Kohler

Alexa, Lift the Toilet Seat

The many dubious uses of virtual assistants announced at CES.

We knew that CES 2018 would be a big year for virtual assistants. Smart speakers, particularly of the Amazon and Google variety, were hugely popular this holiday season. Over the past few months, Amazon has introduced new developer kits so that third-party manufacturers could integrate Alexa into their smart home, wearable, and hearable products. And Google Assistant made its presence at CES known early on.

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While we anticipated that Alexa and Google Assistant would land in headphones and new living room accessories, some of the gadgets you’ll soon be able to command by voice are less expected. Others are downright awkward. If you hate using your hands for anything, our A.I.
assistant-filled future will make you jump for joy (since you aren’t one for clapping). But if you’d rather not talk to, say, your toilet, you’d better watch out for what brand your friends are remodeling their bathrooms with, or you may find on-device keyword spotting in far more than just the Amazon Echo Dots scattered around the house.

Toilets

“Alexa, lift the toilet seat,” is a phrase I never anticipated needing to say. But beginning in March with Kohler’s Numi Toilet, you can use your voice to control your most intimate bathroom experience using Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant (or, in the future, Microsoft’s Cortana). You can ask the Numi Toilet to lift or close the seat, flush, or switch on a particular bidet spray setting. The Chicago Tribune’s Rex Huppke sums up our thoughts here quite well: “I don’t want to engage in conversation with a toilet. I rarely want to engage in conversation with humans, but I most definitely draw the line at chatting with something I’m about to pee into.” While the interaction does sound awkward, in the case of a semi-public restroom at a restaurant or office, it could feasibly help prevent the spread of germs. Still, while I expected Alexa to make its way into bathrooms, this isn’t quite what I imagined.

Bathroom Mirrors

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The toilet isn’t the only lavatory staple getting the voice treatment. Kohler actually envisions (and announced) an entire suite of smart bathroom products, complete with an Alexa-enabled bathroom mirror, the Verdera Voice Lighted Mirror. This mirror gives you all the benefits of a normal Amazon Echo product but without the extra piece of hardware in your home—a move that, if you’re in the market for a bathroom upgrade anytime soon, actually makes sense. While you’re getting ready in the morning, you can ask about the weather or traffic, play music, or—an especially convenient application—add items to your shopping list. If it weren’t $999, I might install one today.

Multicookers

Now, we move to the kitchen, where small appliance maker Gourmia has introduced the GKM9000 kitchen machine, a cooking gadget featuring Google Assistant. This multicooker has a built-in color touchscreen for tapping out instructions, but why trouble your fingers when you can simply say, “OK, Google, bake for twenty minutes.” The GKM9000 is an all-in-one type appliance that can sauté, steam, or sous vide, as well as grind, mix, or puree items inside its canister. If you’re already in the kitchen, the need for a voice assistant seems minimal—unless your hands are covered in goop, in which case it could prove incredibly handy.

Smoke detectors

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The only thing I want my smoke detector to do is to automatically change its own battery. However, I’m not in charge at any smoke detector companies, so instead we have the Onelink Safe & Sound smoke and carbon monoxide detector, a ceiling-based gadget with a built-in smart speaker. Like Kohler’s Alexa-enabled bathroom mirror, this smoke detector negates the need for an Echo or Google Home unit in whatever room it’s housed—there aren’t really any smoke detector-specific queries you can ask the device, from what we can tell. Although again, I’d like to be able to check its battery levels to avoid ever having to hear the blare of smoke detector in need of a battery change.

Robots

The Ubtech Lynx robot wins the award for cutest Amazon Alexa gadget, and it’s actually way ahead of the curve: Lynx debuted at last year’s CES, although it only recently began shipping. Lynx is a bipedal, humanoid robot that looks like a tiny, happy Stormtrooper. It works like your typical smart speaker, but it can also rove around your house and act as a security device, thanks to an onboard IR chest sensor and camera, which it can use to record 30-second video clips. At $800, it also may be one of the world’s most expensive A.I. assistant-laden devices—besides all that bathroom tech. However, even Alexa alone it’s demonstrably more useful than your average home robot.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of CES 2018.