Companies at CES 2017 showcased many new products for the smarter home, but only a handful were truly innovative and worthy of being included in our top five list. And why would these products make the list? Not just because they're cool... they have to solve a real problem, not complicate your life and do something that no one's ever done before. That's what we mean when we think of innovation. (And most of these innovations should be available to consumers sooner than later.)
Looking for more CES coverage? Well, we chose to get out our top picks from the show first as additional CES 2017 content is being produced, which should become available on our YouTube channel and here on the site soon. We'll have specific content on smart lighting, home automation and HomeKit, stay tuned!
#5: Sunflower by ShadeCraft
There really hasn't been much technical innovation in outdoor patio furniture, specifically those ubiqitous umbrellas. Sure, some are easier to open than others, and perhaps they might even tilt, but many times they can be a pain to deal with. So what happens when you add some California ingenuity to a regular-old shade umbrella? The Sunflower, a robotic, automated outdoor shade by ShadeCraft.
I know what you're thinking, "Seriously? An automated shade umbrella?" Yes, it's real, I saw it. And it's really, really cool. Of course, the experience at their booth was designed to be impressive as there was only one Sunflower present (but there was a DJ and thumping techno music playing usually.) Its obvious feature, coming from the name, is that it tracks the sun and keep you in the shade as much as possible. And just like their booth experience, it has an on-board sound system, along with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. With the optional cellular add-on, the Sunflower can become a Wi-Fi hotspot. But wait, there's more! It connects to your smarter home and can perform tasks via voice control since there's a microphone embedded in the shade. This robotic Sunflower, like the real thing found in nature, can understand its environment via on-board sensors, tracking the wind, nearby objects, weather details and air quality. And, oh yeah, two cameras can give you a panoramic view of what's around your Sunflower.
And, of course, the Sunflower is powered by the sun via solar cells, and can charge up your mobile devices with USB ports. It will close itself up if it gets windy, you can remote control it via the SmartShade app and, yes, it can hold your drink for you. (It'll even keep it warm or cold.) The Sunflower won't be shipping until later this year, and there's no pricing yet (I joked with one of their reps if it would be less than $10,000 and got a nod and a laugh.) If ShadeCraft can make their Sunflower dance to music like those once-popular dancing flower things, I think they'll really have a hit. shadecraft.com
#4: Nevo Home Universal Control App
For seemingly forever, people have been searching for the ultimate universal remote control for their home theatre devices, or heck, just their TV and DVD / Blu-ray player. And while there have been many solutions created over the years, it has taken until recently for a truly simple solution to appear. And this solution doesn't require you to buy a new device!
The problem for users has always been learning to press different button sequences on a universal remote, and especially the setup required to get multiple devices working on one remote. What has been missing is some sort of interoperability / control standard among various devices, which was more difficult when the only communication was one-way, and based on infrared light. Fast-forward to today, where many A/V devices now have Wi-Fi or network ports, and HDMI connections are becoming capable, it's simpler to create a universal language for devices to talk to and learn about each other. Enter a company that's not necessarily well-known to consumers named Universal Electronics, although you might own one of their One For All universal remote controls. It makes sense that Universal Electronics Inc. introduced a system called QuickSet in 2009, and it's now deployed to over 400 million devices worldwide. QuickSet (according to UEI) is "the de facto solution for simplifying universal control setup and operation" for set-top boxes, televisions, game consoles, smartphones, and tablets.
Why give you the background on all of this technology? Well, what if there was a way to leverage all of this QuickSet tech that's most likely built into your TV and at least some of your other devices? It turns out, the team at UEI has done just that, with a soon-to-be-released smartphone and tablet app called Nevo Home. It works with smart TVs and other connected A/V devices, and discovers what you have in your home automatically and even shows you the available content on those devices. With a sleek interface, Nevo Home uses QuickSet Cloud infrastructure to always be ready to give you control over the latest devices. The no-setup-required experience is seamless, and discovery happens in mere seconds. UEI's control technology lets the app control input switching, power and other supported features of your connected devices. And all of this problem-solving, awesome functionality is free. While Nevo Home is starting with mainly A/V devices, support over smarter home devices and other things is in the works. I think Nevo Home could be a real game changer to bring universal control to devices that you already own. The Android version should be available near the end of January, followed by iOS. mynevo.com
#3: tapdo Smart Fingerprint Button
tapdo is a Bluetooth smart button with a fingerprint sensor that gives you shortcuts to both your apps and smarter home devices. And you can assign mulitple fingers and sections of your fingers to control many different functions right from your wrist, or clip the button to clothing. The only challenge with using tapdo might be remembering which part of which finger you assigned to do what function, but if you use it frequently it shouldn't be an issue. Physical controls, alongside apps and voice, are part of the trifecta of controlling your smarter home and it's a positive sign to see more companies creating innovative products like this one. There have been a few ordinary "buttons" that can trigger "smart home" scenes and even interface to IFTTT, but usually they can only do one or two things. Something like tapdo can enable many more possibilities, and they are just getting started at this point. tapdo launches on Kickstarter in February with plans to ship this summer. tapdo.io
The Number 2 and Number 1 Smart Home Innovations should probably be both listed at Number 1, but that would require weird math or something ;-)
#2: Sevenhugs Smart Remote
The number two innovation is technically something the world has previously seen, but didn’t get to experience a true live demo until now. The Sevenhugs smart remote is simply the coolest remote control, ever. Once setup with its 3 positioning sensors and your home’s products, you simply point it at the thing you want to control and the display instantly changes to give you control over that thing. The smart remote has IR, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on-board and works with over 25,000 products from TVs and AV devices to smart switches and smart lighting. It’s currently priced at $229 for pre-orders and it’s shipping later this summer.
Having only seen basic demos and prototypes, I was slightly skeptical, and also many of us didn't know how the underlying technology worked. There are 3 sensors that you have to place in each room / space where you use the Smart Remote, which assist the on-board 9-axis motion sensors to determine exactly where it is, it's orientation in space and where it is pointing. Watching it track it's position in real-time (I mean, zero latency!) and seeing the display change and the quick adjustments that could be made to various devices really sold me. And Sevenhugs was one of the last stops I made during CES. Really. Impressive. Tech. sevenhugs.com
#1: Aura Home Security System
My pick for the number one innovative smarter home product at CES 2017 is Aura. This is a home security system that monitors motion by detecting ripples in the wireless signals throughout your home. (Hmm, a "disturbance in the Force?) It doesn’t use traditional door and window, or motion sensors, and it doesn’t use cameras but consists simply of a hub and sensor device. You plug them in, and you’re done. Aura detects movement in your entire home, right through interior walls and lets you know when something isn’t quite right, but can also let you know who is at home. The absence of cameras in Aura’s home security solution can definitely give peace-of-mind to those concerned about privacy.
Since their technology detects "invisible" changes in RF fields throughout your home, their booth itself couldn't really demo their product. And I had to ask who they were and what they were about because the booth appearance didn't tell me anything about the company. They did have a really cool VR experience, which you can see more of in this video, that I tried out and was pretty succincnt in showing exactly what their technology does. I had a long conversation with one of their engineers and was extremely impressed. Ultimately, all of this led me to give them this valuable number one spot on our list.
Aura’s system is incredibly advanced technology, down the dedicated radio chips they invented, but their interface makes it simple to use and understand. And it solves a problem without making your life more complicated. Aura is $399 for pre-orders and ships in February. aurahome.com