#011-Things Thursday: Which voice to use & what smart cities mean for you

A man working with one of the first televisions. The screen is about 3" inches big.

CE-Yes or CE-No? Some of the stuff was pretty head scratching at CES this year. Engadget gives you the scoop on the baddies.

In this week’s Things Thursday, we look at the pros and cons of the Amazon Echo and Google Home, as well as what makes a smart city valuable and who were the let downs at CES. Oh, speaking of CES, tomorrow our own Dave Conroy will give you a download of his findings at CES during our Facebook Live Office Hours at the NEW TIME of 3p EST!!!

  1. 5 key books to put on your reading list to understand IoT (via ReadWrite)
    The space is moving fast and there are a lot of challenges around IoT. This list is has a good mix of what’s happening, what’s coming and what you need to look out for. These will be in CRT’s library for sure.
  2. How a Smart City Tackles Rainfall (via Data-Smart City Solutions)
    Smart city data will become one of those components that will transform real estate. We will know more about how we’re living and that will go a long way to impact how people feel about properties, how we develop and impact decisions on where to live. One way we can get ahead of this is by seeing what’s out there and better understanding the technology and the opportunities and challenges it presents. One of the larger efforts happening in this arena is right here in Chicago. The Array of Things is coming online and this article talks about how it is already helping city planners think about how they tackle issues like stormwater runoff. Creating a green infrastructure is happening all over the world and smart city initiatives like the Array of Things will most likely lend to an increase in this trend. This is a good read.
  3. CES 2017: How the tiny Intel Compute Card could revolutionize IoT device management (via TechRepublic)
    This idea makes sense to me. It’s in line with how the Array of Things (above) is looking ot operate. Hot-swappable hardware that can be upgraded on the fly. Intel’s version is a credit-card sized computer that can be removed and upgraded in the future, thus helping with the cycle of security and maintenance updates needed for devices. This is a great step in getting there. Still, if you have a ton of devices with these in them, it could become costly and onerous to manually move and update…but then again, you’d need to install new equipment anyway. You see my problem? I’m never happy. Kudos to Intel for thinking in this way. Let’s see if others follow this modular approach.
  4. Wading through the Internet of Crap (via Engadget)
    I kind of wish Engadget would stop pulling punches with these unclear headlines. 😉 – Seriously, they’ve got some opinions. There were a lot of head scratchers at CES and I agree with the list pretty much down the line. They quote Nick Offerman – ‘sometimes the best tech is low-tech’. I agree. Tomorrow, our own Dave Conroy will give you a download of his findings at CES during our Facebook Live Office Hours at the NEW TIME of 3p EST!!!
  5. Part A: What can Amazon Echo do that Google Home can’t? (via The Real Daily)
    Part A is a very good overview of the benefits of the Amazon Echo over the Google Home. For fair comparison, only the Echo and Home were compared and not the cheaper Echo Dot because there is no Google Home equivalent. Great and fair comparison. Echo currently leads in smarthome integrations, but my opinion is this is temporary. A huge puzzler for me is how well Google Calendar works with the Amazon Echo, but not with Google Home. Not sure how Google missed that…
    Part B: What can Google Home do that Amazon Echo can’t? (via The Real Daily)Part B looks at where Google Home shines. It doesn’t shine in an existential debate with itself, that’s for sure. For me? I like the speaker better and it seems the voice search capabilities are MUCH better. Of course, Amazon doesn’t have 18 years of web search history to train its voice assistant either. To me, Google seems the more natural to communicate with of the two by way of functionality. In fact, my parents, who are typically pretty technophobic, bought one after visiting my house for the holidays and using one. I would say definitely read these companion pieces and decide which fits your needs better. On a side note, either one of these devices would make a GREAT CLOSING GIFT!!!!

That’s all for Things Thursday this week. Have questions? Want us to cover something? Let us know. You can follow us on Twitter @crtlabs or Facebook.

CES 2017 Round Up – Part 1: Watching the Smart Home Evolve

A flight home from CES 2017, credit reddit user fantomknight1

Very much like last year, the halls of CES 2017 were packed to the brim with smart home technology. Now although there were a few new products, the majority of vendors mainly showed off upgraded versions of their lights, lock, security cameras, switches and other smart home hardware. It seems the major smart home announcements at CES 2017 were about new integrations between existing products. This trend is a big win for the industry and consumers who are currently dealing with a fragmented user experience.


For the second year in a row, Amazon’s personal voice assistant has dominated the floors of CES. Without being present in any formal capacity, the personal assistant seemed to be absolutely everywhere. Most impressively, Alexa has broken free from just being a smart home product and is now showing up in nearly all industries at CES. Vendors are building their products with Alexa built in, negating the need for consumers to even own an Amazon Echo. For example, both Ford and Volkswagon announced that the virtual assistant will be coming to their connected cars to allow search, shopping, and smart home control while driving. Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Huawei is launching an android phone that will prominently feature Alexa. Lenovo has created two versions of their own personal assistant that has Alexa built-in . The standard – starting at $129.99, and the Harmon Kardon Edition, which offers better sound quality, starting at $179.99. (very comparable to the price of an actual amazon echo).

The number of applications (or skills) available in Amazon Alexa store is increasing at an incredible rate. With only 1,000 available last June, the store now hosts over 7,000 skills that allow you do to basic things like set timers and alarms, to ordering Uber’s or Lyft’s and checking wait times at airports.

Apple’s Homekit

While Apple Homekit seems to currently to be losing the integrations “arms race”, CES 2017 was still full of vendors announcing their HomeKit Enabled Devices. Integrations with Apple take longer for third party vendors as there is a strict set of hardware and software requirements Apple imposes before it will certify a product as HomeKit compatible.


  • Yale Real Living Assure Locks
  • Yale NexTouch Wireless Locks
  • Kwickset Premis smart lock


  • iDevices Instant Switch
  • Lifx Plus Smart Bulbs
  • Ring Floodlight Cam


  • Withings Home Plus
  • Fibaro Motion Sensor
  • Fibary Door/Window Sensor


  • Netatmo Smoke Alarm
  • Chamberline Smart Garage Opener
  • Fibaro Flood sensor


Lutron, one of the more established Smart Home Vendors in the industry has announced new integrations with Samsung SmartThings and additional features with Nest.

With SmartThings you will now be able to control your Lutron switches and shades alongside other compatible products from within the SmartThings mobile app. That’ll let you use things like Z-wave and ZigBee motion detectors to trigger your Lutron gear. This communication is not native to the Lutron Platform however and will require you to purchase an additional piece of hardware that works as a translating device. This hardware should be available early this year.

Lutron is has also added additional functionality to its Nest integrations. Previously, you were already able to trigger Lutron gear based on communications from the Google Company’s Learning Thermostat and Protect Smoke detector. Now they have also added Nest Cam support which is a great benefit to be able to control your indoor/outdoor lighting based on motion detected on your cameras.

Google Home

Being the new comer to this space, Google’s personal assistant platform remained relatively quiet this year with only a few announcements. Besides integrating with the familiar Belkin Wemo line, Google also announced partnership with another new comer to the space, the Nvidia Shield/Spot, a media streaming device with built in AI and smart home integrations.

As they open up more of their API and hardware vendors have more time to integrate, I imagine Google Home will be the one to watch at CES 2018.

Final Thoughts

All of these integrations show a maturing smart home industry, a welcome improvement over the fragmented marketplace that existed just a year ago. The fact that consumers will no longer necessarily be silo’d into smart home walled gardens should allow greater adoption of these devices. To learn more about CRT’s CES trip, please follow us on Facebook as we discuss our findings live on Friday afternoon. Please make sure to check back here as well next week for part two of this series, where I share the products that I am most excited about for 2017.

Facebook Live Office Hours: 2017 Predictions

What does 2017 have in store for technology? Earlier this week, the team gave our predictions in a post. On our Facebook Live Office Hours, Chad shared those predictions, as well as went into more depth on them. He also discussed some of the stuff coming out of CES – stay tuned on the blog over the next couple of weeks when Dave writes up his thoughts after going to the show in Las Vegas. As always, you can join us live on Fridays by liking our Facebook page. See you next week!

Facebook Live Office Hours: 2017 Predictions from CRTLabs on Vimeo.

#010 – Things Thursday – Dotdot, Obsidian and IoT patching contest

Photo of a silhouette of a man walking in front of a multitude of colorful lights


Well, CES is underway and some of the fun and crazy stuff is trickling out. Smart hairbrushes and smart spoons to name a couple of curious items. Today, we’ll look at some of the good and some of the challenging products being announced this week.

  1. Kwikset goes keyless with its ‘Obsidian’ smart lock (via Engadget)
    This one in particular has me perplexed. What if the power source for the lock goes out? What if you lose connectivity??? I don’t agree with this lock, BUT I’ve yet to work with it. We will probably get one and test so you don’t have to. The Obsidian will go for $230.
  2. Netatmo takes on Nest (again) with smart smoke alarm (via Wareable)
    We’ve had Netatmo products in the lab since we opened our doors. They make a really great air quality sensor and indoor camera. It doesn’t look like this smoke detector does CO, like the nest Protect.No word on pricing yet.
  3. ZigBee’s Dotdot language is the latest bid for IoT harmony (via ITWorld)
    One of the internet of things’ greatest challenges is interoperability. Who owns the connection between the things? Zigbee is one of the several protocols out there for IoT and now, the Zigbee Alliance is trying to create a universal language for IoT. From the article:

    It defines things like how devices tell each other what they are and what they can do, which is important for making different objects around a home do things together…For example, if you install a new connected light fixture in the living room and want it to turn on whenever the front door is opened, the connected lock or sensor in the door will need to know that such a light is out there and be able to send commands to it.

    Who knows if this will be the new standard that rules, but it’s great to see the effort come forth.

  4. FTC sets $25,000 price for automatic IoT patching (via ComputerWorld)
    Very excited to see this initiative from FTC. The challenges of patching of IoT products has been something we’ve talked about internally and because of the amount and scale of devices being released, this isn’t going to be easy. Submissions are being taken between March and May. The winners will be announced in July.

That’s all for Things Thursday this week. Have questions? Want us to cover something? Let us know. You can follow us on Twitter @crtlabs or Facebook.

CRT Labs Predicts: 2017 Edition

UPDATE: We weigh in with how accurate our predictions were in MORE HITS THAN MISSES: WE REVIEW OUR PREDICTIONS FOR 2017.

With CES coming up this week, there is bound to be a lot of talk about the future of technology on all your favorite blogs. Here in the lab, we decided to give a stab at what we see happening in 2017 in smart homes, renewable energy, and more!


Now that Google Home has hit the ground running, I predict this year the company will integrate its popular home assistant into their mesh network platform, Google Wifi. Each router will act a lot like an Amazon Echo Dot, but bring in the added mesh networking capabilities. Right now, a 3-pack of the routers costs $299, with additional units costing $129 (the same as a Google Home); however, I believe the company will introduce a smaller router, without the ethernet ports and with tiny speakers, at around $69 to compete with the $49.99 Echo Dot. Google’s goal is to get an assistant in every room in order to control your smart home. They’ve already pulled ahead of Amazon with their multi-room support, which not only has intelligent voice detection to allow you to only interact with the Google Home closest to you but also allows you to control playback on other Google audio devices in other rooms. Of course, for Google to control your whole home, they’ll need to expand compatibility, but since their API opened to the public at the end of 2016, both third party and native support for devices will be coming in 2017.

After solar shingles, there will be solar siding and solar window offerings for traditional consumers. This would mean that homes wouldn’t need consistent direct sunlight to harvest energy. Homes in traditionally less-sunny places could harvest solar as effectively as homes in the southwest. Home energy battery storage will make this an even more viable option as batteries look less and less like batteries and more like traditional appliances. Cities will also begin implementing systems that aren’t one type of energy harvesting. Solar, wind and hydropower will take great steps to become prominent in large and small cities. Cities will find creative ways to gather energy from these three methods that are both practical and aren’t highly visible. Portland is already generating hydropower using its water mains. Expect smaller form factors in all three areas for ancillary energy harvesting. Solar sunflowers and wind trees are examples we may see deployed on boulevards and parks in 2017. 

In the managed smart home arena, we’ll see the telecommunications companies continue to grow in importance, and many of the “closed” managed smart home systems will loosen some of their restrictions, allowing consumers to bring their own devices. In order to secure the increasing number of internet-connected devices, the government will get involved in encryption and security requirements. Open-source software will continue to be incredibly important. Open-source distributed ledger applications such as Hyperledger and Corda will be among the first widely-used Blockchain apps, and open-source tools will also become increasingly important to journalists and citizen activists. Voice control, artificial intelligence, and deep machine learning will continue to redefine our relationship with devices, and self-driving trucks will disrupt the trucking industry (with cars and busses not too far behind). Monitoring the health of your home – CO2, energy efficiency, VOC, and water contamination – will see a rise in importance as rising CO2 levels and water contamination continue to make news.

I predict we have not seen the end of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks caused by consumer grade IoT devices. In fact, I feel it is possible we will see a large scale event in 2017 that would cause the disruption of legitimate internet traffic in the United States for up to 24 hours. As we covered in our Insecurity of Things blog series last October, it only takes a few dozen hardware manufacturers to not follow best practices to leave over a half million devices vulnerable to hijacking.  With these manufactures already facing heavy competition and slim profits margins, coupled with the influx of new startups rushing to into the space – security and privacy are not given the priority they deserve. Part of our mission here at CRT labs is to educate REALTORS® and consumers about these issues, and it is very promising to see both parties starting to prioritize them when they are deciding what devices to put in their homes. However, until the hardware vendors start taking on the responsibility, there is still a significant risk for large scale attacks.For more information about best practices and how you can keep your devices secure, please visit one of our partner organizations – the Online Trust Alliance.

In 2017 we’re likely to see an increase in the tension between our public and private identities. On the one hand, declaring exactly who we are — and where we are, and when we are there — is an essential part of customizing many user experiences. Concerns about surveillance, though, are prompting more people to use (or at least start asking about) Tor browsers, personal VPNs, and other tools that provide increased security and anonymity. Balancing the demands of both openness and privacy will be a huge story in 2017. (To learn more about Americans and their views on surveillance, visit the Pew Research Center.)