Coming Soon: Sending Money With Your Voice. Available Now: A FitBit That May Make Apple Nervous. Plus Three More Items in Five for Wednesday.

Welcome to Five for Wednesday, CRT Labs’ long-running (since March 2014!) series of curated tech stories. (Find all the previous posts here.)


a photograph of an Amazon Echo speaker


      1. Within the next year or so you’ll be able to send someone money via gear that’s running Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa.
        Parents with kids in college are NOT looking forward to this.
      2. FitBit continues their march into Apple territory with the release of their most Apple Watch-like wearable yet, the Versa.
      3. Why did Credit Karma acquire Penny, a personal finance app with a chat interface? Because they’re hoping the software will make it easier for folks to have conversations about things like qualifying for mortgages.
      4. Green tech and sustainability fans, check out the second residential structure that meets the requirements of the Living Building Challenge.
      5. Or maybe you’d rather live in one of these homes, whose owners really, really like smart home tech.

Google Lens Coming To Many Android Phones (And iOS Too); Block Those Annoying Robocalls To Your Cell Phone; More in Five for Wednesday

Welcome to Five for Wednesday, CRT Labs’ long-running (since March 2014!) series of curated tech stories. (Find all the previous posts here.) Staring with this week’s installment, Five for Wednesday will appear here at



      1. Google Lens allows users to use their phone’s camera to create contacts from business cards, learn about famous landmarks, and “make sense of the visual world.” Are you thinking “wow, that would be great for real estate?” The answer is yes.
      2. Learn more: Lifehacker has a brief how-to about Google Lens.
      3. Getting more unwelcome and annoying calls on your cell phone? We are too. Here’s what you can do about it.
      4. First Amazon bought smart doorbell company Ring; now they’re throwing a lot of support to smart thermostat company Ecobee. There’s a smart home battle that’s about to rage between Amazon and Google.
      5. 2018 will definitely be a breakout year for augmented reality (see the links about Google Lens above). Not only will it help people research and buy real estate, it will help them develop it.

Augmented Reality & What it Means for Real Estate

IKEA Place app allows you to virtually add furniture to an existing room and walk around it and view it to see if it works for you.

Last week, Adrienne wrote a post on our visit to the DIRTT offices here in Chicago. I wanted to look more deeply at augmented reality, or AR and mixed reality, also called MR. I think these two technologies will have a more significant impact than virtual reality, or VR. There are already some pretty cool apps out there for iPhone and Android with augmented capabilities built in. Today, we’ll look at what’s happening and talk about what’s possible with this space.

What is Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality?

The concepts of augmented reality and mixed reality have been around for years and, if you’ve ever watched almost any sport, you’ve witnessed them in action. For instance, in football, when you see the first down marker in yellow, the scrimmage line is in black and the yardage needed as well as time are overlaid on the screen, you are seeing augmented reality in action. It’s when information is overlaid on a true image of an environment.

Mixed reality is similar, but it includes a fixed point in space where the data is anchored. So, the data overlaid in that football game actually stays where the first down and scrimmage lines are and doesn’t move with the action focus of the camera. This type of augmented reality is most likely going to become prevalent in the real estate industry.

As far as specialized equipment goes, you don’t need much. Phones running modern operating systems today can fully realize these technologies. Apple and Google are doing a lot to make headway in this space.

What do I need to use Augmented Reality apps on my phone?

  • First, you need the latest operating systems from either Apple or Google.
    • iOS 11 or Android Oreo (8)
  • Models of phones matter too:
    • iPhone 7 and above
    • Varies for Android (S8, S8+, Pixel phones are sure bets)

Apple’s system, ARKit has garnered a lot of praise because of how simple it is to use for development. Google’s system ARCore is also getting some great praise.

Why does it matter to real estate?

Augmented reality and mixed reality will allow for the display of data in a different format. AR and MR will mean as you walk in an environment, you could have listing data about each part of the house displayed as you experience the house. So, the windows could ‘show’ you when they were installed, what their energy rating is, how many panes of glass there are and all sorts of other information.

It will also make it easier for you as an agent to work. You could add in place notes for the inspector to review (e.g. – there’s a crack by this window and it needs to be repaired stat.) You could also use your phone to measure rooms and get square footage for the space.

Some example apps

So, let’s show some examples. I’ve embedded a number of YouTube videos below to demonstrate how this works. First, let’s look at what this augmented environment looks like using a game. Here is an example of Minecraft with Apple’s ARKit:

Our friends at CleverFranke created a cool demo called EnARgy which shows you how much energy each one of your devices in your home is using. Pretty cool:

Let’s get to real estate applications. Here is an app called Housecraft from Sirvo. This app allows you to place furniture in an environment and resize it, but also allows you to walk around the furniture and experience it. This is an example of mixed reality:

Imagine if you will that using an app similar to Housecraft, you could take 3d renderings of YOUR OWN furniture and place them in a listing to see how the space works out for your stuff.

Another application was created by It allows consumers to get the price for a property while walking along and pointing their phone’s camera at a property. Called Street Peak, this app is an interesting way to search and view listings as you are in the environment:

Next Steps

This is not a call for every brokerage to build an app using this technology. Look at what is out there and see how you can use it. It will be a couple of years before this space has some more penetration. What I recommend is get yourself familiar with this space and what people are doing. What we will see is a new type of display, so what does that mean for data standards? What does it mean for the consumer in the transaction as well as the agent? How will this streamline the process? How will it cause us to evolve? Leave your thoughts below.

DIRTT – Doing It Right This Time

We investigate all sorts of real estate technologies here in CRT Labs, and recently we were able to stop by the Chicago offices of DIRTT Environmental Solutions. DIRTT, an acronym meaning “Doing It Right This Time,” is a company that is trying to revolutionize how we solve interior environmental solutions. DIRTT’s sophisticated technology turns 2D architectural drawings into 3D models as well as AR/VR landscapes, allowing clients to really visualize themselves in their newly designed spaces.

Before we check out DIRTT’s technology (presented in a Facebook Live Office Hours tour of their Chicago space), let’s talk a bit about AR, VR, and what they bring to the real estate field. First, we need to define the terms and talk about how they are the same – and how they are different. Augmented Reality (AR) is a live view (usually through a phone) of the world around you with overlays of digital information. This can take many forms, from the playful way Pokémon Go uses the phone camera to allow you to “catch” Pokémon in the real world, or in a more serious way through digital information displayed about a location while you’re there. Think of the second example as a digital visual version of the old school museum tour headsets you might rent while you’re at an art gallery. In real estate, AR can be used to not only enhance interior and exterior design choices in the building and remodeling process, but offers a fresh way to display listing information while at the home itself. There are dozens of applications for augmented real estate-specific apps (as showcased late last year in the New York Times), with more popping up every day. Augmented reality apps could become vital to the real estate market, especially as computer rendering techniques begin to get more sophisticated and start to look more like “real” furniture. Virtual reality (VR), unlike its augmented counterpart, creates (and/or recreates) entire environments with completely digital techniques. It often requires specialized hardware, which has grown and changed over the past two decades. Recently, a company called Oculus has become the frontrunner in the space, most notably due to their acquisition by Facebook. VR’s main output has been in the video gaming sphere, but just like augmented reality, the possibilities for real estate are currently endless, especially in the design/construction fields. Having a hard time envisioning a space after a remodel? Strap on an Oculus Rift and immerse yourself in the redesign.

VR and AR are very similar – and can even work together, as seen in our Facebook Live at DIRTT. Using augmented reality’s focus on overlapping information over real world images, and VR’s creation of entire environments, DIRTT is rethinking how we look at the built environment. To learn more about how AR/VR blend together at DIRTT, check out our Facebook Live Office Hours below.

CRT Labs Office Hours: DIRTT from CRTLabs on Vimeo.

To find out more about companies making waves in real estate technology, like our Facebook page and stay tuned for more Facebook Live Office Hours. Is there a tech company you’d be interested in learning more about? Contact us and let us know about them – and we might even feature them on a future Facebook Live!

Updated for 2018: Smart Home Glossary (and how you can help us with our FAQ!)

The smart home market is an ever-evolving field, and part of our job at CRT Labs is to keep pace with technology in order to get REALTORS® and consumers up-to-date information about what’s latest, what’s greatest – and even what might be outdated. Two of our resources, a Smart Home Glossary and Smart Home/IoT FAQ, serve as one-stop shops with quick information about smart products, how they work, and some buzzwords you might hear in the industry. I recently updated the glossary to reflect the changing smart home market, adding entries for sensors (which are becoming ubiquitous in the field) and voice assistants.

With that in mind, I wanted to reach out to everyone when it comes to updating our Smart Home/IoT FAQ. This will be updated over the coming weeks, but I wanted to extend the opportunity for everyone to ask their burning smart home questions – some might even be included in the FAQ! What questions do you, or your clients, have about smart homes, and how can CRT Labs answer them for you? Comment on this post, shoot us an email, or tweet us with any of your smart home questions. And for lots more smart home information, check out our Smart Home Simplified series, which breaks down the different types of smart home devices you’re likely to encounter in the wild and discusses the pros and cons of each. You can even print out the Simplified pamphlets to use as educational handouts in your own business!

Rosetta Home beta testing is coming soon

This is the first in a series of updates regarding CRT Lab’s open source Building Health Monitoring Platform, Rosetta Home. To sign up to be a beta tester, fill out our form.

Rosetta Home data

For some of you reading this, this may be the first time you’ve heard the term Building Health Monitoring Platform. If you’ve been by the lab in Chicago, or heard one of us speak in the last year or so, you hopefully know the term.

At CRT Labs we’ve been researching and developing a technology platform to enable real-time and historical analysis of a building’s health. At this point you might ask yourself what does “Building Health Monitoring Platform” mean exactly? Let me tell you what it means to us.

Residential and commercial buildings are complex organisms: they breathe, need energy to function and generally attempt to reach a point of homeostasis. You could view the energy needs and HVAC outputs as a simple form of metabolism. Understanding the sometimes complex relationships between air quality, energy usage and the occupants’ comfort levels requires monitoring many subsystems, as well as the perceived comfort of the occupants.

Rosetta Home is our attempt to quantify this data into meaningful feedback for the building owner or occupier. Most of the data is quantitative in its essence, while perceived comfort level is most definitely qualitative. Combining these data points to convey meaning is no small feat.

Let me give you a quick breakdown of the current subsystems we employ to enable this analysis.

  1. Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)

This is one of the most important aspects of a building’s health that is often overlooked. Excessive CO2 levels contribute to drowsiness and negatively impact work efficiency and general well-being in a building. Our Touchstone project is an open source hardware project led by our esteemed Architectural Engineer Akram Ali. We’ve tested dozens of sensors to create an affordable, efficient IEQ device. Besides just air quality we also look at other environmental factors such as noise levels and ambient light, hence the “Environmental” in the name, rather than just “Air” quality. All together we are monitoring 8 different variables.

  • Temperature
  • Relative Humidity
  • VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds)
  • CO2
  • Particulate Matter
  • Barometric Pressure
  • Light Intensity
  • Sound Intensity

If you feel like digging through some source code and hardware designs, feel free to check out the project on our Github.

  1. Energy Monitoring

Through the use of Smart Meter Connected Devices and/or direct monitoring of the electrical system using a device such as the Neurio, we are able to gather real-time data on electrical usage for the whole building. To break that down even further we employ plug load monitors for high-draw appliances and systems. We are currently using WeMo Insights which also allows the system to control the plug load as well.

  1. HVAC Utilization

To monitor residential HVAC utilization we are using a nifty little thermostat called the Radio Thermostat. This WiFi enabled thermostat gives us local access (LAN) to all the information about HVAC runtimes and heat/cool cycles. The data we receive from the Touchstone allows the system to have complete control over the thermostat, which allows Rosetta Home to optimize HVAC runtimes to enhance comfort and reduce costs.

For commercial installations we are working on integrating BACnet and Modbus protocols to talk to the different commercial systems.

  1. Hyper-local Weather

Obviously, outdoor environmental conditions play a huge role in how buildings perform. Solar radiation, wind, temperature and humidity can drastically effect a building’s efficiency. In order to really understand a building’s envelope efficiency and solar potential, it is essential to know this data as close to home as possible – pun intended ;). Wind speed and wind direction can also help us determine external air quality issues that may otherwise go unseen. Rosetta Home works with consumer-level weather stations, as well as more professional weather monitoring systems such as the Vantage Pro2.

  1. Consumer app

In order to collect the qualitative data of occupants comfort we utilize the application that occupants will use to interact with their system in general. Through totally optional polls, we will attempt to extrapolate useful information about the occupants’ comfort and overall well-being while in the building. We are trying hard to make these as quick and unobtrusive as possible, while relaying important data points for analysis.

The Update!

Great! This sounds amazing, you say. I want this for my building NOW! Where can I buy this amazing platform!

Don’t worry, it’s coming very soon. We hope to be handing out beta-tester units by the end of February. Let me explain what we’ve been pushing and tweaking in the final months before launch. 

  1. Hardware is HARD

We’re working with several vendors to optimize the production process of building Touchstones. We’ve spent months optimizing the board itself, and now it’s time to optimize production. We just completed our first pseudo-production run at mHub with the help of Twisted Traces.

It went well, but we definitely need to automate more of the process, so we’re working through that now.

Silkscreening boards and assemblage by pick and place. @mhubchicago

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  1. IoT Security is easy… to do incorrectly

This is one that you CANNOT get wrong. Most people have heard of Mirai. It wreaked havoc on the Internet in 2017. We believe in consumers’ privacy as well as their security. We’ve worked hard to lock down all of our in-home systems as well as cloud infrastructure to be compliant with the best security practices around today. We’re currently finalizing our key security infrastructure.

  1. Understanding the data is important

We can create the best technology in the world, but if it’s totally unaccessible to our users, no one benefits. Our illustrious designer Joe Sullivan has put in a ton of hours along with our summer intern John O’Sullivan (yes it’s very confusing) to build a fantastic user interface to investigate the massive amount of data that’s generated by a building. Having quick views of a buildings health is important, but so are deep dives into historical data. Making these work together in a mobile friendly interface takes a lot of research and testing. We are deploying the first version of our interface over the next month, and will be looking for as much feedback as you are willing to give to help make it better and better.

So, in closing, Rosetta Home will be out in the wild at the end of February. Some of you are on our beta testers list, so look for more updates soon on how we will be distributing those systems. You can also help us by filling out a quick questionnaire.