Why Am I Not Surprised? GE Does It Again As IoT Innovator

POST-SCRIPT : LATE-BREAKING NEWS: GE WILL ANNOUNCE TOMORROW THAT THEY’RE MOVING THEIR WORLD HEADQUARTERS TO BOSTON.  EVEN THOUGH THE HEART OF THE COMPANY’S INDUSTRIAL INTERNET STRATEGY WILL REMAIN ITS SOFTWARE CENTER IN SILICON VALLEY, THIS SHOULD INEVITABLY BOOST BOSTON’S STATURE IN THE IoT: WE’RE ALREADY RANKED 4TH IN THE WORLD.


PROMINENT DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT ON THE GENERAL ELECTRIC PAYROLL, AS AMAZING AS THAT MAY SEEM CONSIDERING ALL THE NICE THINGS I SAY ABOUT THEM.

C by GE smart bulbs

Whether it’s their incredible Durathon battery plant or the 220-ton computer-on-wheels Evolution loco, I don’t think there’s any major company that gets it more about the IoT, or, as they brand it, the Industrial Internet. As I’ve said before, it’s not just IoT products, but also “IoT Thinking” (collaboration, closing the loop, etc.) on their part. So why am I not surprised that they’ve gone back to their roots and come up with the most practical smart bulb so far, the “C by GE” bulbs?

Surely the Wizard of Menlo Park is smiling down on them for this one!

This is not to take away from the pioneering Philips Hue bulbs (16 million colors? You kidding?), or the neat Playbulb ones that double as speakers, but it seems to me these are the ones so far (possible exception, the $15 Cree ones — although I’ve not been happy with short life-span of my earlier Cree LEDs….) but these seem to me to combine some kewl new features that weren’t available before smart bulbs with affordability: a kit of 4 will be priced at $50 if you order online.

So what’s the big deal? Unlike the HUEs and GE’s earlier Link LED, these won’t require linking to a hub to control them: they link to your phone directly, using Bluetooth.

The bulbs will come in two flavors, to start with: a plain-vanilla dimmable one for most rooms of the house, and the spiffy “C Sleeps” for the bedroom, which will allow you to choose three different color hues, including a bright white to energize yourself on waking, a middling one for most of the day, and a yellowish one that research has shown to be more sleep-inducing, for night time (for you wonks, here’s the science).

Equally important, according to C|NET, they’ll also be more affordable than other multi-hue bulbs:

“The C Sleep LEDs won’t be the first color-tunable smart LEDs on the market, but they’ll certainly be some of the most affordable. The Osram Lightify Starter Kit comes with just a single bulb and costs $60, while the Lifx White 800 LED costs $40. With two color-tunable bulbs plus two standard smart bulbs for $50, C by GE definitely looks like the better value. What’s more, GE is promising limited early-bird pricing that will bring the cost of a starter pack down to $40 for those willing to buy in at launch.”

Because it’s Bluetooth controlled you won’t be able to control it from outside the house, so I’m gonna have to stick with my WeMo sockets to make my wife happy, but supposedly it will work with the Apple HomeKit (“Siri, it’s time for bed”) or if you already have a Wink hub.

Once again, Thanks, Jeff Immelt!

PS: $1.92 a yr. in electric costs: they’ll help save the planet as well

 

Amazon Echo: is it the smart home Trojan Horse?

Could Amazon’s Echo be the Trojan Horse that gets the smart home and IoT inside our homes — and consciousness?

Typical Amazon Echo commands

I’ve always suspected Amazon was critical to corporate adoption of e-commerce in the ’90s because so many C-level executives were introduced to the concept by doing online holiday shopping for their families.  Just a hunch …

Fast forward to this holiday, and I suspect Amazon’s Echo will have a similar impact for the IoT and, in particular, smart homes (aided, no doubt, by the redoubtable Oprah, who gave it her imprimatur as one of her Favorite Things — which now, conveniently, has its own page on Amazon — for this year!).

In case you’ve been hibernating for the past few months, during which time the Echo has taken off, it’s the slim (9.25″ x 3.27″) cylinder that sits on your counter, and, after starting out largely to access Amazon’s streaming music service by voice, seems to take on new functions every week.

I suspect it’s the voice input that’s most important about Echo: because voice doesn’t require any technical skills.  I can’t think of any dedicated device (Apple’s Siri, a service on almost all its devices but the computers, is right up there, but a service, not a device. Again, obligatory disclaimer that I work part-time at The Apple Store but am not privy to any inside secrets) that better embodies the dictum of IoT “father” Mark Weiser, that:

The most profound technologies are those that disappear.
They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life
until they are indistinguishable from it.

Alexa shopping list "recipe" on IFTTT

Alexa shopping list “recipe” on IFTTT

For me, the critical step was when Echo was added to my fav IoT site, IFTTT, which makes the IoT’s benefits proliferate by allowing you and me to create “recipes” to trigger devices without requiring any programming skills.

The number of new recipes allowing Alexa to “trigger” an action by a device, including Hue lights and the Nest thermostat, is constantly growing (you’ll notice that many of them relate to actions such as adding to shopping lists, a clever way of making it easier for users to shop at a certain online behemoth..).

An indication of exactly how far-reaching Echo could be as a hub?  It now even interfaces with the Automatic device, to help manage your car more effectively: “Alexa, how much gas is left in my tank?”

I’m also excited about Echo’s potential role as a hub for my “SmartAging” concept: granny starts out listening to Guy Lombardo’s “Managua Nicaragua” streaming on Amazon Prime, and the next thing you know, she’s saying “Alexa, turn down the thermostat 3 degrees.”  What could be easier? Haven’t seen any Echo links to Quantified Self devices yet, but I suspect that’s only a matter of time, and others are now enthused about its benefits to the disabled.


 

PS: You can track new developments with Echo on its Twitter feed, as well as one from Dave Isbitski, the Echo’s chief evangelist.

I’ll Speak Twice at Internet of Things Global Summit Next Week

I always love the Internet of Things Global Summit in DC because it’s the only IoT conference I know of that places equal emphasis on both IoT technology and public policy, especially on issues such as security and privacy.

At this year’s conference, on the  26th and 27th, I’ll speak twice, on “Smart Aging” and on the IoT in retailing.

2015_IoT_SummitIn the past, the event was used to launch major IoT regulatory initiatives by the FTC, the only branch of the federal government that seems to really take the IoT seriously, and understand the need to protect personal privacy and security. My other fav component of last year’s summit was Camgian’s introduction of its Egburt, which combines “fog computing,” to analyze IoT data at “the edge,” and low power consumption. Camgian’s Gary Butler will be on the retail panel with me and with Rob van Kranenburg, one of the IoT’s real thought leaders.

This year’s program again combines a heady mix of IoT innovations and regulatory concerns. Some of the topics are:

  • The Internet of Things in Financial Services and the Insurance sector (panel includes my buddy Chris Rezendes of INEX).
  • Monetizing the Internet of Things and a look at what the new business models will be
  • The Connected Car
  • Connected living – at home and in the city
  • IoT as an enabler for industrial growth and competition
  • Privacy in a Connected World – a continuing balancing act

The speakers are a great cross-section of technology and policy leaders.

There’s still time to register.  Hope to see you there!

 

 

SmartHomeDB: Invaluable Resource to Keep on Top of New Smart Home Devices

You can’t tell the players without a program!

smarthomeDBAs the speed of introducing new and increasingly varied smart home devices picks up, SmartHomeDB is more and more valuable as a way to find what you’re looking for and to keep on top of new products from an objective source.

Whether you’re a homeowner, make a competing product or are looking for market niches to exploit, I guarantee you’ll find it helpful!

At last count, they have 84 — count ’em — different categories of devices, from egg trays to pet doors, and, best of all, it offers a variety of easy ways to search, including the product categories, price, reviews, and — all important for smart home devices — compatibilities.

One thing that jumped out — see the screen grab — there are already almost 25,000 reviews of Amazon’s Echo (hmm, I’d better do one soon!), despite the short time it’s been on the market!  Haven’t seen the sales figures yet, but I suspect Echo is quickly becoming the smart home killer device (see Stacey Higginbotham’s very positive review).

In addition to the search options, the site features a neat intro to IoT devices, the QuickGuide, with two options: the simple one consists of your existing router, plus 242 (as of 9/111/15) Wi-Fi enabled products to choose among, plus 377 stand-alone smart home products such as Roombas.  The other, more diverse but trickier to configure, adds in routers using Z-Wave, Zigbee, and other frequencies, with 443 products using those frequencies.

Now they’ve added a new category, “Playbooks,” highlighting users’ hoped for or actual combinations of devices, which may help guide your choices, especially if they describe actual systems that are already in use.

There’s also an area for iOS, Android and Windows apps,  a handy listing of the top 100 devices based on the site’s ratings (which can sorted by compatibility, ranking, price, name, or number of reviews).

All in all, this is not only an important tool in its own right to help you create your own smart home network, but also symbolically, because it demonstrates the rapid growth of smart home products. Nice job!

 

 

Criteria to evaluate IoT “SmartAging” devices

Posted on 25th July 2015 in aging, design, health, home automation, m-health

I haven’t been able to put a lot of time into fleshing out my “SmartAging” paradigm, which combines Quantified Self devices to change seniors’ relationship to their doctors into a partnership and give them incentives to improve their fitness, with smart home devices that make it easier to manage their homes through automation.

So here’s an attempt to move that along, a draft of (hopefully) objective criteria.  I’d love to hear your comments on additional criteria or changes to these, and hope to soon set up a formal system where seniors will evaluate devices in their homes using these criteria.

Smart Aging device evaluation criteria:

Ease of Use

  1. Does it give you a choice of ways to interact, such as voice, text or email?
  2. Is it easy for you to program, or allow someone else to do it remotely?
  3. Does it have a large display and controls?
  4. Is it intuitive?
  5. Does it require professional installation?
  6. Is it flexible: can it be adjusted? Is it single purpose, or does it allow other devices to plug in and create synergies?
  7. Does it complicate your life, or simplify it?
  8. Do any components require regular charging, or battery replacement.

Privacy, Security, and Control

  1. Is storage local vs. cloud or company’s servers? Is data encrypted? Anomized?
  2. Do you feel creepy using it?
  3. Is it password-protected?
  4. Is security “baked in” or an afterthought?
  5. Can you control how, when, and where information is shared?
  6. Will it work when the power goes out?

Affordability

  1. Are there monthly fees? If so, low or high? Long term contract required?
  2. Is there major upfront cost?
  3. Does full functioning require accessories?
  4. Minimum cost/maximum cost

Design/UX

  1. Is it stylish, or does the design” shout” that it’s for seniors? “Medical” looking?
  2. Is the operation or design babyish?
  3. Would younger people use it?
  4. Is it sturdy?
  5. Does it have “loveability” (i.e., connect with the user emotionally)? (This term was coined by David Rose in Enchanted Objects, and refers to products that are adorable or otherwise bond with the user.)

Architecture

  1. Inbound
    1. Protocols supported (eg. Bluetooth, BluetoothLE, WiFi, etc)
    2. Open or closed architecture
  2. Outbound
    1. Protocols supported (eg. WiFi, Ethernet, CDMA, GSM, etc)
    2. Data path (cloud, direct, etc)
  3. Remote configuration capability (i.e., by adult child)

Features and Functions

  1. Reminders
    1. Passive, acknowledge only
    2. Active dispensing (of meds)
  2. Home Monitoring
    1. Motion/Passive Activity Monitoring
    2. Environmental Alarms (Smoke, CO, Water, Temp)
    3. Intrusion Alarms (Window etc)
    4. Facilities/Infrastructure (Thermostat)
  3. Health Monitoring
    1. Vitals Collection
    2. Wearables Activity Monitoring
    3. Behavioral/Status Polling (How are you feeling today?)
    4. Behavioral Self-improvement
  4. Communications Monitoring
    1. Landline/Caller ID
      1. Identify scammers
    2. eMail and computer use
      1. Identify scammers
    3. Mobile phone use
  5. Fixed Personal Emergency Response System (PERS)
  6. Mobile Personal Emergency Response System (PERS)
  7. Fixed Fall Detection/Prediction
  8. Mobile Fall Detection/Prediction
  9. Telehealth (Video)
  10. New and Innovative Features

Every IoT office needs this graphic on privacy and security

Long-time readers know that I frequently rant that privacy and security are Job 1 when it comes to the IoT.  

No apologies: it’s because I spent many years in corporate crisis management, and I learned the hard way that public trust is hard to earn, easy to lose, and, once lost, difficult or impossible to regain.

That’s why I was so glad to see this really informative, attractive, and scary infographic from Zora Lopez at Computer Science Zone, because it lays everything out so vividly.  Among the key points:

  1. (seen this before, but it still astounds me) In 2011, 20 typical households generated as much data as the entire Internet did as recently as 2008.
  2. the number of really-large (on scale of e-Bay, Target, etc.) data thefts grow annually.
  3. the bad guys particularly go after extremely sensitive data such as health, identity and financial.

It concludes with a particularly sobering reminder (you may remember my comment on the enthusiastic guys who presented at Wearables + Things and cheerfully commented that they would eventually get around to privacy and security — NOT!):

The barrier to entry in tech has never been lower, leaving many new organizations to later grapple with unsatisfactory security.” (my emphasis)

So: print a copy of the following for every employee and new hire, and put it on the cube’s wall immediately (here’s the original URL: http://www.computersciencezone.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Security-and-the-Internet-of-Things.jpg#sthash.c6u2POMr.dpuf)

IoT Privacy and Security, from Computer Science Zone

Cree Connected Bulb 1st Truly Affordable IoT Device

Cree Connected LED bulb

Not absolutely certain on this, but I’m pretty sure the new Cree Connected Bulb is an important landmark in the evolution of the consumer Internet of Things — the first really affordable home IoT device.

The bulb, soon to be available at Home Depot and online sources, will be priced at $15, according to a very favorable C|Net review.

When you consider that the average LED bulb will last more than 20 years and uses about 20% of the electricity that an equivalent incandescent does, that’s really a breakthrough — and could make a dent in electrical use (see my post about how the WeMo socket allows me to meet my wife’s desire for lights on when she gets home while I can save electricity) as part of smart grid strategies that’s even more important with the growing concern about global warming.

You’d need a $50 Wink hub, but just do the math:  a HUE kit, with a hub and three 60-watt equivalent bulbs, costs $199, as compared to $95 for the Cree/Wink equivalent. Of course, there is a major difference: the Cree bulb will only be available in white, while the HUE bulb can create 16,000 million (no, that wasn’t a typo!) light combinations from its built-in RBG elements.  That is very cool, but when you think about the gazillion bulbs throughout a typical house, adding additional HUE bulbs at $60 for the RBG ones or $29 for the white “Lux” ones, compared to $15 for the Cree ones, is a big difference that puts it out of reach for most of us. (BTW: Hue does have competition now, with a 10 pack of LIFX bulbs (no hub required) priced at $910).

This is exciting in its own right, but also gets one wondering whether economies of scale and/or new market entrants may mean more affordable alternatives to the $250 Nest thermostat and August deadbolt. If and when that happens, the IoT will really be mainstream, with huge implications for both the economy and home operations!

The IoT Gets Real: My Own Experience

Sometimes, when we focus on the truly dramatic things that will be possible when the Internet of Things is fully implemented, such as fully automated smart homes or the end of traffic jams, it may divert attention from how the IoT is already making a tangible difference in our daily lives even with only early-stage devices and apps, and why everyone should be seriously considering IoT devices now.

Here’s my personal story.

Belkin WeMo Switch

I finally put my money where my mouth is this Christmas, and invested in two WeMo Switches from Belkin. What I like about them is that, unlike spending $250  for a new Nest Thermostat or a new August Dead Bolt, the WeMo switch allows me to increase the IQ of my decidedly old-fashioned current coffee maker and table lamps (OK, I still lust after the 16 million light combinations possible with HUE lights, but those will have to wait until I’m not paying college tuition for my youngest). Yeah, the $199 smart coffee maker would be cool, but not cool enough to justify tossing a perfectly good one.

Most important, the WeMos deliver on one of my IoT Essential Truths, namely, What Can You Do Now That You Couldn’t Do Before?

You see, we used to have a major bone of contention in the Stephenson household. My wife, understandably, didn’t like to come home to a dark house. Cheap Yankee and zealous environmentalist that I am, I didn’t want to leave the lights on all day just so they’d be on when she got home, and my ADD made it really iffy that I’d turn them on when leaving in the afternoon.

Major conflict.

But that was sooo 2014!  Now, I have a spiffy IFTTT “recipe” enabled:

IFTTT_Wemo_recipe

IFTTT/Wemo recipe

IFTTT_Wemo_recipe

Everyone wins (including the environment)! Instant domestic bliss: the lights go on precisely at sunset (I mean precisely:  it uses NWS data — how cool is that?), I get to save energy, my wife gets a warm and welcoming house when she returns.

Admittedly, it’s not world-changing, but it really does solve a tangible issue that we couldn’t solve to both our satisfactions in the past. IMHO, it’s precisely this kind of real-world, incremental improvement due to the Internet of Things that is going to speed IoT adoption this year

If your company is rolling out far-reaching IoT product either for the industrial or consumer market, think of what individual or limited offerings you could release now that would allow buyers to make a limited investment, realize substantive returns, and then build on those initial findings.

Thanks Kevin Ashton!


 

Sweet! Just saw news that Belkin plans to add WeMo compatibility for Apple’s HomeKit app in near future.

My personal vision for the Apple Watch is that, by linking to both the Health App and the HomeKit, it may bring about cross-fertilization of health and smart-home apps and devices similar to how the Jawbone UP alarm can now trigger the Nest thermostat.

This would be an important step toward my “Smart Aging” vision that would improve seniors’ health and allow them to “age in place” instead of being institutionalized.

Resolved: That 2015 Is When Privacy & Security Become #IoT Priority!

I’m a right-brained, intuitive type (ENFP, if you’re keeping Myers-Briggs score…), and sometimes that pays off on issues involving technology & the general public, especially when the decidedly non-technical, primal issue of FEAR comes into the equation.

I used to do a lot of crisis management work with Fortune 100 companies, and usually worked with engineers, 95% of whom are my direct opposite: ISTJ.  Because they are so left-brained, rational and analytical, it used to drive them crazy that the public would be so fearful of various situations, because peoples’ reaction was just so darned irrational!

I’m convinced that same split is a looming, and extremely dangerous problem for the Internet of Things: the brilliant engineers who bring us all these great platforms, devices and apps just can’t believe that people could be fraidy cats.

Let me be blunt about it, IOT colleagues: get used dealing with peoples’ fears. Wise up, because that fear might just screw the IoT before it really gains traction. Just because a reaction is irrational doesn’t mean it isn’t very, very real to those who feel it, and they might just shun your technology and/or demand draconian regulations to enforce privacy and security standards. 

That’s why I was so upset at a remark by some bright young things at the recent Wearables + Things conference. When asked about privacy and security precautions (a VERY big thing with people, since it’s their very personal bodily data that’s at risk) for their gee-whiz device, they blithely said that they were just a start-up, and they’d get to security issues after they had the device technology squared away.

WRONG, KIDS: security and privacy protections have to be a key priority from the get-go.

That’s why I was pleased to see that CES asked FTC Chair Edith Ramirez to give opening remarks at a panel on security last week, and she specifically focused on “privacy by design,” where privacy protections are baked into the product from the get-go. She emphasized that start-ups can’t get off the hook:

“‘Any device that is connected to the Internet is at risk of being hijacked,’ said Ms. Ramirez, who added that the large number of Internet-connected devices would ‘increase the number of access points’ for hackers.

Ms. Ramirez seemed to be directing her remarks at the start-ups that are making most of the products — like fitness trackers and glucose monitors — driving the so-called Internet of Things.

She said that some of these developers, in contrast to traditional hardware and software makers, ‘have not spent decades thinking about how to secure their products and services from hackers.'”

I yield to no one in my love of serendipitous discoveries of data’s value (such as the breakthrough in early diagnosis of infections in neonates by researchers from IBM and Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, but I think Ms. Ramirez was on target about IoT developers forcing themselves to emphasize minimization of data collection, especially when it comes to personal data:

“Beyond security, Ms. Ramirez said that technology companies needed to pay more attention to so-called data minimization, in which they collect only the personal data they need for a specific purpose and delete it permanently afterward. She directly challenged the widespread contention in the technology industry that it is necessary to collect large volumes of data because new uses might be uncovered.

‘I question the notion that we must put sensitive consumer data at risk on the off chance a company might someday discover a valuable use for the information,’ she said.

She also said that technology companies should be more transparent about the way they use personal data and should simplify their terms of use.”

Watch for a major IoT privacy pronouncement soon from the FTC.

It’s gratifying that, in addition to the panel Ms. Ramirez introduced, that CES also had an (albeit small…) area for privacy vendors.  As the WaPo reported, part of the reasons for this area is that the devices and apps are aimed at you and me, because “consumers are finding — thanks to the rise in identity theft, hacks and massive data breaches — that companies aren’t always good stewards for their information.” Dealing with privacy breaches is everyone’s business: companies, government, and you and me!

As WaPo reporter   concluded: “The whole point of the privacy area, and of many of the products being shown there, is that technology and privacy don’t have to fight. They can actually help each other. And these exhibitors — the few, the proud, the private — are happy to be here, preaching that message.”

So, let’s all resolve that 2015 when privacy and security become as big an IoT priority as innovation!


Oh, before I forget, its time for my gratuitous reference whenever I discuss IoT privacy and security, to Gen. David Petraeus (yes, the very General “Do As I Say, Not As I Do” Petraeus who faces possible federal felony charges for leaking classified documents to his lover/biographer.), who was quite enamored of the IoT when he directed the CIA. That should give you pause, no matter whether you’re an IoT user, producer, or regulator!

Smart Washing Machine: another example of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”

When I buy the much-hyped smart refrigerator, you’ll know I’ve officially gone around the bend, and have officially surrendered to IoT hype: it makes sense for those who buy a ton of processed foods with bar codes on them, but I just can’t see the value to those of us who buy a lot of label-less veggies from farmers markets, for example.

In a close second place on my personal list of those IoT devices that violate one of my Essential Truths of the IoT: “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should” would be a smart washing machine.

As the Washington Post wrote about Whirlpool’s $1,699 “smart” washer,

“Few expected ‘smart’ machines would fly off the shelves. They’re expensive, and Americans don’t typically replace their washers and dryers all that often. But analysts say the problem is bigger than that. Today’s smartest washer and dryer set won’t fold your clothes, erase wrinkles or stop you from mixing reds and whites. It won’t even move a load from one machine to the other. So what’s the point?”

I know there are going to be some false starts in creating IoT-enabled products that really do provide value, and good for Whirlpool for experimenting, but I do wonder whether something we used to call “common sense” is sorely lacking in some companies’ IoT decision-making.

IMHO, it would really be helpful if my washer and dryer could go on late at night to take advantage of utilities’ off-peak pricing as part of their smart grid initiatives (to their credit, as you’ll see from the photo of the companion smart dryer, a smart grid link is part of these appliances)

smart grid button on Whirlpool dryer

. However, I suspect that would be easily possible if the utilities just published APIs so some smart IFTTT user could create a “recipe” that would turn on an utterly-conventional washer that was plugged into a WeMo smart plug (hmm: did a search for that, and found a recipe that would automatically turn off a washer plugged into a WeMo if a Nest alarm detected a fire: nice, but rather low on my list of what I’d want to have done in case of a fire….).

So, yea, smart appliances, but let’s also make sure that one of the questions companies ask before committing to a really expensive initiative is: “do we really need it?”