an artificial intelligence-powered image take, in addition to loading recipes based on user preferences such as cuisine, allergies and avoided ingredients as well as featuring celebrity-chef videos.

“It speaks to the oven,” said Adam Soldinger, head of digital strategy at Yummly.

There are 2,000 ovens available for pre-order at $799. Whirlpool’s announcement came after June Oven, a home automation company, released a newer version of its sensor-equipped, smartphone-connected oven in August 2018.

An power outlet that tracks which devices consume the most electricity

Currant's in-wall power outlet that tracks electricity use by device
Currant’s in-wall power outlet that tracks electricity use by device. (Photo by Dave Sebastian/BU News Service)
Currant's mobile app that tracks electricity use by device based on data received from outlet
Currant’s mobile app that tracks electricity use by device based on data received from outlet. (Photo by Dave Sebastian/BU News Service)

A smartphone can track which apps are the culprits to your battery’s demise. California-based company Currant Inc.’s new Smart Wall Outlet carries out a similar duty — in finding the culprits to your mounting electricity bills.

The in-wall outlet, powered with AI, sends a report of household devices’ electricity consumption to a mobile app, which recognizes usage patterns and makes recommendations on energy-saving, Currant CEO Hasty Granbery told BU News Service. Users can also switch off devices that are plugged into Currant’s outlets from the app.

The outlet is set to be released in the United States in early 2019. Currant has previously released a similar product that is plugged into a regular outlet.

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