Eduard Sailer, director of technical affairs for German home appliance manufacturer Miele, leaves most of the cooking to his wife and daughters. If he wants to know what time dinner will be ready so that he leaves the office on time, however, he can check the oven’s status on his smartphone with the mobile app Miele@mobile.
The oven isn’t the only connected appliance in Sailer’s home. All of his Miele appliances can communicate with him and with each other. When the stovetop is on, it sends a signal that turns on the light in the range hood.
Depending on how many burners are in use and how high they are set, the stovetop also sends a signal to adjust the power settings of the exhaust fan. Separately, the washing machine could communicate the speed of the spin cycle to the dryer, which can then calculate the required drying time based on the washing machine’s load.
“In the smart kitchen of 2020, the appliances will be interconnected, not just within the house but also externally,” Sailer said. “They will be integrated into an ecosystem that will bring the consumer greater comfort and a more spontaneous lifestyle.”
What Sailer describes is the ultimate endgame of the Internet of Things (IoT), a world in which every device is not only connected but aware of its surroundings and able to act on that awareness to deliver services that were previously impossible. The result? An Internet of Experiences in which the devices a consumer owns actively recognize and handle the small but important details of daily life.
In the KogniHome project, Miele – in collaboration with universities and other companies – is investigating how intelligent applications can help make daily life easier for the elderly, with assistance systems that help with cooking. For example, a mobile app could help to reassure the user that the stove was turned off before they left the house. The appliances also would offer more help to inexperienced users of kitchen appliances than to experienced chefs.
PIONEERS IN CONNECTED APPLIANCES
Long before the IoT was ever thought of, Miele had already developed freezers with a pager that sounded an alert in the event of a power failure or when the door of the fridge was left open. “The significant difference today is that the Internet has created the technological framework for extending value creation chains,” Sailer said. He predicts that as the IoT evolves into the Internet of Experiences it will enable consumer experiences that cannot even be imagined today.
Extending the value creation chain means, among other things, strengthening the consumer’s loyalty to the brand, Sailer said. In the past, Miele achieved this principally by building reliable, long-lasting products. But connected networks of smart products make new business models possible. For example, rather than buying a washer and dryer, a consumer might buy a certain number of washing and drying operations each month; the machines and consumables would be provided by Miele.
“IN THE SMART KITCHEN OF 2020, THE APPLIANCES WILL BE INTEGRATED INTO AN ECOSYSTEM THAT WILL BRING THE CONSUMER GREATER COMFORT AND A MORE SPONTANEOUS LIFESTYLE.”EDUARD SAILER
DIRECTOR OF TECHNICAL AFFAIRS, MIELE
Such scenarios quickly lead to completely new service offerings. Sailer offers an example: “If you regularly wear white shirts that must always look like new, they could simply be exchanged for new ones after 40 or 50 washing cycles. Ultimately, the question is whether the customer likes it. All we can do is try and see. In IoT, many things will have to be tested, and not everything will catch on.”
DESIGNING FOR A NETWORKED WORLD
With nearly 400 networked household appliances on the market, Miele already offers the widest and most diverse product range in the sector. “In a few years, all new large appliances will have Internet capability,” Sailer said.
Are Miele customers ready for this new world of smart kitchens? Sailer believes they are, “because we put much effort on making the usage of Miele home appliances more easy and comfortable. This includes an intuitive user interface concept, which people know from their smartphones.“
Sailer rejects the argument that connected home appliances could be difficult for elderly customers to use. “Due to our personal and professional experience, even my generation of 60-year-old persons is very familiar with Internet and mobile communication and has a relatively strong tech affinity.“
Even for a company as advanced in developing networked products as Miele, however, “network thinking,” which goes far beyond classical product management and involves new marketing concepts and business ideas, is a challenge. “We need to make an effort to cover a broader range of customer expectations,” Sailer said.
Miele’s 17,741 employees worldwide generate annual sales of €3.49 billion; about 70% of revenue is generated outside Germany.
Connected products include many separate systems, each of which must be designed to work together so that every system contributes to the product’s overall performance. The challenge only becomes greater as these complex “systems of systems” become part of an Ultra Large Scale system: the IoT.
At Miele, interdisciplinary teams think through the challenges of integrating appliances into extended value-creation chains. As yet, Sailer said, the tools and methods of systems engineering do not support this kind of thinking. But Miele is working with its partners in research and software to develop the tools needed to enable its vision.
ETHICAL TREATMENT OF USAGE DATA
Today’s domestic appliances from Miele already record large amounts of information about users and usage, such as times of operation, which programs have been run and which temperatures have been selected.
However, this information remains stored in the appliances and is only extracted when a machine needs servicing. Connectivity, however, means that such data could be collected and used to draw conclusions about customer behavior. At Miele, that will only happen under the very strict conditions Miele imposes on itself, Sailer said. “We think it is important that the customer should know that this data is his property and access to it can only be had with his agreement.“
In Sailer’s view, responsible use of IoT requires the establishment of a code of practice. This code, he said, should specify that no data the company collects about a consumer will be sold to others. With the data from its refrigerators, for example, Miele will accumulate valuable information about usage patterns for various grocery items. “But passing such information on to a third party would contradict our principle that the customer should have the right to direct use of data relating to him,” Sailer stressed.
As connectivity spreads, Miele will also have to consider how hackers can be prevented from maliciously penetrating the smart household. Sailer admits that security is an important topic, but believes the threat can be contained. “For example, our automatic washing machines have a Water Protection System with a traditional electromechanical float and a relay, which will shut off the water whatever a hacker may try to do electronically.”
COMMUNICATING WITH THE COMPETITION
Unlike some of its competitors, which design their smart appliances so that they can only communicate with others from the same manufacturer – an attempt to “own” the consumer – Miele believes that its appliances must be able to communicate with connected appliances produced by others.
“Our goal is an open ecosystem, because nothing else could succeed on the market,” Sailer said. “The customer just wants to buy an appliance, not make a decision about an entire system, however much we manufacturers might like the idea that the order list at the end only contains our own products.”
Openness is indispensable for another reason. To create rich experiences that will simplify consumers’ lives, domestic appliances must also communicate with home automation systems that Miele does not make. For example, it is already possible to connect washing machines to a photovoltaic installation on the roof, which enables the washing cycle to start itself when there is sufficient sunshine to power the cycle.
“It would be absolutely misguided to have a closed system,“ Sailer said. “The Internet of Experiences can only be created by all of us.“