As part of efforts to expand its smart home business, LG Electronics says it will double its investment by 2020 including mergers and acquisitions of promising artificial intelligence tech firms, with the company making its boldest claims about domestic robots and AI to date.
As far as global companies go, LG has always been one of the most vocal about the concept of the ‘smart home’ introducing the world’s first Internet enabled fridge way back in 2000.
Whilst its fair to say this concept was received with large indifference at that point with most consumers not being clear on what the benefit was, we live in a very different world to 2000 and LG has never given up on its desire to deliver ‘connected’ products.
The investment statement was made by Song Dae-hyun, head of the company’s home appliance and air solutions division at a special conference, held recently in Berlin.
LG underlined it would spare no efforts to boost its smart home business and continue investing to acquire AI and Internet of Things technologies.
If the company is really serious about this, expect some big prices to be paid for much smaller brands mining the smart home area, perhaps even products/companies that have not even hit the market yet.
If the last few years has shown anything, its that large corps are willing to pay huge sums if they think a product will help them leaf-frog their rivals.
“As for the AI business, inorganic growth would be more effective,” Song said. “LG officially seeks to acquire some AI companies. But so far, many acquisition projects fell apart due to market conditions.”
“LG is aggressively looking for a good AI company,” Song added.
Song visited the German capital to meet with major European clients and check out latest tech trends at the IFA 2017, so who knows, they may have already have their eye on something.
IFA announcements of its own included that all of its home appliances going forward will be Wi-Fi enabled. The aim is to connect them to the company’s DeepThinQ artificial intelligence features meaning that appliances over time can improve their performance using data gathered.
For example the company’s robotic vacuum cleaner can learn what obstacles look like and how to avoid them.
Song said, “LG was the first to add Wi-Fi to all of the home appliance lineups this year. Based on connectivity, the company will try to bring value to consumers by establishing a smart home ecosystem pivoting on AI, IoT and robotic technologies.”
Recently, LG has also been increasing partnerships with Google and Amazon to apply the two IT giants’ voice recognition platforms to LG products.
“We do have our exclusive voice technology, but we apply the Google and Amazon technologies in order to allow consumers to conveniently use LG products with what they prefer to use,” Song said. “We are now working with Google to take advantage of its database accumulated through its search engine. But we are also continuing to develop our DeepThinQ AI platform at the same time.”
For those looking for more detail, not to much is on offer currently, however Song did underline robots would be a major pillar of the smart home business, it already has its vacuum cleaner, so its likely this will be up-dated but also that new products are on the way to perform other chores.
“We are nearing commercialisation of robots,” he said. “We receive orders for robots from various industries, such as shopping malls and libraries.”
Creating effective automated robotic products for commercial spaces is however loads easier than for the home, so it remains to be seen whether we really are entering the age of the domestic robot.
LG’s latest effort was also on show at IFA in the form of the ‘Hub Robot’.
Designed to serve as a smart home hub and virtual assistant, the product has a body that can bob around as it responds to users’ questions, along with a screen that can display facial expressions or video. The unit can also connect direct to LG products, so it can act as a control point for those as well. It can also perform tasks, like picking out music for users to listen to. The Hub Robot also features a camera that can recognise users and give each of them different greetings.
We are not sure this really counts as a robot, more an enhanced smart hub with a bit more personality than a speaker, but it does give an idea of where the company wants to go and also that although it will work with Google/Amazon, it would rather create its own looped system.
Are we on the verge of the age of the domestic robot? We would argue not quite, but LG is going to keep throwing money at this sector and so will its rivals.