9/07/2018

Do you know the story of how PUCK was invented? Hear it from SmashToast’s very own CEO and Founder, Barnabas Helmy:
 
“Well, I was sitting on the sofa watching TV with my two year old daughter and she was chewing on the Apple TV remote. When I went to change the channel, it no longer worked. This was the 2nd remote that she had chewed on and destroyed.”
 
This incident was only a few short years ago. That is when Mr. Helmy retreated to his basement workshop where he tinkered, experimented and then, eventually he came up with the idea for the PUCK – now being sold all over the world!
 

PUCK – Throwback Thursday Interview

7/12/2017

PUCK – Throwback Thursday Interview

Throwback Thursday to January 2017 when SmashToast CEO and inventor of the PUCK, Barnabas Helmy, was interviewed by local news in Champaign, Illinois!
As stated in the interview, PUCK works with a variety of devices including a television, space heater and Apple TV. PUCK is different from our competitors because it is a wireless solution to connect traditional infrared-remote controlled devices to the smartphone. We focused on simplicity over confusing features, and our modest price point ($29.99) gives our customers a low-cost solution to enter into the smart home revolution.

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.

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

Why 2017 will finally be the year of the smart home: Consumers figure it out

29/03/2017

Why 2017 will finally be the year of the smart home: Consumers figure it out

There are tons of high-tech gadgets to make homes “smarter” today, but homeowners are not asking for them as much as you might think.

Full home automation is not high on the average house hunter’s priority list. That may be about to change. The trouble so far has been the technology itself: Consumers aren’t sure how to integrate it into existing home systems. Plain and simple, they don’t know how to use it.

“It’s been a lot of fragmentation in the industry, a lot of confusion among consumers as to which devices are the best to go with. Is there longevity here? If they install a system tomorrow, will it be around in the next year,” said Blake Kozak, principal analyst at IHS Markit.

Smart Home

Hero Images | Getty Images

In 2016, 80 million smart home devices were delivered worldwide, a 64 percent increase from 2015, according to IHS Markit. That includes Nest thermostats and smoke detectors, August smart locks, Ring video doorbells. A big chunk of it was personal home assistants like GoogleHome, Bosch’s Mykie and Amazon’s Alexa. Analysts say despite the growth last year, 2017 will be the year of the smart home because the companies behind the technology will be smarter about educating their consumers.

“The consumers today are incredibly confused as to what’s the value that they’re getting. A consumer could be spending upwards of $1,000 if they go to the retail market and they don’t understand what’s the value. Are they getting energy savings? Is it simply fun and they’re not going to want to use it in a couple weeks’ time?” said Kozak.

Consolidation in the industry has brought smaller home-tech companies under big umbrella home-service providers. That should help consumers feel more comfortable with the new devices.

“What the large players in the market like a Comcast, AT&T, and security providers like Vivint, what these companies can do is provide more marketing and provide more opportunities for consumers to use these products first hand. Get these products in front of them, because it’s very difficult just watching advertisements on TV, as to what the true value is,” said Kozak.

Real estate agent Theresa Taylor said her buyers in Maryland are not asking for home technology. They tend to expect it in new construction, but not in existing homes, which are the vast majority of the market.

“They’re not willing to pay a premium for it. If the house has it, that’s fine, but it’s nothing that’s on the top of their list,” said Taylor.

Most buyers, she said, know that if they want a smart doorbell or thermostat, they can simply buy it on their own relatively inexpensively. The idea of a complete smart home is beyond their grasp.

“I think it’s definitely an opportunity for the electronics companies to educate them more that this could be a savings, not just simplicity and making your life easier and being able to use your phone to do everything,” said Taylor. “I think if they knew the benefits about how it could save them money, it would be a more attractive feature and instead of being at the bottom of the list of what people want, it would probably move up to the middle.”

To that end, CNET, a consumer technology news and review website, is launching its Smart Home Matrix at the Consumer Electronics Show this week. It is a new feature on the site designed to walk consumers through the latest smart home technology.

“We’ve seen smart home technology increasingly take prominence at CES with more products announced each year,” said Mark Larkin, SVP and GM at CNET. “From our own testing in the CNET Smart Home, we understand one of the largest hurdles in adopting smart home technology is getting multiple devices to work together. Our Smart Home Matrix helps consumers do just that by letting them know what devices are compatible with each other.”

The year ahead will likely bring more innovations, but the focus, according to analysts at IHS Markit, will be lowering prices, educating consumers and enhancing security, so that no one can hack your fridge. Voice assist will become much more commonplace, and the smart home will integrate with the smart car — so as you drive away, your home will know to turn the heat down. They predict at least 130 million smart home devices will be shipped worldwide this year.

DISCLOSURE: Comcast is the parent company of CNBC.

By Diana Olick

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