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Consumer Electronic Show Highlights Home Technology


That big consumer electronics show in Las Vegas ends today. And while big tech firms like Google and Apple did not attend, an increasingly diverse range of companies took their place. With more and more devices connecting to the Internet, many companies are flocking to this festival of gadgets, hoping to bring all the appliances in your home online. NPR's Steve Henn reports.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: The Internet isn't just for people anymore. What began as a way for human beings to communicate using computers, smartphones or tablets has evolved into a network that's connecting more and more machines to each other. And the machines have a lot to say. Meet Ivee.



HENN: That's Jonathon Nostrant, the founder and CEO of the company that makes Ivee.

NOSTRANT: What's the weather in London on Saturday?

IVEE: Saturday in London, the temperature will be 34 degrees. You can expect partly cloudy skies mid-morning.

HENN: Ivee is a next generation alarm clock.

NOSTRANT: So we started making voice-activated talking alarm clocks. And basically what we found is that people like to talk to devices. The biggest benefit with our products today is that they can set the time of the alarm, but tomorrow they're going to be able to do so much more.

HENN: Say you're chilly. Just tell Ivee to turn up the heat.

IVEE: OK. I've set your thermostat to 73.

HENN: Sensors that can connect to the Net are already embedded in some thermostats, scales, door locks, light switches, windows, and even some sprinkler systems. This is supposed to be the future, right? The smart connected home.

NOSTRANT: Typically people see the phone and the tablet as being the only interface to interact with the smart home.

HENN: But Nostrant thought, why not just talk to it? I mean do you really want to use your iPhone to turn on and off the lights?

NOSTRANT: Instead of taking your phone out of your pocket, sliding over the bar, hitting the app to get in the app, going to the button, selecting the lights on and off, why not just say, hello, Ivee, turn the lights on?

HENN: The thing is, Ivee is just one of dozens of different companies which are competing to get the smart home to actually work. There are crowd-funded start-ups like Smart Things. There are security companies, like ADT and Alarm.com. Even giant telecoms like Verizon - all want to sell you something to help you connect every little appliance you own to the Net. There's even one very big hardware store getting into this act: Lowe's.

KEVIN MARR: My name's Kevin Marr and my title VP of Smart Home for Lowe's.

HENN: When did Lowe's decide that it needed a VP for Smart Home? How long have you had this job?

MARR: Exactly a year - just a little over a year, but...

HENN: Marr has been building connected gadgets for so-called smart homes for more than a decade.

MARR: You walk out to your car and frankly everything in your car works, interacts with each other. You've got central locking, electric windows. The door locks when you turn the ignition on. You know, there's a logic to the way all these things work.

HENN: In the home, Marr says, these same kinds of technologies could help save energy and water. They can make your home safer. They could even send you a text if an elderly parent doesn't get up and fire up the coffee maker at the usual time.

MARR: Everything but everything is going to be connected to the Internet.

HENN: And a lot of good could come of that, so Lowe's created a simple control system called Iris you can install yourself, that can talk to almost any connected appliance Lowe's sells. In the past, companies built different kinds of sensors into products and all these little gizmos couldn't talk to each other.

MARR: And that's the advantage we have at Lowe's. We sell this stuff and we can talk with our vendors and we can say, look, guys, I want you to make it so that when it connects, it connects this way.

HENN: And if you're an executive at, say, Pella Windows or Whirlpool, when Lowe's calls, you take the call. So if you've been waiting years for a smart fridge to go with your smartphone, that wait could possibly be coming to an end. Steve Henn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.