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US Consumers Gear Up for New Wave of High-tech Home Appliances

Robot cleaners, smart home appliance networks and eco-friendly clothes drying systems all imminently on the horizon.

Photo: Haier’s Ubot: Centrepiece of a smart home appliances network.
Haier's Ubot: Centrepiece of a smart home appliances network.
Photo: Haier’s Ubot: Centrepiece of a smart home appliances network.
Haier's Ubot: Centrepiece of a smart home appliances network.

The rise of robotics and a new generation of eco-friendly, high-tech innovations are set to reshape the home-appliances sector, with early-adopting US consumers set to be in the vanguard of this coming revolution. In particular, robot home-vacuuming systems and a wholly new green-compliant approach to clothes drying are expected to make a considerable impact over the next few years.

On the robot vacuum cleaner front, the Roomba – courtesy of the Massachusetts-based IRobot Corporation – has already proved something of a hit with US buyers. Finding a particularly ready market among working families and the elderly, the Roomba can navigate its way across rooms unaided, sweeping or suctioning carpets, tiles or hardwood floors as it goes.

Advances in robotics technology mean that upgraded Roomba models can clean specific areas as instructed, then automatically dock and recharge. Through simple programming, it can be scheduled to clean several rooms in an apartment over a seven-day cycle.

As well as the huge progress being made by US companies, China has also proved itself highly adept in the robotics' field. As of 2013, the mainland overtook both Japan and the US to become the world's largest robot consumer market, while also accounting for one-fifth of the global total.

Back in January of this year, Haier, a leading Chinese electronics company, debuted several of its robotics and smart household appliance systems at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Nevada. As well as unveiling its Ubot robot at the event, the company also showcased its 7U+ appliance management system.

The Ubot and the 7U+ system have been designed to work together seamlessly. This allows for any household's food, air, water, washing and cleaning requirements to be intelligently managed.

More locally, a new smart and eco-friendly ultrasonic clothes drying system is set be introduced by the Tennessee-based Oak Ridge National Laboratory. According to Ayyoub Momen, the company's Head of Research, the new system makes use of piezoelectric transducers – electronic devices that apparently "emit sounds so high-pitched that even Fido can't hear them".

The vibrations caused by this sonic onslaught shake and extract the moisture from wet fabrics, even at cold temperatures. The system has been designed to evaporate and displace the water using low energy and a high frequency. All of the water is converted into a mist, then collected in the system's tank, before being disposed of by the user.

This drying method is expected to result in a drastic reduction in energy consumption, as well as cutting drying time and causing less damage to fabrics. With a full-size, fully-operational prototype scheduled to be completed by the end of August, Oak Ridge is now looking to partner with such companies as General Electric in order to refine the design and lower the manufacturing costs. It is expected that the product will enter the consumer market within about five years, with a price tag of somewhere between U$500-1,000.

Photo: The Roomba: A milestone in robo-vaccing technology.
The Roomba: A milestone in robo-vaccing technology.
Photo: The Roomba: A milestone in robo-vaccing technology.
The Roomba: A milestone in robo-vaccing technology.

As the system is considerably smaller, smarter, quieter and more energy-efficient than many existing clothes dryers, it is seen as particularly suitable for use in many of the Asian cities where apartment space is at a premium, most notably Hong Kong.

Teresa Yeung, New York Office

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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