Voice-command ovens, robots for pets on show at Berlin’s IFA tech fair

Richard Yu (Yu Chengdong), head of Huawei's consumer business, presents a Kirin 990 5G chip set at the international electronics and innovation fair IFA in Berlin. (AFP)
Updated 07 September 2019

Voice-command ovens, robots for pets on show at Berlin’s IFA tech fair

  • Huawei created a buzz Friday by launching a new super-fast Kirin 990 processor

BERLIN: Europe’s biggest tech fair, Berlin’s IFA, is showcasing a flood of product launches until Wednesday. Here are five trends and gadgets making waves.
No time to walk or play with your pet puppy or kitten?
California start-up Varram showcased a Pet Fitness robot, which plays with cats and dogs at home via smartphone instructions, even dropping treats as a reward, while the owner is at work.
Sensors in the robot help it detect and stay away from furniture to not get stuck, avoiding bored pets.
The robot can be timed to play with the family pet at different times and keep track of how much activity the animal has had.
As executive director Jens Heithecker told AFP, “three main trends at IFA this year are 5G, voice control and AI (artificial intelligence)” with the latter two combined in innovations for the home.
Siemens claimed two world firsts with an oven that opens on voice command and separate washing machine and clothes drier that communicate via wifi to predict how long garments will need to dry.
The Home Connect system links household appliances, suggests recipes and even knows which ingredients are already at home, via cameras in the fridge.
Once the meal has been prepared, the oven door opens on voice command, leaving the cook with both hands to slide in the dish.
Meanwhile, the system’s washing machine has built-in sensors to measure the moisture in washed clothes, sending the information to the drier.
However, the sensor cannot detect whether a stray black sock is about to ruin a load of white laundry. “That would be useful to know,” admitted a Siemens spokeswoman with a smile.
Heithecker tips that of the thousands of items showcased at IFA, headsets and wireless stereos will make popular Christmas gifts, as they are “affordable, moveable, high quality and part of the digitally connected world.”
“Headsets with noise canceling are mostly used in homes now, to squeeze out the surrounding noise — you go into your own world and won’t be disturbed if you want to hear music,” he added.
However, some of these items do not come cheap. Panasonic’s high-tech earphones are retailing for 1,200 euros ($1,326) while Samsung’s massive 219-inch television, aptly called ‘The Wall’, is retailing to business customers for around 500,000 euros.
Huawei created a buzz Friday by launching a new super-fast Kirin 990 processor, which has a version specially designed for the 5G era — the fifth generation of cellular network technology.
According to Huawei’s claim, the “industry’s first and only all-in-one” 5G chipset includes a modem with fast download speeds. The company also said that by using a single chip, the Kirin will make phones more efficient compared to their rivals, who use a separate processor and modem.
The new Kirin chip, no bigger than a fingernail, “can make phones much smaller,” boasted Richard Yu, who is in charge of Huawei’s consumer business group.
The Chinese firm is embroiled in US-China tensions with Washington advising its allies against using Huawei’s technology to build 5G networks, due to fears it could be used for spying by Beijing, an accusation the company denies.
Yu took no questions in Berlin, as Huawei also showcased their sleek Mate 30 Series, due to be launched on September 19 in Munich.
Not to be outdone, Korean rivals Samsung also showed off their 5G Fold, a phone which folds out into a single screen.
High-tech relief for the incontinent is offered by D-Free, a sensor which fits on the abdomen and detects changes in bladder size, calculating how full it is and giving a prediction via a smartphone about when the user will need to urinate.
The system is aimed at young children being toilet trained and the elderly worried about being caught short.
It keeps track of the average time between bathroom visits and a version for senior care homes tells staff which patients will soon need to visit the toilet.


US trade offensive takes out WTO as global arbiter

Updated 10 December 2019

US trade offensive takes out WTO as global arbiter

  • Two years after starting to block appointments, the US will finally paralyze the WTO’s Appellate Body
  • Two of three members of Appellate Body exit and leave it unable to issue rulings

BRUSSELS: US disruption of the global economic order reaches a major milestone on Tuesday as the World Trade Organization (WTO) loses its ability to intervene in trade wars, threatening the future of the Geneva-based body.
Two years after starting to block appointments, the United States will finally paralyze the WTO’s Appellate Body, which acts as the supreme court for international trade, as two of three members exit and leave it unable to issue rulings.
Major trade disputes, including the US conflict with China and metal tariffs imposed by US President Donald Trump, will not be resolved by the global trade arbiter.
Stephen Vaughn, who served as general counsel to the US Trade Representative during Trump’s first two years, said many disputes would be settled in future by negotiations.
Critics say this means a return to a post-war period of inconsistent settlements, problems the WTO’s creation in 1995 was designed to fix.
The EU ambassador to the WTO told counterparts in Geneva on Monday the Appellate Body’s paralysis risked creating a system of economic relations based on power rather than rules.
The crippling of dispute settlement comes as the WTO also struggles in its other major role of opening markets.
The WTO club of 164 has not produced any international accord since abandoning “Doha Round” negotiations in 2015.
Trade-restrictive measures among the G20 group of largest economies are at historic highs, compounded by Trump’s “America First” agenda and the trade war with China.
Phil Hogan, the European Union’s new trade commissioner, said on Friday the WTO was no longer fit for purpose and in dire need of reforms going beyond just fixing the appeals mechanism.
For developed countries, in particular, the WTO’s rules must change to take account of state-controlled enterprises.
In 2017, Japan brought together the United States and the European Union in a joint bid to set new global rules on state subsidies and forced technology transfers.
The US is also pushing to limit the ability of WTO members to grant themselves developing status, which for example gives them longer to implement WTO agreements.
Such “developing countries” include Singapore and Israel, but China is the clear focus.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Reuters last week the United States wanted to end concessions given to then struggling economies that were no longer appropriate.
“We’ve been spoiling countries for a very, very long time, so naturally they’re pushing back as we try to change things,” he said.
The trouble with WTO reform is that changes require consensus to pass. That includes Chinese backing.
Beijing has published its own reform proposals with a string of grievances against US actions. Reform should resolve crucial issues threatening the WTO’s existence, while preserving the interests of developing countries.
Many observers believe the WTO faces a pivotal moment in mid-2020 when its trade ministers gather in a drive to push through a multinational deal — on cutting fishing subsidies.
“It’s not the WTO that will save the fish. It’s the fish that are going to save the WTO,” said one ambassador.