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.

CES 2018 – Five Key Takeaways

With the pace that technology is currently advancing, it is amazing to see how it becomes increasingly woven into our daily lives. The Consumer Electronics Show, now in its 51st year, is the proving grounds for these new advancements. With over 170,000 attendees and 3900 vendors, CES is the world’s largest tradeshow. Over the past three years, CRT Lab’s has covered the trends that emerge, and what they mean for real estate. This year, we saw the following five key trends.

1) Increased Focus on Air Quality

There is a special marketplace on the show floor within CES that is specifically made for startups and technology pioneers called Eureka Park. This section is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Techstars, and is a great place to get insights on where technology trends may be headed.

As we began to notice two years ago at the Lab’s first visit to CES, air quality is getting more and more attention of more importance to today’s consumers. In previous years we have met innovative startups like Plume Labs and elichens. This year, having built our own indoor air quality monitor, we were able to meet with and collect samples of the latest innovations directly from the sensor manufacturers.

2) Google Has Arrived

This year Google made its first-ever appearance at CES. They had an especially rocky start with their giant two-story outdoor booth having to be shut down due to heavy rains on day one, and faced power issues midweek.

Despite all this, by perhaps what may be brute-force alone, their presence was felt. Previous years at CES have been absolutely dominated by Amazon’s Voice Assistant Alexa, and for the search giant’s first year ever to be exhibiting – they had incredible product penetration.

Photo by Dieter Bohn / The Verge

From sponsoring the city-wide monorail, buses, taxis, and their incredibly impressive two-story outdoor booth, it seemed like Google was everywhere.

A Google Assistant shows off the company’s all white jumpsuits (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

In fact, they even had real life Google Assistants working overtime on the exhibition floor giving product demonstrations, running contests, and doing giveaways of Google Assitant compatible devices.

3) Urban Agriculture

If you’ve visited CRT Labs over the past two years, you’ve most likely seen some of our aquaponics systems. Filled with fish, ghost shrimp, herbs and vegetables, these systems work based on a symbiotic relationship between the aquatic life and the plants growing above. As more and more people are moving to major urban areas, the demand for locally grown produce is only growing higher.

Aquaponics @ CRT Labs

The Grove aquaponics set-up for CRT Labs, with kale above and goldfish in the tank.

This year at CES, there were dozens of companies trying to capture some of that demand by offering consumers a way to grow their own vegetables at home. What is reassuring to us that this will be a future trend to watch is just the sheer number of different approaches companies are taking to solve this problem. We saw sleek, counter-top units like the Aspara Smart Veggie Grower, to full popup greenhouses like the Grow Pods by Opcom.

4) Smart City and Autonomous Vehicles

We saw an incredible amount of technology this year that was trying to marry all of the innovation together to provide solutions for smart cities. Two of the best examples of this would be the Bosch Climo System and Toyota’s e-pallet, both of which won Innovation Awards this year. The Climo System is a smart air monitoring solution designed and developed to evaluate, visualize and act upon the outdoor air quality enabled with real-time tracking of ambient air pollutants. According to their website, the Climo System has eight different sensors that measure particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. It is also equipped to monitor pollen levels, which is a common cause of allergies. We can’t help but be reminded of the Chicago based project, the Array of Things, which has similar goals.

Toyota announced a new business alliance between partners Amazon, Mazda, Pizza Hut, Uber, and Didi (Chinese Ride Sharing) focusing on what they are calling “Mobility as a Service”. As part of this, they also revealed the first of their concept vehicles, the e-Pallet.

Photo by Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

The idea being that the e-Pallet would be a completely modular and customizable solution for autonomous transportation needs. From ridesharing and automated delivers, to on-demand retail experiences, the e-Pallet is made to be the starting point for any company who has a use case for electric autonomous vehicles.

5) Voice Control Integration Becomes Deeper

This year at CES we saw the deeper integration of voice assistants into the smart home. The best example of this would be Kohler, who unveiled Kohler Konnect this year. Enabling voice control technology for your shower, bathtub, toilet, mirror, and faucet. While this main seem a bit overkill at first, there are many uses cases for touchless/handsfree operation in the bathroom. In fact, Kohler received a CES 2018 Innovation award for the efforts, in their company’s impressive debut.

For more coverage, check out this great video from REALTOR Magazine:

CRT Labs Predicts: 2018 In Technology


What lies ahead in 2018? The team takes our best guesses for the future in our second annual year-in-tech predictions post. As expected, we think blockchain is going to be the hot technology trend of 2018, but we also take a look at smart home tech, smart city (and smart farming) initiatives, and more.

In 2018, we’re going to see more things bought in online marketplaces than offline at retail establishments. More people will be ordering takeout on Grubhub than will be dining in at their favorite restaurants, and other traditional retail establishments will really need to start thinking about their online presence. We’ve been staring this shift in the face for a while, but with Amazon buying up Whole Foods, I think we’re about to see the scales tip in favor on online buying. What does this mean for real estate? I think big purchases are safe for now – nothing can replace the one-on-one service a REALTOR® gives to their clients – but I do expect there to be some larger attempts at “disruption” in that space, whether it be through an uptick in using Bitcoin to pay for a house, or apps connecting buyers and sellers, or something completely new (and no, not robots…I hope).

After the first few city-wide implementations of sensors to monitor weather, air quality and traffic (such as the Array of Things in Chicago), we may see similar implementations in various other cities. This may not have immediate impact on public transportation, awareness or health this year, but data collection and analysis may prove to be useful to build on services for the coming years. The housing market may have a steady growth, with more millennials now looking to buy homes, although in some larger cities, renting may prove to be more cost effective. In 2018, there will be a wider implementation of smart home devices as they get more popular, with voice assistants becoming almost human-like in responses, but not necessarily in understanding various dynamics and social constructs in language. More items in the household may have a “smart” feature, such as furniture, doors and appliances such as refrigerators and washers. With an increase in such devices, there will be a need for interoperability, and we may see a development of a standard protocol for most common smart home devices, so they can exchange data between each other. With the increase in devices connected to the internet, encryption and privacy will yet again be a concern. There may be a wide-scale attack on popular IoT devices, leading to a leak in personal lifestyle information, which can be more crucial than just a social security number. We may also see a series of small scale attacks with companies rushing to address bugs. Cryptocurrency can be completely overturned in 2018, with governments cracking down on mining operations and increasing amount of legislations in place to control it. The bitcoin bubble may finally burst, but it may lead to increased awareness of the technology itself. Blockchain applications can see a wider implementation, however, this largely depends on the understanding of the fundamentals of blockchain by individuals and corporations.

Renewables will continue to heat up as it was recently announced that it is now cheaper to produce energy using solar, wind, hydrothermal and geothermal than fossil fuels. This return to using nature for us to thrive will manifest itself in another way as well. We will see a large growth of biophilic architecture (plants incorporated into building design) as well as urban agriculture. Companies, like Plenty, are receiving large rounds of funding and cities are starting to wise up to the benefits of locally produced food. From more community gardens to the use of hydroculture for indoor growing year round, cities will begin investing this and seeing it as a crucial part of their smart city missions. This will also mean the boon of microfarmers as part of the gig economy. They will be key in this movement.

I believe 2018 will be another breakout year for blockchain and digital currencies. More enterprises will enter the pilot stage as others move into production. The number of active blockchain related projects went from 26,000 in 2016 to over 86,000 in 2017*. We should start seeing more of these projects reach maturity. Specifically, in real estate, we will see escrow and title companies leveraging blockchain to help improve the real estate transfer process.  *From analysis of public code repositories on Github, an annual report by Deloitte.

I have two predictions for 2018.
2017 was the year net neutrality was repealed; 2018 will be the year in which we feel the effects. And sadly, we’ll feel them sooner than a lot of people think. Some internet service providers have pledged not to throttle or block sites, and not to set up fast lanes. Those pledges will prove to be meaningless, especially as more consumers become cable TV cord cutters. Paid prioritization of web content will be how ISPs try to reclaim the money they’re losing, and it’s going to get very ugly very fast.
Unrelated: Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey will leave his perch by the end of Q2.


CRT Labs Gets It Done: Our 2017 Year In Review

2017 was a great year for CRT Labs and especially for the projects we’ve been cultivating. From meeting thousands of REALTORS® at various conferences, to publishing our first book, to winning awards, CRT Labs really was on a roll this year, and I’ve been really excited to write this wrap-up and see everything collected together.

We hit up a lot of conferences and other speaking events this year, including visiting dozens of associations, reaching out to REALTORS® all over the country and showing off our hardware and software projects. We continued our sponsorship of TechEdge, a series of one-day conferences designed to keep REALTORS® up-to-date with exciting technology trends in the real estate industry. We managed to speak at every TechEdge in 2017, talking about smart home trends, smart city initiatives, and the impact of blockchain on real estate.

Speaking of blockchain, Dave dove into the blockchain arena head first this year, and has been leading the way investigating the technology’s impact on the real estate industry. This impact goes beyond just simply using Bitcoin for transactions, and has potential to service multiple areas in the real estate world. Dave has been working on a prototype application of blockchain for associations which would help consolidate and streamline member information. Chris has also been hard at work on our Rosetta Home software, which has been showcased (and won a grant!) for its public data visualization. To go along with Rosetta Home, Akram has been finalizing our Touchstone indoor environmental quality sensor, and we had a small production run of boards in December and have begun testing them here in the labs. Together, these projects will work together to monitor and control the environment inside your home, and will make a great closing gift to give to clients.

Joe and Adrienne focused a lot on education this year, starting with the Smart Home Simplified series. These easy-to-read pamphlets tell you everything you need to know about a variety of smart home products. To supplement the Smart Home Simplified series, we also created display information for any association who is looking to set up smart home demo stations and needs placards and other information displayed for their members during demos. Chad and Adrienne will be speaking about these demo stations, along with Abby Creitz of NAR’s Information Services, at the Association Executives Institute in Charlotte in March 2018. Adrienne and Akram teamed up with the Library here at NAR to create a video display system using Raspberry Pi, and Dave and Adrienne helped the Library set up an iPad kiosk for members visiting the Library and Archives.

We also published our first book! A Pocket Guide to Cleaner Air: Plants for Commercial Spaces debuted in the summer and is the first in a series of small-scale books about indoor air quality and ways you can make the air you breathe cleaner and healthier. Adrienne wrote the book, along with Abby Creitz from Information Services, and Donna McCormick and Debbie Dell-Mayer in Information Technology. Joe designed the book, including one of the coolest book covers ever (in this writer’s completely biased opinion).

Chad, our fearless leader, was up front advocating for the team all year, speaking to everyone he could about all the great stuff happening inside the labs. He also had the wacky (at the time) idea to create a Plant Globe to display at the NAR Annual Convention in November. Chad also did a great deal of research into smart city and smart community issues, and is currently starting a project to revitalize his hometown in Iowa by helping turn their nearly-vacant shopping mall into a makerspace.

The Plant Globe installed at the Commercial Pavilion at the NAR Annual Convention in 2017 in Chicago.

It was a great year at CRT Labs, and 2018 is already shaping up the same way. We hope to see you at a conference, or to join us on a Facebook Live in the future. To get up to the minute details of the projects we’re working on, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.