What will future homes look like, as brands fervently compete to lead the smart home race? A visit to the headquarters and laboratories of LG Electronics in South Korea reveals what lies ahead
Perched on the top floor of a modern building in Changwon, a minimalist penthouse overlooks rows of factories and offices. Situated in South Korea’s manufacturing hub, the neighbourhood may not have the typical qualities a prospective homeowner would look for, but there are unique upsides to its location.
Housed within the research and development (R&D) centre of LG Electronics, this spacious apartment features cutting-edge appliances from the South Korean conglomerate, showcasing its latest novelties as well as products that have yet to reach the market. Be it LG’s rotund Cloi robot assistants, smart laundry appliances or home entertainment systems that are incorporated into furniture, this apartment is furnished with state-of-the-art devices that look sleek while performing a wide variety of functions.
As is evident in this stylish penthouse, smart home systems have been rapidly transforming the ways in which appliances are manufactured—from what we saw during our visit, this marks just the beginning.
To understand how this electronics giant came to where it is today, we look back at its early years. “Lucky Chem” Lak Hui Chemical Industrial Corp (known as LG Chem today) started Gold Star (now LG Electronics), an electrical machinery company, in 1958; “LG” is an abbreviation of the two companies.
The company’s first products were transistor radios and fans, and then refrigerators; it had been producing its own motors and compressors for these appliances since the 1960s. Compressors and motors determine the energy efficiency and overall performance of the appliances, as such, they are considered the most important parts of large electronic devices including air conditioners, refrigerators and washing machines. Today, the company’s inverter technology optimises the operating efficiency of these essential parts, while incorporating the smart home systems often expected of new appliances today.
(Related: What Will Bathrooms Of The Future Look Like?)
Integrating electronic devices into furniture with LG Objet
Anticipating the changing needs and lifestyles of its users is crucial to the brand’s research and development processes. “We have a unit that studies lifestyle changes, housing structures and trends,” shares Sung Han Jung, team leader of Asia sales and marketing for the refrigerator segment. “The ultimate goal is to offer a better lifestyle with deep learning and by studying the behaviour of customers.”
Due to the compact size of urban homes, multi-functional appliances are becoming more popular. Thus the aim of LG Objet is to create a premium range that answers to the needs of users looking for compact appliances that are both versatile and chic. Launched in South Korea last November, LG Objet integrates electronic devices seamlessly into custom-made furniture such as bedside tables, which can each house an air purifier, audio system or a mini fridge.
(Related: 10 Robots That We Want In Our Homes)
“Smaller is better; more and more people want to be more efficient and as less wasteful as possible,” shares Ken Hong, senior director of global corporate communications at LG Electronics. “You don’t need a refrigerator to hold that much food when you’re buying food on the way home and are not as interested in cooking. It’s the same thing with ovens; you don’t want a big oven for food that only fits one-fifth of that space.”
AI features in future appliances
Artificial Intelligence (AI) forms another crucial pillar of the R&D processes, guided by the goal of integrating AI features into future appliances. The company’s custom AI chip is equipped with the LG Neural Engine, which allows it to work offline and analyse the data it collects, whether from smart speakers that receive voice commands or from temperature sensors in refrigerators. Currently, the LG SmartThinq system is compatible with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa voice controls.
“It’s really about innovation; we try to capture the needs of consumers and current trends such as Internet of Things (IoT) and home appliances integrated with AI,” shares Kim Minkyu, team leader of Asia sales and marketing for the washing machines segment. “There is a big range of appliance users and we need to provide intuitive uses for all ages.”
Above it all, the appliances have to be easy to use. Rather than have the user wade through thick manuals, the AI features will do the hard work for you by understanding and reacting to the different needs of each situation. This involves deep learning—over time, the AI learns to do tasks and solve problems that otherwise involve human intervention, whether by improving its movie and music recommendations by studying your habits and preferences, or by optimising an oven’s temperature and heat settings based on the recipe’s requirements.
It’s an exciting period for the company, as it continues to upgrade its digital infrastructure for the smart home race. “We are always investing in the future,” quips Hong.