#000 – Things Thursday – A New Series


In an effort to help educate our members on what’s happening in the smart home/Internet of things space, we bring you a new series called ‘Things Thursday’. This will be like our Five for Wednesday on Bits & Bytes, but focused on what’s happening in the Internet of Things and smart home space. We’ll show you products that are on the market, talk about issues around this space and offer educational materials. So, without any further ado, let’s get started:


  1. A Beginner’s Guide to the Internet of Things (via SmartThings)
    For our inaugural post, I thought it would be good to give a background piece about what the internet of things are and how they will impact your life. This is a few years old and we did link to it on our CRT Bits & Bytes blog a while ago, but I think it does a great job of getting the information about the internet of things in a fun and engaging way.
  2. See How Clean (Or Toxic) Your Home’s Air Is With Dyson’s New App-Connected Purifier (via FastCompany)
    I’m very very interested in this product. Dyson has built some great products over the years, including air purifiers. What I like about this one is as it filters the air, it also monitors air quality.

    From the article:

    Inside the app, users can keep track of in-home pollution remotely and see how air quality changes over time with their own activities, like cooking or painting. In this way, the app does more than just educate; it can encourage healthier behavior.

    As the article states, the EPA says air quality in the home is 5x worse than air quality outdoors! This could be a step to improving that. I’m really curious to see the exact metrics it’s monitoring.

  3. August’s Doorbell Cam and Smart Keypad are Just What the ‘Smart Lock’ Needed (via The Verge)
    August Home is a graduate of our NAR REach Accelerator and is now expanding its product line from just their smart lock. The Verge likes the two new offerings from them (a doorbell cam and keypad for their smart lock), but there are some things they’re looking for in future updates. For example, the Doorbell Cam doesn’t detect motion yet, but will with software updates. Also, there’s no night vision option. It’s great to see August expanding into other avenues of home access. Their version 2 of their lock is expected to be ready at the end of April.

  4. Report: Google Is Secretly Working on an Amazon Echo Competitor (via Gizmodo)
    This could make things interesting. If you’re not familiar with the Amazon Echo, it is an $180 device from Amazon that allows you to do things like control your smart devices or do simple queries with your voice. You can play music and check the weather, do conversions, etc. just by talking to it.

    So, the fact that Google might enter this market is huge. Voice will be the interface of the future for the home and the work that Google’s done over the past few years with their Google Now service only puts them strongly in contention with Amazon. The article makes it clear that there is no name for this project or that the product may never come to market, but I am pretty sure it will, in some iteration. Amazon has a strong lead, and with the release of the Echo Dot and Amazon Tap, they seem determined to keep it.


  1. Don’t forget to download the Smart Home Checklist we did with the Online Trust Alliance. It’s perfect at closing time or listing time when trying to remember what needs to happen in a connected smart home. Ex. – Did you reset the Nest Thermostat?
  2. And speaking of thermostats…We are releasing product guides for smart devices. Here is our first one covering smart thermostats. You can take this link and put it in your newsletters to your clients or send the link in an email.

That’s it for this week. We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What would you like us to cover in Things Thursday? Are there products you’d like to hear more about? Issues/concerns?

Thanks! Stay smart.

CRTLabs Wins 30k for Charity as Part of Hackathon Team

roll out the barrel

A representation of the ChicagoHacksBig team after our win. Front row is CRTLabs team – Joe Sullivan, Chad Curry, Dave Conroy and Chris Coté. 😉 Photo found on New Old Stock and Courtesy of: https://www.flickr.com/photos/anmm_thecommons/12197825415/

Part of our work here at CRTLabs is to build for the future. As we do that, we need to learn, grow and fail. We had the opportunity to do all three as part of a hackathon team. We participated with people from many different groups around the Chicago area and one from NYC. Our team was called ChicagoHacksBig and we were entered into the Koding Virtual Global Hackathon sponsored by IBM, among others, and happening on Feb. 20 & 21. The prizes were $100,000 for 1st, $30,000 for 2nd and $10,000 for 3rd.

NOTE: If you’re just interested in seeing the work we did, you can use the following links:

  • The ChicagoHacksBig team page is here.
  • If you just want to play with the visualizations, you can go here.
  • If you want to access our code on GitHub, head here.

When it Began

We were invited to participate by Chris Phenner, someone we know in the Chicago tech community and who works for Gimbal Beacons. He’d submitted a proposal for the hackathon back in December and asked if we’d like to join. He’d also decided that we would be giving our winnings to a good cause called SmartChicago Collaborative, supporting technology exposure to underserved areas in Chicago. Because Chris’ idea was to do some type of representation of a map of indoor space, we thought this would be cool application for commercial or residential space. We were excited for the chance to win for a charity in Chicago, work with people in the tech community here and grateful for the experience. This was also a great chance for us to explore how this could work for real estate in the future.

Race for the Prize

Initially, our designs were on indoor mapping and we thought this would be a cool way to see how beaconing would could be used to describe how people relate to a space. The implications for real estate are big. This could mean understanding foot traffic in malls or built spaces and being able to advise the retailers on the opportunities beacons provide. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out because we weren’t able to get enough people in the space to install an app for the beacons to access.

So, we had to pivot. We had to pivot 3 days before the hackathon was to start!! We were fortunate to work with the folks at DoStuff Media, whose app would provide the data for us to visualize. DoStuff used Gimbal’s beacons and geofencing of 4,500 venues around the US to provide anonymized data about how people who had their app moved about 16 different cities over the course of one evening. Over 10,000 people were moving around these cities and this data lead to how we were able to show what spots were popular over the course of an evening.

Four cities mapped at the same time.

Figure 1 – Putting four of the cities we mapped next to each other.

We started work Saturday AM. Chris dug into the data and we all discussed how we might want to show this. We landed on heat mapping and some stream graphs. Dave prepped the servers for the Koding site, as we needed to use their IDE for the hackathon. Joe worked on the user experience and layout for the site. I started working on HTML/CSS for the initial page and navigation we didn’t end up using. We thought it would be cool to visualize the data using maps. So, Chris cooked up some cool heat maps using Leaflet and heatmap.js. These are pretty lightweight frameworks that could have some great implications for real estate. One of our visualizations was created using quadrants, showing four different cities compared side by side. Chris started out comparing Austin (where DoStuff is located and has the most data), Portland, LA and Chicago (where we’re based). He then took this template and created a few more in this style. Then we decided to let the maps stand on their own. What’s cool about this is you can dive into each map a little deeper.

Chicago Map.

Figure 2 – Chicago Map. What’s interesting about this one is how Milwaukee Avenue lights up over the course of the evening.

We created streamgraphs and I think the results were great. The end result is that not only did the ChicagoHacksBig team create some great data visualizations, we also won $30,000 for SmartChicago Collaborative.

Wrap-Up and Final Thoughts

It was a great experience all around and we want to thank Chris Phenner for asking us to be a part of it and DoStuff for access to their data, as it was nice exposure to a dataset on a large scale.


Figure 3 – A streamgraph showing how long people spent at certain venues. What’s cool about this is the various ways you can visualize the data. Love it.

For us, the visualizations could be used in future project for our members. This is a great template for things like creating apps that give you a sense of foot traffic and pedestrian congregation on a larger scale. Or apps that give you a sense of overall air quality for a city. Or apps that show how traffic moves through a city. It changes the tenor and discussion about a neighborhood.

My thanks to Chris, Dave and Joe for their hard work in the name of CRTLabs, NAR and our members. l can tell you I’m extremely proud of this team for how they worked together for this and worked with the others in ChicagoHacksBig. Kudos to you.

CRTLabs Looking for Two Interns!

We're looking for a couple of good people...are you one of them?

We’re looking for a couple of good people…are you one of them?

TL;DR – Job posting attached and also italicized below.

I’m really excited to announce that we need help. We have a couple of intern positions we are looking to fill and you may be a candidate. I’ve included the job postings below, but let me tell you why you want to work at the National Association of REALTORS® this summer.

Our group, CRTLabs, is on the forefront of what’s happening in the Internet of Things and smart home space. We are partnered with a number of vendors, universities, NGOs and government agencies. A couple of our projects we are working on this summer include a Department of Energy Challenge focused on an energy management smart hub and the Array of Things project which received a $3.1 million dollar grant from the National Science foundation. But we also want your ideas, too.

We recently placed second as part of a team in a global hackathon (our project here). This was out of 1,250 teams and over 90,000 participants. Our prize was $30,000 and we’re giving it to the SmartChicago Collaborative to promote technology in Chicago.

We have an active lab that is responsible for testing new smart home hardware and software as well as building devices and products to support these. If you work with us, you will be exposed to scientists at top national laboratories and work with four awesome people who eat and breath this stuff. We have two staff engineers who are regarded by the smart home/IoT industry as being top notch. We’re creating IoT & smart home software and hardware to help improve quality of life for homeowners all over the country. We are a fun group to work with and are excited by new ways of approaching a problem. We have 1.1 million members and are engaging with them to field test products and projects. We’ve been on the IoT Podcast, in Yahoo! Finance and Fortune magazine talking about our work.

We are an active part of the ITA’s IoT Council – I sit on the Executive Board and co-lead the Case Studies Group. The IoT Council is comprised of Fortune 500 companies, smaller companies, City of Chicago and leading research universities. NAR is the only trade association on this board.

We are community-minded and want to help make a difference in the name of our membership. They are the local experts in every community and we are there to make sure we help them keep at the forefront.

This is an amazing opportunity for the right person. For more information, see the description below for how to apply and what we’re looking for. Here’s the official job posting:

The Center for REALTOR® Technology at the National Association of REALTORS® is looking for qualified candidates for two paid internships to work on hardware and software projects with CRTLabs. This group is focused on smart home technology and the internet of things, as well as renewables. This position requires an understanding of fundamental software principles and methods. Hardware is also part of this work, so interest in hardware is a plus. Specifically, we are looking for candidates who must:

  • Have experience with programming
    • Python
    • Ruby
    • JS
    • HTML
    • CSS
    • or other appropriate language
  • Interest in hardware/hardware experience
    • Raspberry Pi
    • Arduino
    • Photon
    • BeagleBoards
    • ODroids
    • Sensors/Actuators
  • Be willing to learn
  • Document work

This is an opportunity to work with some passionate, dedicated professionals who are working on ground-breaking projects. You would be heavily involved in the day-to-day work and gain experience. This team recently placed second in a global hackathon and won $30,000 for the Smart Chicago Collaborative.

This position will run from April or May (when you can start) until the end of August. The hours are 8:30-5 Monday-Friday. For inquiries, please reach out to Chad Curry at ccurry@realtors.org and put ‘Summer Intern’ in the subject line. Thanks!!

If this sounds like you, apply!!! If you know someone who this would work for, send them this post!