Zoe: perhaps even better than Echo as IoT killer device?

Zoe smart home hub

I’ve raved before about Echo, Amazon’s increasingly versatile smart home hub, primarily because it is voice activated, and thus can be used by anyone, regardless of tech smarts — or whether their hands are full of stuff.  As I’ve mentioned, voice control makes it a natural for my “SmartAging” concept to help improve seniors’ health and allow them to manage their homes, because you don’t have to understand the underlying technology — just talk.

Now there’s a challenger on the horizon: start-up Zoe, which offers many of Echo’s uses, but with an important difference that’s increasingly relevant as IoT security and privacy challenges mount: your data will remain securely in your home. Or, as their slogan goes:

“So far, smart home meant high convenience, no privacy, or privacy, but no fun. We are empowering you to have both.”

You can still get in on Zoe’s Indegogo campaign with a $249 contribution, which will get you a hub and an extra “voice drop” to use in another room, or the base level, $169 for a single room. Looks kinda cool to me, especially with the easily changed “Art Covers” and backlight coloring (the Che Guevera one looks appropriate for a revolutionary product) …  The product will ship in late 2016.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Echo & will be getting mine soon, but there is that creepy factor given government officials’ fascination with the potential of tapping into smart home data as part of their surveillance. Remember what US Director of Intelligence James Clapper said, ““In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.” Consider then, that Echo sits there on your kitchen counter, potentially hacked and then hoovering up all of your kitchen chit-chat to relay directly to the spooks.  Wouldn’t you rather that data remained totally under your control?

In addition to storing the data on site rather than in the cloud, Zoe also touts that it has advanced voice-recognition so it can learn IFTTT-style “recipes,” or be operated by apps. She comes with 1,500 built-in voice commands, or, if you stump her, (and only if you choose to, preserving that in-house-only option) web-based Advanced Voice Recognition steps in, with a cloud-based voice recognition system. Her recognition capabilities will grow over time.. Zoe will work with WiFi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, and other standards.

The company will ship the developers’ kit in six months. It will be open source.

Not being cloud based will mean it loses to Echo on two important counts. For many people, the ability to order things from Amazon simply by speaking may be more important than security concerns,. Also, I notice it doesn’t mention any speakers, so it may be lacking the ability to also serve as a music source (obviously it wouldn’t work with Amazon Music or Apple Music if it isn’t cloud-connected, but it would at least be nice to be able to use it to play your own collection — advantage to Echo on that one.

At least this means there’s competition in the field (and, BTW, I’d love to see Apple swoop in and make THE voice-activated device!)


BTW: Thanks to good buddy Bob Weisberg for the tip about Zoe! Follow him!

 

Even More Reason to Boost Internet of Things Security: Feds Spying

As if there wasn’t already enough reason to make privacy and security your top IoT priority (see what I wrote earlier this week), now there’s more evidence Uncle Sam may be accessing your IoT data as part of its overall surveillance efforts (MEMO to NSA Director: we notice the lights at the Stephenson household went on precisely at sunset. Was that a signal to launch Operation Dreadful Winter?).

The Guardian reports that US. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate:

“In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.”

Shades of former CIA Director David Petraeus, who I noted several years ago was also enamored of smart homes as the motherlode for snooping:

“‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,’ Petraeus enthused, ‘particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft.’ All those new online devices are a treasure trove of data if you’re a ‘person of interest’ to the spy community. Once upon a time, spies had to place a bug in your chandelier to hear your conversation. With the rise of the ‘smart home,’ you’d be sending tagged, geolocated data that a spy agency can intercept in real time when you use the lighting app on your phone to adjust your living room’s ambiance. ‘Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters — all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing,’ Petraeus said, ‘the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.’ Petraeus allowed that these household spy devices ‘change our notions of secrecy’ and prompt a rethink of’ ‘our notions of identity and secrecy.’”

Yikes!

Gathering data on spies, terrorists and other malefactors is always such a double-edged sword: I’m generally in favor of it if there’s demonstrable, objective proof they should be under surveillance (hey, I went to school with uber-spy Aldrich Ames!) but if and when the NSA and CSA start hoovering up gigantic amounts of data on our homes — and, even more questionably, our bodies [though Quantified Self devices] then we’ve got to make certain that privacy and security protections are designed in and tough, and that there is some sort of effective civilian oversight to avoid gratuitous dragnets and trump(ooh, gotta retire that word from my vocabulary)ed up surveillance.

Big Brother is watching … your thermostat!

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.

http://www.stephensonstrategies.com/">Stephenson blogs on Internet of Things Internet of Things strategy, breakthroughs and management