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Monday, July 06, 2020

CES 2018: Smart homes could soon see Alexa draw you a bath

Among the gadgets being displayed at CES 2018, many innovations show how much technology has become routine in our lives.

By: Bloomberg | Published: January 10, 2018 6:23:49 pm
CES 2018, digital assistants CES, Amazon Alexa, smart homes, Apple's Siri, smartphone-connected devices, Google Assistant, Alphabet Nest, Internet of Things Many of the innovative gadgets on display at CES 2018 show the extent to which technology has become a part of our lives. (File Photo)

Even within the comfortable cocoon of the home front, there’s no escaping the forward creep of technology. Not in the kitchen, where the fridge of the future knows when your heavy cream has expired. Not in the bedroom, where apps track your sleep habits. And no, not even in the most sacred of spaces, the bathroom. On Monday at CES, Moen Inc revealed the latest update to its new U by Moen smart shower system: digital assistants.

It’s a big deal for people who, with a single voice command, want to have a warm shower waiting for them first thing in the morning. U by Moen looks fundamentally different from most showers. It lacks nozzles for hot or cold, instead regulating temperature through an in-shower control panel connected to a smartphone app. With the Alexa and Siri update, you can now say, “Alexa, turn the shower to 100 degrees” from your bedside and slip into precisely piping-hot water moments later. If you’re not ready yet—say, you’re busy wrangling a toddler or still under the covers with some especially juicy Instagram posts—the shower can pause the water flow and maintain its temperature until you are.

The system is hooked up to a digital valve that arranges temperatures from 60 to 120 degrees. It can control up to four outlets at a time—allowing for an assortment of shower heads, hand showers, body sprays, or other fixtures—and works with your current water heater. Users can also create customized presets with different temperatures and output configurations, a handy tool if you and your partner have at-odds shower preferences.

But what could go wrong? If you’re in the TV show Mr Robot, potentially everything. But even for civilians that aren’t targets of a hacker insurrection, the new technology begs for some improvement. If the power goes out, for instance, there’s no manual, power-free option, although Moen sells a handy, optional, battery-powered backup. Also, U by Moen can’t pump out water at varying pressure levels, although flow rates are “comparable to what you have today” on a regular faucet at maximum pressure, says Michael Poloha, a senior product manager at Moen.

To install the U by Moen, you’ll need to replace your current shower at a typical cost of $1,160 for a two-outlet system and $2,200 for a four-outlet system. That’s before you pay a plumber to install the valve, which Moen contends isn’t more difficult than installing a regular shower, and a contractor to install the control panel. Needless to say, this isn’t yet the smart shower of the people.

Poloha doesn’t speculate on areas of likely improvement for future generations of U by Moen, but he does note that a second generation of the control panel, set to debut in this year’s second quarter, will be integrated with Apple Inc’s HomeKit platform. At some point in the not-so-different future, you may be able to say, “Good morning, Siri,” and have your lights turn on, the news begin playing, and the shower warm up.

For smart home naysayers, Poloha contends that ‘a thermostat is similar to our control,’ adding that U by Moen does for showers what Alphabet Inc’s Nest did for, well, thermostats. So the question for consumers is really how connected you want to be. Considering that the luxury tech market has already descended upon toilets—behold a flashing commode that doubles as a light show—it was only a matter of time for smart showers.

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