The smart-home trend has drawn intense interest over the past decade. While most of the consumer electronics in today’s homes are equipped with handheld infrared (IR) remote controllers, the ability to control these legacy IR-devices using apps, smartphones, programme logics and voice-control is creating new opportunities.These opportunities have not escaped the notice of Hong Kong entrepreneur Daniel Chun, founder and CEO of AIRXED, a veteran in the remote-control business. He conceived and developed the idea of remotely controlling air conditioners and other legacy devices through a universal IR controller (IRX). He later explored embedding this IRX technology into different appliances, such as audio speakers and fans, to make them smart – controllable by sensors and user feedback while at the same time being able to control other devices such as air conditioners.
Blue ocean market
When Mr. Chun joined Remotec Technology Limited, the parent company of AIRXED, as general manager in 2015, Remotec was already a leading provider for wireless remote control and smart-home solutions; however he believed the home-automation market was still very nascent. The firm subsequently built up extensive universal IR code database and software and engineering expertise, and Mr Chun saw an opportunity to use these to promote the sustainable use of air conditioning.“Users simply will not replace all their air conditioners for their latest improvements in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections,” he said. “What the customers do need is an economical way to smartly control these types of air conditioners (already with a handheld remote controller) with some form of mobile app or automation.”Determined to transform Remotec’s core business, Mr Chun analysed the company's revenue stream, market demand and the outlook for climate change and weather patterns across the world. He found that 75% of the company's revenue came from the United States, leaving the firm reliant on a single market. Several years ago, he decided to diversify the company’s income base and business model with new product concepts that can truly solve people’s problems. As the economy in the region takes off, demand for home appliances has also increased but at the same time it has brought along problems such as increased power consumption. Meanwhile, many regional cities are also becoming hotter because of climate change and urban island effects. Mr Chun noted that half the electricity consumption in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Singapore came from air-conditioner use.Mr Chun has determined that Remotec’s capability and the IRX technology could help reduce peak consumption of electricity through demand management. As such, he developed an indoor climate-control system that combines sensors, IR technology, programme logic and algorithms to control air-conditioner use. The system applies smart technologies to regulate air temperatures while reducing power consumption. Such a solution would solve the power-consumption problem and meet the needs of the Southeast Asian market. Mr Chun said: "This also became an opportunity for the company's transformation."
Infrared smart-home patents
Having been in the remote-control business for three decades, Remotec has established a large amount of intellectual property (IP) resources related to IR signalling technology, which have become an important asset for the company. Five years ago, Mr Chun decided to organise an IR technology library – a cloud-based IR code database – which has helped many companies develop smart products. He also began patenting IR-related technologies the group had developed. “We had zero patents five years ago and now we have successfully obtained six patents," said Mr Chun. He explained Remotec’s decision to spin off AIRXED in 2019. "We [the AIRXED team at Remotec] had supported customers in developing smart products for many years and found that it was time for the company to be spun off and develop its own brand,” he said. AIRXED has received a number of awards, including the IPHatch open-innovation competition co-organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council in 2019. The company was awarded a utility patent from Panasonic and had an opportunity to collaborate with the consumer-electronics giant.AIRXED has developed a smart-home Internet of Things (IoT) solution that uses IR rays for communication. The application enables users to remotely control such appliances as televisions, air-conditioners and fans through mobile phone apps anytime, anywhere.AIRXED also offers built-in temperature and humidity sensors which allow users to set conditions for controlling home appliances. If the specified temperature is reached, the air conditioner or fan will be turned off to save energy. The IRX technology also supports most of voice-assistant systems such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa, allowing users to manage IR remote-controlled appliances vocally.