Smart-home devices take centre stage in Vegas

The Daimler Mercedes-Benz F015. The firm aims to transform the car into a rolling lounge that chauffers passengers autonomously.

Imagine a world in which the garage door automatically opens as you pull into the driveway. The living room lights and heater turn on — perhaps the oven starts warming up, too.

In the so-called “smart home,” cars, appliances, and devices all have sensors and internet connectivity to think and act for themselves, and make your life easier.

We’re not there just yet, but we’re getting closer.

The smart-home concept is known in tech circles as the Internet of Things.

Current iterations primarily include our ability to control gadgets such as lights and security alarms or view data remotely through a smartphone app.

At the International CES gadget show in Las Vegas this week, manufacturers are promoting more devices and functionality. Some gadgets will be able to talk directly with one another, not just to an app.

That garage door? Mercedes-Benz would like people to imagine their car of the future pulling in all by itself.

The carmaker unveiled the sleek concept car that it is calling F 015 when it turned a stage inside The Cosmopolitan on the Strip in Las Vegas into a scene usually reserved for annual car shows, attracting a swell of people on stage afterward wanting a closer look.

The car’s futuristic look belies some historic inspiration in its design. Zetsche said the wheels were pushed to the outer edges much like a horse carriage, giving ample room inside for seating rather than wheel wells — in this case four modern swivel chairs.

And much like those horse carriages, the passengers inside the car of the future can chat, read a newspaper, or even take a nap while their car would ferry them home.

“Mankind has been dreaming of autonomous cars since the 1950s,” Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz said. He said the firm has been working to make it a reality — albeit still a concept and not in production yet — since the 1990s.

The Internet of Things could mean big business for gadget makers, too. The Consumer Electronics Association projects sales of smart energy and security systems alone will total $574m (€480m) this year, a 23% increase from 2014. Although that pales by comparison to the $18bn spent on TVs and displays, growth has been swift. In terms of people smartening up their homes in earnest, though, it will probably be another two years before devices are cheap and widespread enough for the typical consumer, says Eduardo Pinheiro, CEO of Muzzley, which makes a hub that allows devices to talk to each other.

For now, the smart home is more about possibilities than practice. Many companies exhibiting at CES are laying the foundation for what a smart-home system will eventually do, hoping to entice consumers to start thinking about upgrading to smart gadgets.


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