Enabling the next-generation of smart home devices

Nov. 2018

As if overnight, everything at home is becoming smart. We wear smartwatches. We listen to music through smart speakers. Our thermostats are smart. Our door lock recognizes faces and fingerprints. Our smart scale records our weight and fat composition.

Faced with the success of these products, many more appliances will become smart. A smart clock will show the time, but also blink when your kitchen timers elapse. A smart microwave will understand voice commands. A smart table will charge your devices and smart lighting will reflect your mood.

What’s common to many of these devices? Internet connectivity, voice services, and deep personalization. Alexa, Siri, Cortana or the Google Assistant gives them intelligence.

They also need more power. Speakers did not have displays, but now they do. Locks did not have Bluetooth, but now they do. A smart device means local processing and intelligence. Displays, connectivity, and intelligence all draw power.

If a smart device was a pet, the power cord is its leash. The cord limits the device to locations that are close to power outlets. It makes installation more difficult. And, has anyone ever met a beautiful power cord? Face it, power cords are ugly, which is why users spend time hiding them.

What will usher in the next wave of smart home devices?

One option is taking an existing “dumb” product and making it smart. A smart food processor? A smart hair dryer? A smart electric shaver? We’re starting to run out of options.

The other option is to improve on existing smart devices. A thermostat can look nicer. A speaker can have better sound. Devices can communicate better with each other. Voice recognition can be better. Taking this road will lead to incremental improvements. Good, but not great.

Let’s examine another existing and very popular smart device: the phone. What is the biggest issue with today’s phones? Quality of the camera? The number of pixels? Size of the screen? The biggest issue is battery life.

To me, the next big thing in smart devices is eliminating the power cord. Let’s imagine wire-free devices. Put your smart speaker on a high shelf or hang it on the wall. Install a smart thermostat exactly where you want to control the temperature. Hang security cameras without hiding the wire. We’ve spent so much time eliminating the data cord. Isn’t it time to get rid of the power cord as well?

Power without wires would impact battery-operated devices as well. Get endless playing time on a Bluetooth speaker. Never replace batteries on the smart scale. Manufacturers would also leverage this for new functionality. For instance, owners of smart locks would love a short video recording of people at their door. Is it a neighbor? A delivery person? A complete stranger? Locks don’t have that functionality because it drains the battery. But if battery power was not an issue, recording of video snippets would become a reality.

Wire-free power delivery is now a reality. Companies such as Wi-Charge deliver meaningful power at room-sized distances. This is enough power to charge a phone, or power a speaker.

The next generation of smart devices will add features. But, they must also remove something: the power cord.