Advancements in virtual-assistant technology will likely spur growth in home automation

1/05/2017

Advancements in virtual-assistant technology will likely spur growth in home automation

Will Virtual Assistants Revolutionize Home Automation?

By Danny Vena

Advancements in virtual-assistant technology will likely spur growth in home automation. Deciding which digital assistant works best for your smart-home use really depends on individual preference.

Almost everyone with a smartphone is familiar with some of the capabilities of voice-controlled virtual assistants. Siri from Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) was the first out of the gate and may be the most well known. Google Assistant from Alphabet, Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOGL)(NASDAQ:GOOG) is the search giant’s latest version of Google Now. Amazon.com, Inc.(NASDAQ:AMZN) gave us Alexa, though she is mostly limited to home speakers.

Until the release of these virtual helpers, home automation was primarily the dominion of expensive professionally installed systems that controlled everything, or managed services that provided monthly monitoring of things like alarm systems. Both are still available, but the revolution in the smart-home market is playing out in the individual components and smart devices that homeowners can purchase and control with these ubiquitous virtual assistants.

One thing to be aware of: Each virtual assistant has advantages and drawbacks, with no clear winner — yet.

Circular futuristic interface of smart home automation assistant.

VIRTUAL ASSISTANTS WILL DRIVE SMART-HOME ADOPTION. IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Apple HomeKit

Siri is the backbone for Apple’s HomeKit, the smartphone app that can be used to control a variety of smart-home products. This platform provides a variety of helpful features to simplify the process of adding devices and labeling “Favorites.” You can also organize the various components by “Rooms” and create “Scenes” that will control multiple devices with one command.

Another feature is that you can automate certain functions to occur at a specific time of day, or when you leave home. The best feature of HomeKit, in typical Apple fashion, is its ease of operation — and it can be controlled by the app, or using voice control.

A key point is that HomeKit-compatible devices have been reviewed and vetted by Apple, providing end-to-end security. This limits the number of available devices, but will likely prevent you from being hacked. On the downside, Apple lacks a home speaker system.

Amazon Alexa and Echo

Amazon’s Alexa powers the Echo, Echo Dot, and Tap smart-home speakers, but lacks a dedicated smartphone app. Amazon has integrated access to Alexa via its Amazon shopping app on the iPhone by tapping the microphone button in the app. Alexa’s advantage is in the number of things she can do — she accepts over 10,000 commands, called “skills,” though they require remembering the very specific wording of each command.

These skills address a variety of areas, not just the smart home, though the system integrates with dozens of smart-home devices that work directly with Alexa, and hundreds that operate using a variety of manufacturer-specific apps. Integrating many of these products requires a special If This Then That (IFTTT) device to connect them and to set up routines to control multiple components with a single command. There’s also no independent verification regarding device security.

Animated image of home surrounded by icons representing home automation devices.

SMART HOMES POWERED BY VIRTUAL ASSISTANTS. IMAGE SOURCE: PIXABAY.

Google Home and Home Control

Google recently introduced Home, a smart-home speaker similar to Amazon’s Echo. It’s powered by a Google Assistant, though not the same Assistant that operates on Google’s Android phones or the Allo messaging app — and they aren’t integrated as of this writing.

The Assistant on Home works with components from four smart-home partners currently (Nest, Philips Hue, IFTTT, and SmartThings) — far fewer than Alexa. Google plans to add additional partners over time, though those currently available cover the most used home-automation components.

Integrating multiple smart-home products through Home requires an IFTTT device to connect them to each other and set up routines, similar to Alexa. Also similar to Alexa, there’s no independent verification of device security, which varies by manufacturer. Home has Google search at its heart, so it understands detailed questions and requests rather than the specific skills commands required by Alexa.

Some consumers will be drawn to Echo or Home by the novelty factor, or for the variety of other capabilities, and adding smart-home products will be an unintended result of ownership.

Something for investors

Each system has advantages and downfalls regarding its home-automation capabilities. No one has yet developed a “killer app.” At this point, smart-home products seem to represent more of a hobby than something designed to produce significant revenue growth for any of these companies. However, the team of Alexa and Echo has an advantage for Amazon not available to Apple or Google.

A recent analyst note by Jim Shaughnessy and Mark Mahaney of RBC Capital Markets reported that 17% of current users of the Echo family of products placed orders to Amazon.com with their devices, which could result in additional sales of $10 billion in both products and devices annually by 2020.

While the hardware war is being waged, Amazon might enjoy a nice little boost on the e-commerce side.

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Danny Vena owns shares of Alphabet (A shares), Amazon, and Apple. Danny Vena has the following options: long January 2018 $640 calls on Alphabet (C shares), short January 2018 $650 calls on Alphabet (C shares), long January 2018 $85 calls on Apple, and short January 2018 $90 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, and Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Sustainability megatrends: The unstoppable force of technology and innovation

26/04/2017

Sustainability megatrends: The unstoppable force of technology and innovation

By Susanne Baker

Technology, if deployed correctly, could deliver a 24% reduction in annual emissions and £122bn in economic benefits in the UK be 2030. Adopting green digital tech is a huge business opportunity, promising to help organisations and systems become leaner and more efficient. A vital move if the UK is to succeed in a new worldwide marketplace.

Renewable technology is already offering solutions to energy demand and generation questions, but it is the new applications, deployed across all sectors and in the home, that will deliver a reimagining of how society works – as explored in the previous article in this megatrends series.

One of the more obvious buzzwords that is being used (with little realisation or fanfare by many) is ‘cloud’. As backend services like CRM software, accounting, email and HR move into web-based services, huge efficiencies can be found. ICT-related energy has moved to centralised, streamlined data centres from costlier and less efficient on-premises servers that are often too big for a business’ demand. For example, the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GESI) estimates an 863GWh saving, representing 421,000 tonnes of CO2, if 80% of businesses switched systems like CRM, data and email servers to the cloud.

Smarter systems

Another trend that is driving business change and sustainability is the Internet of Things (IoT). This describes a system where everyday devices and objects automatically exchange information from sensors over a network. It is revolutionising society’s ability to collect, store and analyse data to produce informed “smart” insights.

IoT has the potential to deliver efficiency savings across the economy. An early adopter is Milton Keynes, a local authority which is actively exploring adoption of smart technologies. This year, it is due to launch a city-wide transport information service that continuously describes real-time movements of people and vehicles across the City. It will include embedded timetables, car parking, bus and cycleway information, estimates of congestion and crowd density in different parts of the city helping to Milton Keynes keep traffic flowing. The data, in turn, will be used to develop predictive traffic models to help cut anticipated future congestion.

Elsewhere, homeowners can now use IoT technology to control their thermostats through their phones, helping to cut energy use. In the future, IoT-enabled devices, appliances and microgeneration promise to help balance demand on the grid. Farmers can analyse long-term weather patterns, soil conditions and historic yield information to more effectively deploy fertilisers, and manufacturers can use sensors to optimise production – which is already being heralded as the fourth industrial revolution. Smart logistics has transformed retail operations by optimising delivery routes and distribution points by analysing average journey lengths, mileage, driver behaviour and combining this to plot the most effective delivery schedules.

Social transformation

All of these things may seem sector-specific and small in scale but they have great potential inform us. When the data from all of these smart applications and connected devices is combined and analysed to produce actionable insights, significant cost savings and CO2 reductions can be realised across the economy.

Technology isn’t all about applications, though. It is about infrastructure too, such as the UK Government’s plans to bring superfast broadband across the country. The roll-out promises sustainability benefits that are probably not initially very obvious but it can be transformative.  In Cornwall, for example, BT estimates that almost 600,000 tonnes of CO2 will be saved by 2020 from reduced journeys, better home working and being able to do more online following the roll-out. Nationwide, this amounts to millions of CO2 reductions.

Down the line, we’re on course for even bigger changes in our society. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will see machines able to improve and optimise business. Robots and drones could become a more commonplace feature of logistics systems. Driverless cars equipped with AI could revolutionise mobility. Those with an interest in sustainability need to take note of this as, while AI will help create a new set of compliance tools, the evolution of these technologies will undoubtedly bring changes to employment. We could see a new strand of sustainability focused on a sustainable workforce and the provision of sustainable full-time jobs could become an issue as big as the environment among a business’s stakeholders.

The main driver of change for businesses will always be cost, but environment managers, CTOs, CSR-minded shareholders and finance directors all benefit when better and more efficient tech is rolled out in operations. New technologies are recognised now as more than just a compliance tick-box, or a press release, but as an essential component that makes organisations – and wider society – better off.

5 smart home trends homebuyers want in 2017

24/04/2017

5 smart home trends homebuyers want in 2017

BY KAYLA MATTHEWS

As a real estate agent, you might think this technology is beyond your needs. Not only that, you might think there’s little to no use for it in your industry.

However, smart home technology and IoT may make it easier to sell homes and real estate, especially to younger audiences. A recent survey revealed that 86 percent of millennials are willing to spend more money to rent a place with smart home technology already implemented.

If they’re willing to spend more on rent, it stands to reason they’re willing to spend more for a home purchase.

That same survey found 65 percent of baby boomers are willing to spend more to rent a place with smart home technology. Although that number is significantly less, it’s still pretty substantial.

If anything, it shows that smart home technology is quite popular these days. So popular, in fact, that 80 million smart home devices were delivered globally in 2016, which is a 64 percent increase from the prior year. Those numbers are expected to continue climbing well into 2017.

Considering those stats, now is the time to get on board with IoT and smart home technology.

But what are the most viable trends that you should be on the lookout for? What technology is in high demand from homebuyers? More importantly, how will it help you make a sale faster and move some homes?

1. Leak detection sensors

Fire alarms, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, radon detectors, moisture detectors — these are all devices that help you keep the home environment safe. There are even air quality devices that measure the air inside a home and identify dangerous toxins.

A Coldwell Banker Real Estate survey revealed that safety devices — like the detectors mentioned — are a large part (56 percent) of what qualifies a homes “smart” in the eyes of those polled.

Why is any of this important? Because we all need to feel safe at home, and smart technology that can handle this kind of monitoring can help us with that.

Perhaps the most useful of these devices is the smart leak detection sensor. They monitor the plumbing in your home and walls to ensure there are no major leaks or malfunctions. This can help you prevent serious water damage or the buildup of mold and mildew inside your walls from a slow leak.

This could be a game-changer for those older homes with lots of character, which can be a crapshoot in terms of dependability.

For example, is there central heating and cooling? Is the plumbing outdated or worn down? What other elements of the home need to be updated?

Installing smart leak detectors in new and older homes can waylay some of this worry.

2. Connected thermostats

For homeowners, energy consumption is a big deal. The more power and energy you use, the higher your electric bill is going to be.

You constantly have to manage how much energy you’re using, and that involves monitoring several different aspects of your home, including lighting usage and air conditioning reliance.

Connected or smart thermostats can help alleviate this problem by conserving energy over time. They are much more advanced than simple, programmable thermostats.

They will learn your habits and preferences and can even detect your presence. This allows for scenarios like leaving the air off while you’re not home and letting it auto-adjust to a comfortable temperature when you’re on your way.

Ecobee and Nest, smart thermostat manufacturers, claim you can save anywhere from 12 percent to 23 percent of power consumption costs. Even so, it’s still money saved, and, in today’s world, any amount of money back in your pocket is a good thing.

Smart thermostats can help you sell a property, especially if you drive home the idea that they offer cost savings and better energy efficiency. Not to mention, something like the Nest thermostat can double as a central hub to interface with and control other smart home products.

3. Smart garage doors

Have you ever left home and realized you left your garage door is wide open? With a traditional door, you must return home to close it. With a smart garage door, you can monitor your garage door from anywhere.

Check the open or closed status from an app on your smartphone, and, if it’s open, you can close it, even remotely. You can be miles and miles away from home and still control your garage door.

This opens up a world of possibilities, too, like letting the dog or house sitters in through your garage or opening your home to emergency services or neighbors when you’re gone. Now imagine explaining all this to interested homebuyers. It’s an easy sell, right?

Smart garage doors offer both convenience and better security for the homeowner.

4. Smart watering systems

Another form of consumption homeowners need to be wary of is their water usage. Not just in terms of clean water for drinking, cleaning or bathing but also the water used to irrigate land.

If you live in a deed restricted community, you keep your grass trimmed and healthy or you risk fines and complications. But, at the same time, you may be restricted by law as to the amount of water you can use due to water shortages and droughts.

Smart watering systems make this process much simpler and more efficient.

Not only can you schedule watering sessions, but you can also keep track of how much water you’re using. This is important because it can help you keep your water consumption to a minimum, and it can also help you save money over time.

5. Smart home security cameras

Security is a huge concern these days. You don’t need to look far at all to see something concerning.

According to Safewise, a burglary occurs every 18 seconds in the United States.

A report by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology shows that about 60 percent of convicted burglars were deterred by the presence of a home security system.

The takeaway here is that home security matters, but for homeowners, the cost savings are also a concern. Most home security solutions, like the ones offered by ADT or Brinks, are expensive. There’s a certain cost you must deal with if you want to protect your home.

But if you have a smart home security camera, those costs are pretty much negated. You only need to pay for the equipment once, and any service fees are minimal compared to conventional security plans.

For example, Canary offers up to 30 days of cloud video storage, 24/7 remote incident support, an extended warranty and a homeowner’s insurance reimbursement, and their service is only $9.99 a month.

A property with smart home security cameras pre-installed will be both safer and cheaper in terms of operating costs for that security system. Again, this should be another easy sell for real estate agents.

With the demand for and convenience of smart home tech, real estate agents should stay sharp on the newest trends and how they will save their homebuyers money in the long run.

Kayla Matthews covers smart technology and future trends for websites like VentureBeat, Curbed and Motherboard. You can read more posts by Kayla on her personal tech blog: Productivity Bytes.

Email Kayla Matthews

Smart home model integrates Amazon’s Alexa technology

17/04/2017

Smart home model integrates Amazon’s Alexa technology

Entering a model home always feels a bit like opening the door into a fantasy world where every surface is pristine and every room is decorated to a level of perfection impossible for most of us to achieve. But when you open the door to a model home and it talks back to you, you’ve entered the realm of science fiction.

Smart home technology, once the purview of the wealthiest and most tech-savvy homeowners, has spread to the masses with the availability of products that allow you to answer and unlock your front door remotely and adjust the temperature of your house before you get home from work. Now voice-controlled technology is transforming our homes into futuristic places that go far beyond the once cutting-edge yet laughable “clap-on, clap-off” light fixtures.

Brookfield Residential has collaborated with Amazon to design the Brookfield Residential Smart House, which integrates Amazon’s Alexa platform with a Kensington model single-family home at the Avendale community in Bristow in Prince William County, Va.

“We wanted to do something cool to differentiate ourselves from other builders and to anticipate how people will be living moving forward,” says Gregg Hughes, vice president of sales and marketing for Brookfield Residential. “We reached out to someone at Amazon who had worked with builders on a voice-activated custom home, but this is the first time this technology is being used in a production home.”

Amazon’s Alexa platform is part of the Echo voice-recognition system introduced by Amazon in late 2014. The Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimates that 8.2 million Echo devices had been purchased by the end of 2016. (Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)

“Voice automation means that everything in the house is controlled wirelessly by your voice, so anyone can use it to ask it to do something or ask a question,” says Hughes. “You can use it for safety to control lights and a security system, for audiovisual uses such as turning on music, and to do things like preheat your appliances and close or raise your blinds.”

Hughes says that Brookfield decided to build the smart house model at Avendale rather than at one of the company’s custom home communities to demonstrate that smart home technology isn’t reserved for expensive houses.

“We consciously chose a midpriced community where the model home would have the most impact,” he says. “We plan to roll it out in other new communities and will retrofit some of our existing communities by offering the technology on homes that have yet to be built.”

Hughes says the number of visitors to Avendale has increased by 80 percent since the smart house model opened.

“People are telling us they like to see how people will live in the future,” he says. “We’ve found that while some people who come in are very tech-savvy and are fluent in using Alexa, the technology seems to appeal to all ages. We’re planning to bring it to our active adult communities because we think it could be nice for older people to rely on using their voice to do things like shut the blinds and preheat the oven.”

The basic level of smart home technology is a standard feature on all new homes at Avendale. Brookfield plans to offer voice-activated technology at their homes in other communities as well.

Hughes says they offer “smart, smarter and smartest” packages, each of which will cost about $1,500 to $2,000. The lowest level will have the Alexa voice-activated system, a few voice-controlled dimmers for lights, a wireless thermostat and a video camera for the front door. Each additional package adds a few more items, such as more dimmers on lights and motorized blinds.

“Buyers can upgrade with a package or they can upgrade with a la carte choices,” Hughes says. “Buyers can also decide to wait and see what else will be added in the future. All our homes will be WiFi-enabled so buyers can buy plug-and-play upgrades whenever they want.”

Hughes says Brookfield upgraded the wiring at Avendale to “Category 6” and plans to upgrade to that level of wiring at all their new communities.

“Category 6 wiring has greater capabilities to provide wireless broadcast access,” he says. “Instead of having jacks all over the house, you can have a smart TV anywhere that uses WiFi from a router.”

The model home at Avendale has been programmed to make it easier for visitors to see Alexa in action. Homeowners can program their own system or use Alexa for individual commands, Hughes says.

Once visitors enter the model home, they use the command, “Alexa, turn on the smart home,” which lowers the shades on the windows and turns on the gas fireplace, the fan, the lights and the television. Visitors can also use the commands, “Alexa, ask Brookfield to tell me about the smart home” and “Alexa, ask Brookfield to tell me about Brookfield Residential” to listen to basic information about the home and the company. Other commands visitors can experiment with on the main level include asking for security cameras to be activated, raising and lowering the garage door, and requesting an explanation of the “Drop Zone,” a secure area of the garage where deliveries can be accepted even when no one is home.

“We set up themes to show how simple life could be with a voice-activated system,” says Hughes. “For example, you can say, ‘Alexa, good morning,’ and this will automatically start your coffee maker, turn on the shower so the water is the right temperature when you get in and raise your blinds. You can customize this to whatever you want it to do.”

Visitors to the model home can try out individual commands in the model home, too.

On the upper level, visitors can say, “Alexa, turn on the force,” in a Star Wars-themed bedroom to lower the shades, dim the lights and activate music and special lighting. Saying “Alexa, turn on relax” dims the lights, illuminates star panels and starts playing soothing music that you might hear in a spa.

“People can really see the potential of this technology to make their lives easier,” Hughes says. “Our model home starts a dialogue with buyers about how they want to live. This model home is just the tip of the iceberg. Technology is changing so rapidly that we are focused on future-proofing our homes to make them ready for the next phase.”

Smart Home Market Size & Share will hit $53.45 Billion by 2022!

12/04/2017

Smart Home Market Size & Share will hit $53.45 Billion by 2022!

The global smart home market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 14.5% between 2017 and 2022. The market revenue of $24.10 billion in 2016 is expected to grow up to $53.45 billion by 2022.

The advanced technology has enabled various devices to be connected and controlled by one device and this technology is used by smart homes. In smart homes, various devices such as lighting, AC, CCTV cameras, smart TV, washing machine, etc., can be controlled by either a remote or a smartphone or tablet. These devices can be switched on or off from a different location even if the device controlling them gets a signal for the same. Homeowners are enjoying more convenience and comfort from basic security monitoring and customized access to window coverings, appliances, lighting, irrigation, entertainment systems and many others.Prominent drivers of smart home adoption are energy efficiency, home security, entertainment, convenience/productivity, remote health monitoring and connectivity.

 

The major growth driver for the smart home market includes growing awareness among consumers about energy consumption, growing the aging population, rising disposable income in developing countries, and government initiatives among others.In addition, rising demand for home healthcare is fueling the growth of the smart home market. However, high prices coupled with limited consumer demand and long device replacement cycles are top barriers preventing the smart home market from moving from the early-adopter stage to the mass adoption stage.

Segmentation of smart home market is done on the basis of product and region. The products involved in the smart home market are the smart kitchen, home healthcare, lighting control, HVAC control and others. Light control held the largest share in the smart home market due to reduced electricity consumption in homes. Lighting sensors adjust the intensity of artificial light according to the intensity of natural light thereby reducing power consumption.

By Zion Market Research

Meet your next therapist: the smart home

11/04/2017

Meet your next therapist: the smart home

I was sitting in an office in the back of the Centerstone mental health treatment facility in Louisville, Kentucky. Beside me were an old PC tower and a laptop, both cracked open, wires unspooled and hard drives lying under the flickering ceiling fluorescents like animal innards in a high school biology class.

Two men sat across from me: Lon Moore, a Centerstone client with schizoaffective disorder, and his peer support specialist, Dante Murray, a leader in the local mental health community, who also lives with schizophrenia. To both of them, this mess of circuitry and gadgetry had been instrumental to their recovery.

Dante teaches clients with mental illness basic computer literacy, which sparked Lon’s passion for tinkering — hence the deconstructed PCs. For Lon, despite battling paranoia that conventional wisdom says technology might trigger, designing basic gadgets has become therapeutic.

Personally, Dante has found the most helpful device in his recovery to be a smartwatch, which monitors his vitals, tracking sleep and exercise.

Dante Murray has been in recovery from schizophrenia for over 10 years. Since his first psychotic break, he's gone on to become the vice president of the Louisville chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Dante Murray has been in recovery from schizophrenia for over 10 years. Since his first psychotic break, he’s gone on to become the vice president of the Louisville chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Dante’s and Lon’s gravitation toward technology after diagnosis isn’t peculiar. In 2014, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) commissioned a survey of 457 schizophrenic adults. The poll asked them a series of questions about how their condition intersected with their use of technology. Nearly three in five respondents said they used technology to cope with their symptoms, drowning out voices with headphones, for instance. About two in three said they anticipated technology would become a bigger part of their recovery in the coming years.

That level of comfort with technology suggests more can be done. Mental health experts say harnessing tech’s benefits could lead to powerful results in helping people live more-normal lives. If nothing else, tech could be a strong supplement for the treatment of mental illness.

“I’d like to see something more holistic,” Dante said, painting a picture of phones, wearables and smart home tech all working together to predict and prevent psychotic episodes.

Turns out, we’re not necessarily so far from that reality.

The future in your home

“For a long time there was this notion of a digital divide,” said Dr. John Torous, the co-director of the Digital Psychiatry Program at the Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. People assumed “that patients with a serious mental illness either did not own technology like smartphones or tablets, or if they did, they wouldn’t want to use them, because it would make them upset, paranoid or afraid.”

Lon Moore, who continually struggles with paranoia, says working with technology has only been a positive experience.
Lon Moore, who continually struggles with paranoia, says working with technology has only been a positive experience.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

NAMI’s survey undermined this theory, said Torous, and it was just the tip of the iceberg. When the poll was conducted, in August 2014, the explosion of smart home technology was still on the horizon. Apple’s smart home platform, HomeKit, had just been announced in June, and Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa, wouldn’t become available till November. In the years since the study, technology has surrounded people in the home more than ever before.

“We’re not really at the point where AI or chatbots will be able to diagnose or treat mental illness,” said Torous. But he thinks “behavioral nudges” like scheduling lights or TVs to turn off at certain times, could support a more holistic treatment program.

Devices like the Apple Watch, Fitbit and other wearables have already introduced features not only to monitor user vitals but also to connect with smart beds and scales, all to gather data.

Furthermore, with fridge technology emerging that lets you order groceries, and the current availability of connected lights like Philips Hue or Lifx, smart home technology many consumers see as a luxury could become instrumental to recovery for others. It could transform treatment into a daily, participatory process, rather than a series of therapy sessions separated by weeks or months.

Smart home technology could be “a tremendous asset,” Torous said.

Most of this technology is already on the market, or will be soon. So it’s not so much a question of when we’ll have the hardware, but rather when we’ll have a platform to integrate that hardware to treat mental illness.

The good news is, research psychiatrists and app developers might already be on the right track.

The future in your phone

Back in Boston, Torous is working in collaboration with JP Onnela at the Harvard School of Public Health to develop Beiwe, a passive app that tracks how users engage with their phones. This data — GPS location, accelerometer information, screen-off and screen-on time, and so on — is compiled and coded to monitor behaviors that might warn of an oncoming episode.

“Phone use is not a perfect proxy for sleep, [for example],” Torous said. “But [for] some people it’s going to be accurate. [And] if we can get good approximations of sleep for patients with schizophrenia…we can know when to push sleep intervention. Or if we can get a better idea about mobility, we can push exercise intervention.”

In the future, devices already designed to track user data, such as Fitbit wearables, could work with treatment apps to deliver helpful information to users and their clinicians.
In the future, devices already designed to track user data, such as Fitbit wearables, could work with treatment apps to deliver helpful information to users and their clinicians.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

For now that intervention mostly depends on family members and clinicians. But Dr. Dror Ben-Zeev, head of the Mobile Health for Mental Health program at University of Washington, Seattle, said that might change.

Ben-Zeev and his team have designed a different app, called Focus, which provides users with “quick and dirty” methods for coping with their symptoms as they occur.

Dr. Ben-Zeev gave an example in which a user hears voices predicting the future. Focus would prompt the user to test the voices, for instance, by asking them to predict the next few cars to pass by — their colors and order. When the prediction fails, then the following question would ask whether the voices might be fallible.

“What we find,” said Ben-Zeev, “Is that over time… people certainly experience less distress if they use the Focus strategies, and in some cases, they actually wind up experiencing [fewer] voices altogether.”

Though Ben-Zeev says the ideal scenario will include a support system of family and therapists, that’s not necessary for getting at least some level of positive treatment on the fly.

Combine Ben-Zeev’s digital treatment, Torous’ phone-usage tracking, a potential wealth of data from wearables and the behavioral nudges offered by existing smart home tech, and an image begins to emerge that reflects Dante Murray’s “cohesive” digital treatment experience.

One big outstanding question: When will everyday people like Lon and Dante actually see such a system come together? Torous doesn’t offer a timeline, but he is optimistic.

“I am sure we will see…these combined,” he said. “As we learn more about the best use cases and validity of…data gathering and nudges, those successful combinations will be very exciting and powerful.”

The future, when?

Ben-Zeev and Torous have a tough road ahead. Their products could easily get lost in app stores, where more than 165,000 wellness apps clog the market. There’s no correlation between the quality of an app and its popularity in the app store, Torous said. Without some regulatory body such as the US Food and Drug Administration certifying some apps and not others, finding effective software in such a clotted market becomes a major challenge.

An alternative route for developers could be packaging apps into existing insurance coverage — like one company, called AbleTo, does. According to AbleTo Chief Medical Officer Reena Pande, “Making sure [the tech] is covered is key.”

But with nearly 80 percent of the US population owning cell phones, apps have a unique ability to reach a wide range of users. Wrapping them into existing coverage models seems to waste that inherent accessibility, especially when more than 40 percent of those with schizophrenia right now aren’t receiving any form of care.

And all these challenges come before Ben-Zeev or Torous even consider integrating with existing smart home hardware.

Ben-Zeev said the clinical studies of his Focus app may be coming to a close, but another stage of research, on getting digital treatment to people effectively, is only beginning. For now it’s still unclear how the best technology will reach those with the greatest need.

Dante Murray (left) shows the computer literacy skills he teaches clients to help improve employability.
Dante Murray (left) shows the computer literacy skills he teaches clients to help improve employability.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Back in Louisville, Dante Murray was sitting in a chair, showing me Excel skills on a 10-year-old desktop. These are what he teaches to help Centerstone clients become more employable. When I asked if phones or tablets — devices with touchscreens — might help people he knows with mental illness who lack computer literacy, Dante swiveled to face me.

“Look, that would be great,” he said, seeming to indicate all the tech we’d discussed that day. “But the fact is…I have to work with what I have.”

By David Priest

Report: 27% Of US Homeowners Have Purchased An IoT Device

10/04/2017

Report: 27% Of US Homeowners Have Purchased An IoT Device

Approximately 27 percent of all homeowners in the United States have already purchased at least one Internet of Things (IoT) device, a recent study conducted by home automation firm Wink found, as reported by ReadWrite. The company’s latest Smart Home Index report suggests that the adoption of IoT products and services in the country is on the rise, though it also indicates that many consumers are still reluctant to start committing money to this emerging segment as the initial costs of deploying a smart home system remain relatively high.

More than two-thirds of consumers are interested in the prospect of a smart home system as they’ve revealed a degree of interest in being able to monitor their homes remotely, the study found, noting that increased home security is one of the main reasons why consumers in the country are considering the idea of acquiring a smart home system. While the technology for automating homes is already widely available on the market, the costs of doing so are still rather steep, which is why many consumers still haven’t started investing into IoT products and services, with more than one-third of interviewees saying they’d initially have to commit $5,000 to implement a smart home system. Furthermore, almost every tenth interviewee said a smart home system would cost them $20,000 or more.

Regardless, the figures outlined above only refer to complete solutions, i.e. a combination of products and services that offer full home automation. In light of that fact, the valuations might not be completely realistic, though Wink speculates that the average consumer might not be interested in half-measures and doesn’t consider a semi-automated home to be particularly smart. That mindset will likely need to change if the IoT segment is to experience a significant increase in user adoption rates in the near future, with Wink claiming that even several relatively cheap devices can make one’s home significantly more secure and automated. While homeowners are the largest demographic interested in automated home solutions, a portion of renters would also be willing to invest in the same technology, with more than one-third of interviewed renters claiming they’d be willing to pay $750 more on an annual basis for their accommodations if they were provided access to IoT devices in their places of residence.

April 10, 2017 – Written By Dominik Bosnjak

5 Ways Internet of Things Transforms Your Home

6/04/2017

5 Ways Internet of Things Transforms Your Home

In case you are still in doubt, you are living in what is called the “golden age of technology.” For the past few years, the world has come from working with bulky corded phones to pocket-sized computers, and they are capable of carrying out dozens of communication functions simultaneously. If the smartphone was the biggest tech development of the 2000s, then the next big thing of the 2010s and 2020s is smart homes.

Automating your home means having your systems, appliances or devices connected to a single home network that works interdependently and is remote controllable. When home technology works as a unit from one network, it is loosely referred to as a “connected home.” For instance, your home’s TVs, locks, lights and security cameras can be connected to a single system that is a smartphone or other devices controlled within the home or outside.

Smart home automation is not an opportunity for you to show off or keep up with the latest tech. It is a venture that can offer you some indisputably amazing advantages. Here are a few examples.

  1. Control Home Devices Using a Single Device

The convenience factor of using technology in your home is enormous since you can control it using one interface, which is huge leap forward for home management and technology. Theoretically, all you have to learn is how the app on your tablet or smartphone controls the devices, and you can tap into tens of functions around your home. This helps cut down the learning curve for new home technology owners, making it possible to tap into the true functionality of a home.

  1. Flexibility

Smart home networks are capable of accommodating new appliances, devices and other technology in an easy and effortless manner. It does not matter how state-of-the-art your appliance may seem to be, there are more impressive, newer models being developed. Integrating new appliances seamlessly to the home network is something any homeowner can do, allowing you to continuously update your lifestyle technology.

  1. Increased Home Security

Incorporating surveillance and security features in the smart home network increases your home security exponentially. Programmers are continuously developing security applications through unit testing tools that are the backbone of systems that connect automated door locks, surveillance cameras and motion detectors in your home so you can activate them from a mobile device as you go to bed. There are also options to receive regular security alerts on various devices, depending on your personal settings, whether you are home or any other place in the world.

  1. Increased Energy Efficiency

Depending on how you utilize smart home technology, it is possible to make your living space more energy efficient. A programmable smart thermostat, for example, offers you precise control over your home’s heating and cooling once it learns your schedule and temperature preference, and suggests the most energy efficient settings. Motorized shades and automatic lights can have an evening mode for when the sun sets or your lights can turn on and off whenever you enter or leave a room, and you never have to worry about wasting energy.

  1. Improved Functionality
    5 Ways Internet of Things Transforms Your Home

Smart home tech helps your appliances function better; for example, a smart TV can have better channels and apps, while the smart oven can help you cook chicken to perfection. Your home theater will make management of your music and movie collection easier. The end result is connected appliances and systems with improved effectiveness, making your home life that much easier and enjoyable.

The amount of consumer interest in smart home technology means tech companies and innovators are in a race to outdo each other. This is exciting stuff, and it is worth seeing for yourself what home automation can do for you.

By Haider Khan

Americans: Smart Homes Are Cool, But Too Expensive

5/04/2017

Americans: Smart Homes Are Cool, But Too Expensive

People like the idea of controlling their houses from afar, but aren’t interested in pricey retrofits.

Americans like the idea of smart homes, but when it comes to actually paying the bill for stuffing their houses and apartments with futuristic Internet of Things (IoT) tech and devices, they balk.

Just 27 percent of Americans have purchased a connected home device, although 71 would appreciate the ability to monitor their home while they’re away, according to a survey of 2,177 adults commissioned by home automation company Wink.

One reason for the disconnect? People think smart homes cost too much. Thirty-four percent of survey respondents estimate it would cost more than $5,000 to turn their abode into a smart home, while 9 percent put that number at $20,000. Of course, definitions as to how smart a home must be before you can label it that way vary widely; Wink notes that its basic automation hub suitecan be had for about $200.

For people who are enthusiastic about the tech but not the price, there’s also the possibility that insurance companies might foot the entire bill for home security and automation systems, either through rate discounts or by paying for the installation up front. (Homes with IoT devices like leak detectors are safer and thus cheaper to insure, the thinking goes). The insurance industry is gung-ho about that option, according to a recent surveyfrom analytics firm NTT Data, but just 16 percent of consumers surveyed said they’d be interested in home automation provided by their insurance carrier.

The upshot is that the connected home conundrum of the 1990s is still with us today: people like the idea, but not the expense or the installation hassle. So home automation is still largely the realm of geeky men with large disposable incomes, rather than something that the average homeowner would consider as necessary as the hot water heater. Fifty-seven percent of connected home product buyers are men, and only 20 percent of households with yearly incomes under $50,000 have bought a connected home product, according to the Wink survey.

Meanwhile, if you are thinking about making your home a bit more intelligent, our roundup of the best smart home devices is a good place to start.

By Tom Brant

If you stop to think about it, we are actually living in the era of “The Jetsons.”

4/04/2017

If you stop to think about it, we are actually living in the era of “The Jetsons.”

If you stop to think about it, we are actually living in the era of “The Jetsons.”

What years ago seemed possible only in the distant and fictional future is actually happening now. Smart technology is enabling us to control our homes with a touch of the finger, and it’s becoming increasingly affordable and accessible for a variety of budgets. Whether you want to automate your entire home or start small, your smart phone is the key to your smart home.

Glenn Shultz, owner of Shultz AV in Solana Beach, serves North County residents and beyond, and helps his customers automate their homes on both a small and a large scale. “What we are doing for our clients is automating their lights, and their cameras for their surveillance systems, the front door locks, their heating and air systems, their thermostats,” Shultz said. “People are wanting to be able to monitor their home while they aren’t there, remotely, through a smart device. When they return home, they want it all on one platform. One button, and the lights come on and the music comes on. And one button to turn the whole house off at night.”

On a smaller scale, Shultz said there are solutions for problems such as people perpetually pulling out of their driveways leaving the garage door open. “People can control their garage doors remotely,” he said. “If it’s left open for a period of time, it will close automatically if the sensor doesn’t go off.”

Ken Kerr, president and CEO of Home Controls, says that home automation is indeed for everyone. “Home automation is no longer just for the rich and famous as many people still believe,” he said. “Technology has advanced to the point that it is completely available to middle class homeowners and easily installable by handy people.” Home Controls, in San Diego, is a stocking distributor that provides products, advice and technical support in the home automation, security and home systems industry.

“Home automation is about the comfort, convenience, security and energy savings that simple home automation devices provide,” Kerr said. “Some of the most popular recent home automation devices are smart remote controlled door locks, wireless video doorbell/intercoms, and easy control of lighting, security and other devices by an automation controller hub, all through your smart phone. And, they are all affordable.”

Cox Cable has recently gotten in on the action with the launch of Cox Homelife, a personalized home security and automation system for its customers. Packages begin at $29.99 and include around-the-clock professional monitoring, battery and cellular network backup, smoke and heat detection, water and flood monitoring, carbon monoxide monitoring and unlocking and locking doors. Customers are able to access via touchscreen pad, web portal or mobile app and receive text and email alerts. Enhanced packages include live and recorded video, 24-hour continuous video and the ability to control appliances and thermostat.

Buyers Beware

With an influx of products on the market, consumers should be cautious and do their homework before buying.

For example, doorbell cameras have gained popularity in recent years, but Shultz advises consumers that Wi-Fi cameras have some issues. “The Wi-Fi front doorbell camera devices have a hard time with interoperability or communicating remotely,” he said. “A solution is to hardwire all your devices and to have the least amount of devices on the Wi-Fi as possible.”

Kerr says that quality is key when purchasing home automation devices. “As in any industry, in home automation there are good, well-made products that are reliable and easy to use, and there are poorly made products that will wear out soon and be troublesome,” he said. “That is why it is a good idea to get some qualified advice before purchasing a product.”

He cited examples of products that consumers should research before buying. “There are some flood control devices that look easy to install and are very inexpensive, but they are poor quality and don’t work very well,” he said. “And, there are some intercoms that are easy to install and of high quality, but there are others that are high quality but very difficult to install.”

Shultz said navigating the world of automation can be tricky. “Put these systems in place to enjoy your life and add more time to your day,” he said. “You don’t want to work at it, you want it to work for you.”

Looking Ahead

On the horizon is fiber optics, which will be available soon for greater bandwidth making home automation even more reliable. “The networks are going to get faster,” Shultz said. “If people are considering a remodel, they should consider network wiring to handle the faster speeds that are coming at us soon.”

Kerr says home automation is becoming easier to use and install and more and more devices are becoming internet controllable. Whereas at one point in time it was exciting just to be able to open your garage remotely, current capabilities have upped the ante. “Never come home to a dark house that is smart enough to know when to turn certain lights on automatically based on when the sun sets each day or when you open your garage door,” Kerr said. “It’s very nice to use a remote control for your TV, but it’s just as nice to turn on your A/C from your car on the drive home on a hot day or have a smart phone notify when your children get home from school. It’s all about awareness that smart homes are here and easy to make happen.”

By Laurie Sutton

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