CES 2015: The Internet of Just About Everything

At CES, where Internet-connected devices abound, Samsung says all its products will be connected by 2020.

Electronics that are connected to the Internet, and to each other, may be able to anticipate our needs.

During his keynote speech Monday evening at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Samsung CEO and president BK Yoon suggested a new kind of Internet-connected device: a “smart” office chair that automatically warms up when it senses that the user has just walked into the room and is feeling cold.

Samsung has not announced any intelligent office furniture, yet, but the example shows just how committed the world’s largest consumer electronics company is to the so-called Internet of things.

Already Samsung makes Internet-connected ovens, TVs, and many other devices, but Yoon predicted that by 2017, 90 percent of all Samsung hardware will be Internet-connected. Five years from now, he said, every Samsung product will be part of the Internet of things, no matter whether it’s an air purifier or a vacuum cleaner. He said the company is also working to make its “smart” devices act as hubs that enable other gadgets to connect to the Internet.

Many new products on show at CES were inspired by the premise that Internet connectivity is set to change many of the devices around us, making them more capable and perhaps more useful. The market research company IDC estimates that the universe of connected devices will total 30 billion by 2020. And at this year’s CES, connectivity has been added to more devices than ever before in products from companies large and small.

Many of the connected devices center on the smart home, including smart light bulbs and smart TVs. Internet-connected home-security cameras and sensors seem especially popular this year, perhaps because their utility is obvious and they may appeal to a broad range of people.

Several new security cameras feature facial-recognition technology. One is the Welcome smart camera, from French company Netatmo, which looks like a small cylinder and is meant to sit somewhere inside your home. It has a wide-angle camera and infrared sensor, so even if it’s dark it can sense when someone passes by and send you an alert via smartphone to let you know who’s there (if it’s an unfamiliar face, it will let you know that, too). The Welcome camera can store up to 20 faces and is expected to become available between April and June, though Netatmo hasn’t yet announced a price.

Other smart devices can sense different kinds of trouble in the home. Leeo is a smart nightlight that plugs into a standard outlet and listens for a carbon monoxide or smoke alarm, alerting you via your smartphone (iPhone only, at the moment) if it hears either. The nightlight can also call friends or family if it can’t reach you. It sells for $99.

Plenty of quirkier connected devices are being shown off at CES, too. One gadget, the SmartFeeder from Los Angeles-based Petnet, customizes a feeding schedule for your cat or dog by considering the animal’s age, weight, and activity level. It will then dole out food on that schedule, but it also connects to your smartphone so you can make changes remotely and receive alerts about how your pet is eating. In addition, it will be able to automatically reorder pet food when it runs low. Planned for release this spring, it will sell for $249.

But whether companies are adding connectivity to doggie bowls or security systems, they will have to tackle several issues. For instance, many early connected-home devices have included little in the way of built-in security, making them possible targets for hackers. In some cases, security can be improved by storing data on such devices themselves, rather than on a remote server—something Netatmo says it’s doing with videos that users record via Welcome (they’re stored on an included memory card you slip into its rear).

Beyond that, it can be tricky to get this fast-growing ecosystem of gadgets to work together, especially if devices use different protocols for transmitting data—as is often the case when they are made by different companies.

A couple of industry groups have sprung up in hopes of improving security and interoperability. The AllSeen Alliance was formed in late 2013 by a group of tech companies including Qualcomm and LG, along with the Linux Foundation, and now has 100 members, including Sony and Microsoft.

This past summer Samsung, chip maker Intel, and others announced the Open Interconnect Consortium, which had 45 members by late 2014, including Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo.

Yoon stressed the importance of common regulations and standards to Samsung’s vision. “Attempts to close or silence parts of the Internet of things are contrary to what makes this technology a potential game-changer for society,” he said.

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