How Semiconductors Are Changing Our Homes
The outline of a home with several digital icons inside it (batteries, circles, lines).
Oct 3, 2016

From smartphones to televisions to refrigerators, it is hard to go more than a few hours without using a semiconductor-enabled device. In fact, since the mid-20th century, semiconductors have been the brains behind almost every electronic device. Recently, with the Internet of Things, semiconductors have altered the way objects in our homes communicate with one another, thanks to networks of connected sensors. This represents a rapid expansion in how pervasive semiconductors already are to everyday living.

So how have homes recently used semiconductors to enhance people’s lives? We took a look at trends in Asia, and here are four of the coolest in-home inventions we’ve found.


Home Heating

In South Korea, semiconductors are being used to enhance the underfloor heating systems of traditional homes. Called “ondol,” meaning “warm stone,” these systems traditionally use direct heat transfer from wood smoke to heat the underside of a thick masonry floor, warming the floor and heating the room. Instead of using wood fires, “smart ondols” are controlled by semiconductor technology, making them safer, easier to control, and more environmentally friendly.

A photo of a heated wood floor cutaway, so you can see pipes running under the floor. A thermostat on top of the floor reads 27.5 degrees Celsius.



Smart Appliances

In Asia you can find smart washing machines, smart air conditioners, and even smart refrigerators. These refrigerators know exactly what is inside and when items expire. They can also concoct recipes from what’s available, creating an easy cooking experience. Many Asian cities are known for both parents working long hours, which contributes to the trend of eating out and hiring domestic helpers to grocery shop and cook in-home meals. Smart refrigerators reduce the stress of manually managing a family’s complex grocery shopping so that parents can better enjoy their time outside work.

A digital rendering of a refrigerator with a smartphone, implying that you can use your smartphone to look inside your fridge. (In this case, to see wine bottles, fruit, and other beverage containers.)



Personal Health

In the computer-animated superhero movie Big Hero 6, a healthcare robot automatically scans and diagnoses nearby patients. We found a real-life smart home application of this concept, where the home’s front door handle assesses your health state based on your pulse, body temperature, and other readings. In Asia, where population density and multi-generational households contribute to the spread of disease, knowing health warning signs as soon as you arrive home can help keep your family healthy.

A young woman coming home through the front door. She is looking at her smartphone.



Robots in the Home

It’s no secret that aging population trends are especially impacting certain Asian countries, and societies are creatively planning for it. One South Korean company invented a robot that can be programmed to wake up an elderly family member and remind them to take their medicine and eat meals according to a schedule. It also sends a message to a family member when something unexpected happens, triggering a video chat that can be used to check that everything is okay. According to figures from the United Nations, China’s population aged 65 and older is expected to reach 200 million by 2025, accounting for 14 percent of the country’s total. Could semiconductor-powered robots help ease the burden on younger Chinese people who will struggle to care for their aging relatives?

 A black and white robot standing with one hand one hip and the other hand resting on a clock that reads 11:49.



We’re entering a fascinating era when semiconductors are changing homes across Asia and around the world. Semiconductors already play a huge role in our daily lives, and the future will be even more transformative. Long a feature of sci-fi movies and the homes of the elite, smart homes and smart devices are now becoming a reality, with those tiny, powerful semiconductors chips at the forefront of this exciting revolution.