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AHAM Sees ‘Limitless Potential’ In Home Appliance Connectivity

A new white paper by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) suggests that the white-goods industry is poised for a paradigm shift as majaps join — if not lead — the IoT revolution.

Indeed, connected devices will be in nearly every home by 2020, the trade group noted, when the total number of IoT-compliant products is expected to reach 26 billion.

In homes, IoT scenarios including usage-based design of appliances, chore automation, and devices for safety, security and energy management, are projected to have an economic impact of $250 to $350 billion by 2025, AHAM said.

And while smart appliances — defined as Internet-and/or power grid-enabled white goods — will offer significant value for consumers and “the deep potential” to simplify their lives, the association acknowledged a host of practical consumer concerns, including safety, privacy issues and security, that must be addressed before end-users can access “the full, life-enhancing potential of connected appliances.”

In AHAM’s estimation, connectivity is not simply another new feature, like ice and water dispensing. It’s a game-changer that will allow consumers to save additional time, conserve energy, integrate the use of renewable energy and pave the way for faster and more accurate repairs.

Already majaps are being produced with feature sets that address these current use-case scenarios:

• dishwashers that can be operated remotely if you forget to turn them on before leaving home;

• refrigerators that can order new groceries when supplies run low;

• ovens that can let you know when your dinner is ready;

• clothes dryers that can send you an alert when the dryer vent needs to be cleaned; and

• appliances that can be repaired remotely, without anybody visiting your home.

Samsung appliance chief John Herrington (left) and executive VP Joe Stinziano demo their signature Family Hub smart refrigerator, which allows users to control home automation systems and even place grocery orders, besides keeping food cold. AHAM believes the sky’s the limit for connected white goods, as long as vendors address nagging consumer concerns.

AHAM believes it won’t be long before products like these become commonplace in homes, and expects that the range of new features they offer “will continue to grow and evolve as technology improves and new customer needs are recognized and met.”

To help that process along, the trade group has been working with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star program to integrate smart capability into the specifications for appliances.

These specs, which have been completed for refrigerator/freezers, clothes washers, clothes dryers, dishwashers, and room air conditioners, provide for open communication protocols for third parties to interface with smart appliances.

The specs also detail how a smart appliance will respond and provide energy management once a signal is received, and provide a platform for greater efficiencies to the electrical grid.

The impact on energy consumption will not be insignificant. As a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute projected, connected appliances could save a typical household 100 hours a year — the equivalent of more than four complete days and nights, or two-and-a-half 40-hour weeks.

How? Working with the smart grid, enabled appliances can respond to signals from utility companies indicating peak demand, and can recommend times of day when usage is lower to drive down energy costs and improve the environment.

While this was the initial, and largely still unrealized promise of smart appliances, succeeding generations of majaps may also allow consumers to access renewable energy by shifting appliance usage to times when the sun or winds are stronger.

Connected appliances can also be incorporated into a home area network or home energy management system to provides a complete profile of a home’s total energy use and allow users to adjust elements within, AHAM said.

See Also: Small Appliances Smarten Up

Other consumer benefits of smart appliances include:

Peace of Mind: Connectivity offers consumers a way to be notified if any problems arise while out of town, and to get them taken care of before returning.

Monitoring how often the refrigerator is opened, or how often water is dispensed can also help assure that older or ailing loved ones are moving around the house and staying nourished and hydrated, while remote cooktop alerts can help keep young children safe.

Ease of repairs: Connected appliances have the potential to revolutionize the way appliance repairs are diagnosed and addressed, AHAM said. Manufacturers have already developed features that allow technicians to identify problems before they arrive so they can bring the right tools and parts for the job, saving multiple trips.

What’s more, in some cases owners may be able to make the repair themselves with video or phone guidance, while in other instances the problem might be fixed remotely via corrections or upgrades to software.

Connectivity also makes it possible for manufacturers to keep track of trends in appliance performance, and use that information to improve on existing and future appliances, AHAM said.

New Levels of Convenience: Smart appliances are already providing time-saving features, such as washers that offer suggestions on the best way to clean certain garments or remove tough stains. Going forward, products will continue to strip away usage steps, resulting in ovens that suggest how to prepare the foods on hand, and dishwashers that track usage patterns and can be set up to run at those times if the door is closed.

Still, consumer resistance remains, AHAM observed, as the arrival of smart appliances has also triggered questions by potential buyers on issues of safety, privacy and security. Here’s how AHAM is addressing them:

Safety: Connected appliances will be held to the same quality and safety standards as all appliances, the association said, and government agencies already require that safety mechanisms are included in appliances that can be operated remotely, including protective overrides of door locks and remote starting features.

AHAM is also working collaboratively with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to develop a risk assessment tool for remote operation of home appliances, and with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and other standards-setting groups to improve product safety.

Privacy: Customers have long shared personal information with majap makers and retailers for warranty coverage, maintenance and product information updates, and vendors “have an obligation to honor their own privacy policies,” AHAM said. Manufacturers can only collect information with its customers’ permission, and must keep them informed about how their data is being used.

Security: AHAM argues that manufacturers are building security into its connected appliances from the ground up through the use of industry-standard security protocols, encryption, security reviews and testing before the product reaches the market.

But like any device that connects to the Internet through an ecosystem of servers, mobile apps, home networks and other connected products, smart appliances do present some level of electronic security risk. As they adopt connected appliances and other devices, consumers must also take steps, through updated firmware, strong passwords, and the latest router security standards, to prevent electronic attacks on their products.

“Technology is constantly evolving,” AHAM said, “and a joint effort between manufacturers and consumers is essential to keeping connected appliances secure.”

The complete report, “Home Appliance Connectivity: Limitless Potential,” is available at