CES '13: IBM wants to connect your whole house to its cloud

A big theme at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has been the connected home. There are televisions connected to the cloud; refrigerators connected to the Internet; heating, lighting and security systems connected to sensors and monitors. And IBM wants all of those devices to be connected to its cloud.

A big theme at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has been the connected home. There are televisions connected to the cloud; refrigerators connected to the Internet; heating, lighting and security systems connected to sensors and monitors. And IBM wants all of those devices to be connected to its cloud.

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Why do your TV, refrigerator and all your other gadgets need to be connected to the cloud? For one, IBM Research electronics guru Martin Kienzle says it allows the devices to provide customized services. Kienzle envisions a world where a television recognizes who is using it -- mom, dad or one of the kids -- and based on that information different home screens with favorite channels or apps would appear. When kids are using it, parental controls would automatically be turned on. Your telco can also provide automatic subscription, billing and customer service functions through a cloud-connected television. IBM, by the way, isn't the only provider offering such services -- Toshiba has talked about this capability as well.

But IBM says connecting these devices to its SmartCloud -- its flagship overarching cloud service -- will allow the company to provide additional value-add compared to just connecting the device to the Internet. Exposing these devices to IBM's cloud means they can use the company's powerful analytics programs. "This is the core of the IBM Smarter Planet," Kienzle says. "Once you get connected there is a tremendous amount of data you can get and harvest."

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IBM has already begun rolling out this technology. Late last year IBM announced that its SmartCloud is optimized for connections specifically for electronics. Vodafone announced last year it would use IBM's SmartCloud for remote management of home appliances from mobile devices via the cloud. One of the biggest partnerships IBM has is with Philips TV, specifically through partnerships with the TV maker in Europe and Latin America. Europe is a very fragmented market so connecting TVs for the Internet allows customized service options, such as native languages and home screens, depending on the user.

IBM announced at CES this week that it is joining the Smart TV Alliance -- which Philips is already a part of along with Panasonic, LG and Toshiba -- to explore how cloud-connected televisions can provide personalized service to customers.

IBM has also partnered with STMicroelectronics and Shaspa to use voice and gesture recognition to control all aspects of a home, from energy appliances to heating, cooling, security and lighting.

Kienzle sees an opportunity to allow telcos to expand into new areas using connected devices. A telco provider that offers cable television service through an Internet-connected TV can have other sensors around the house pointing to all of the smoke detectors. Using that information, the telco can partner with an insurance company and create a risk assessment of how safe the house is.

"This will be an evolution," Kienzle says. "2013 is the big year for experimentation, as we move along we'll learn exactly what customers want and what they're actually using. Because at the end of the day, that's the only thing that really matters."

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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