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:

Using the Touchstone to Track New Build VOCs

One of the coolest things about working in a lab that makes its own hardware and software is the ability to get to find situations to test those products, and I was super happy to be able to getting to test a unique use case for the Touchstone indoor environmental quality sensor we’re working on: monitoring air quality during construction. I recently bought a three-story row house here in Chicago, and before moving in we wanted to do some cosmetic changes – a fresh coat of paint in the third floor bedrooms, brand new carpeting on the third floor as well as on 45 stairs (yes, that’s a LOT of stairs!), and new hardwood flooring on the first floor. All of these projects would be off-gassing various VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and it felt like a great time to bring in a Touchstone to monitor how high these levels got and how quickly they would dissipate. Finally, it also gave the team a chance to test user experience with installation – I am the least tech-savvy member of the bunch, so making sure the instructions were easy to follow was key.

Raspberry Pi SetupTouchstone protoype setupSetup was easy, thanks in part to some of the trickier bits being done by the team before I went to my new house. The setup includes a Raspberry Pi (which I’ve used in other applications, like setting up a welcome kiosk for our Information Services department), a USB stick that allows the Raspberry Pi to talk to the Touchstone, and the Touchstone itself. I also brought with me a Verizon MiFi hotspot, since our internet would not be connected for another week and the system needs internet to communicate to the software component called Grafana. Grafana is a way to display data directly from the Touchstone itself – while we are working on our own software, we are using Grafana to track data for research purposes.

I set up the Raspberry Pi and MiFi in my kitchen on the second floor, and then the Touchstone in the hallway on the third floor.

I set these up the day that painting started, 8/11/17, with final touchups of paint happening on 8/17/17. The units have stayed plugged in since, allowing us to see how the levels “settle” over time. It’s been hands off since installation, except for when we got our internet connected in the house, when I switched the Raspberry Pi over from the MiFi network to its final network home. That process was pretty easy, and the instructions the team wrote were clear and allowed me to do the switch with ease.

What did we learn about VOCs in that time period? As expected, total VOCs went up during construction, stayed elevated during the “worst” parts (when we had paint drying, carpet installing, and the hardwood floor going in simultaneously), and then dissipated rather quickly once we took steps to rid the air of VOCs. We also were able to tell when people were most active near the Touchstone itself, since CO2 levels would raise, which I thought was a funny way of measuring the progress of the carpeting install.

touchstone grafana data

The straight line from the 19th to the 21st is when the unit was offline between taking down the MiFi access point and getting our new internet installed. The 15th was the most active day for installation; the spike on the 18th likely corresponds to the actual move-in date, where lots of cardboard was being tossed around, lots of people were moving around, and any carpet fibers that were buried even after a vacuuming were being kicked up.

We mitigated VOCs in two major ways – creating cross breezes through window airflow, and by constantly running our indoor whole-house fan. We had the air conditioning on during the day – it was about 85-90 degrees during that week, and with workers bustling about we wanted to keep them comfortable – but since we were not living in the house yet, opening the windows at night to let out vapors was an easy and fast solution.

Some things to keep in mind with the graph above – we are tracking four different things that all actually do not usually exist on the same scale as each other, so the end values can’t really be judged without looking at individual points and comparing them to known ranges. But for a quick visualization, this works out great, and being able to track trends is an important part of monitoring indoor environmental quality.

Now that I’m moved in, I am planning on relocating the Touchstone after unpacking to a place that gets a lot of use, like the kitchen or living areas. That way, I’ll be able to directly see the impact had in the areas I “live” in the most. If I do see trends in VOCs or high CO2 levels, I can consider putting some pet-friendly plants that I am researching for part two of our Pocket Guide to Cleaner Air series. While indoor environmental quality sensors won’t diagnose specific issues, they are a valuable tool in tracking your home’s health, just like your Fitbit helps to track metrics about fitness, and we think these metrics will lead to happier home occupants.

Things Thursday #020: What makes a city smart?, Microsoft entering the thermostat battle, and some great resources on smart homes for you

A hand holding our environmental quality sensor, which is called the Touchstone. It's about the size and shape of a bar of soap.

The Touchstone sensor from CRT Labs. This device will read temperature, humidity, light, CO2, VOCs, particulate matter and more.

  1. What are 10 key things that make a city smart? (via ReadWrite)
    This is a great roundup of what a city needs to be smart. From connectivity to sensing, ReadWrite put together a great roundup. If you’re interested in the real estate perspective on smart cities, we’ve got a series for you to check out called ‘The Building of Functioning Cities‘.
  2. And finally: Amazon Echo 2 incoming and more (via Wareable)
    Yes, this is a list of smart home/wearable items for you to peruse. They have some good intel on Amazon’s latest smart speaker as well as what Apple’s up to on the smart home front. Check it out.
  3. What to know about smart home technology: 10 smart home resources for REALTORS (via CRT Labs)
    Another roundup??? What’s going on with this list? 🙂 I would be remiss if I didn’t point you to our roundup of resources you can take advantage of to bolster your understanding of this emerging market. Why does it matter to you? Because it matters to your clients. Read on to find out more.
  4. Microsoft’s Cortana-powered thermostat is totally gorgeous (via CNET)
    This is definitely something to consider. A nice-looking thermostat from Microsoft and Johnson Controls. No pricing info yet, but keep an eye on this. It’s called the GLAS, it’s voice-enabled (with Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Alexa) and it monitors indoor and outdoor air quality. If you want a voice-enabled thermostat now, check out the Ecobee4 with Alexa integration. If the $249 price point is keeping you away, you should look for rebates from your utility or insurance company.
  5. Touchstone: Environmental Quality Monitor for your home! (via CRT Labs)
    Finally, a look at what we’ve been up to. This device is not on the market yet, but take a look at our work. Really proud of our group here at NAR. Akram, one of our lab engineers, provides a pretty deep dive into what we’ve been up to with this device. I’m really proud of our team and their efforts to make this piece of hardware and the software behind it. They’ve been extremely supportive of one another and have collaborated better than I could have imagined. Kudos to them.

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

Touchstone: Environmental Quality Monitor for Your Home!

The Touchstone is an open hardware and software indoor environmental quality sensor designed by the National Association of REALTORS/CRT Labs. The idea behind the Touchstone was conceived in the summer of 2016, when we at CRT Labs were exploring various types of personal air quality monitors available in the market. We found that most of them were around $150-$200 for one device, costing a lot more in some cases. They used cheap sensors that weren’t accurate, and almost all had a dependency on a combination of a smartphone app and some cloud platform on the internet that it pushes data to. If we want to monitor the environmental quality of the entire home, we would have to spend around $200 for each room and give up privacy for the sake of cloud access to our data.

The Rosetta Home 2.0 platform developed by CRT Labs aims to solve exactly this issue. We developed it with an offline first mentality – no internet required. Cloud connectivity is optional for data backup, large-scale research and more in-depth data analysis. You are not locked into any one cloud provider or a mobile platform. With the addition of the Touchstone, a home’s environmental quality can now be monitored locally, accurately, and at a relatively affordable price.

A Touchstone can measure the local temperature, relative humidity, carbon dioxide concentration, TVOC (total volatile organic compound) concentration, PM2.5 (particulate matter) mass concentration, sound intensity, light intensity and barometric pressure. With advancement in MEMS and CMOS technology, we now have access to sensors that are extremely cheap and have decent accuracy, and more are being available every day. In order to find the right balance between price and performance, several sensors are tested along with higher-end reference sensors that we know are accurate from literature review of other studies. Sample CO2 data from one of our sensor tests is shown in the graph below:

From the graph, we can see that the sensors can vary widely in the readings. Similar tests are being done for other parameters that we measure. We found that some of the sensors that report incorrect values are currently being used in popular air quality monitors in the market today. Our goal is to maintain relatively high accuracy in sensor readings. This allows our Touchstone devices to be used in large-scale research projects that can provide large data-sets of anonymous environmental quality for different types of climate zones and different types of homes across the country. Ultimately, the goal is to yield useful correlations between this hyper-local data and energy use and human activity.

The Touchstone devices wirelessly send data to a receiver that’s also on the same network. For wireless transmission, an FSK radio transceiver running at 915MHz frequency is used. This frequency band is license-free and set as an ISM band for commercial and industrial products. Using a dedicated transceiver as opposed to relying on commonly used protocols that operate in the 2.4GHz bands such as WiFi, ZigBee, Bluetooth and others allows for robust, low-power and long-range wireless operation. The radio modules have a transmission range of over 500 m in open air and over 150-200 m in occupied buildings. Due to their operation in the sub-GHz frequency bands, they have much better obstacle penetration, greater reception and stronger immunity to the ever increasing RF noise in the spectrum. This contributes to superior performance for the specified application of data logging within buildings. Using dedicated radios also eliminates dependencies on internet access (wired or wireless) on every sensor location as well as electric power in some cases where the sensor can run on batteries for several years at a stretch. Currently, the Touchstone runs on a 5V USB power supply, the same one we use for charging our cell phones. There are application-specific versions currently in development that allow for lower power versions of these boards. The Touchstone and other boards in its family can all be made relatively cheaper than their commercial counterparts.

The gateway receiver has the same radio module which constantly monitors all incoming wireless sensor data from around the building and pushes it over USB to the Rosetta Home platform running on a Raspberry Pi. The data can then be aggregated and monitored in real-time locally, and also pushed to the cloud for remote-monitoring and research purposes if necessary.

Currently, we are designing and testing various types of enclosures at a manufacturing facility called mHUB here in Chicago. Here’s a Touchstone prototype in its enclosure and its relative size in the average hand:

This is how the assembled boards looks like without the enclosure:

The assembly of the board is currently done manually at CRT Labs, as we are iterating over the hardware design and as sensor tests yield more data. Over the next few months, the assembly of the boards will be done at mHUB, which has factory-grade equipment using which the production can scale to several hundred units per day. These devices when complete will be used for research studies to be conducted by CRT Labs in Chicago, and later, in various cities around the country in the coming months. The data that comes from this research can give us an insight on how residential and commercial buildings perform across seasons, and how they impact energy usage. Ultimately, this will lead to more energy-efficient, smart and healthier buildings in the near future.

#016-Things Thursday: Cleaning the air without planting trees and more

An image of a product called CityTree, which has a park bench on each side and a 15ft wall of plants attached to both benches.

CityTree by GreenCity Solutions is an IoT device that monitors and cleans the air with plants.

In this week’s Things Thursday, we have a lot for the future, but also a lot focused on health. What if some devices

  1. Disney Research’s technology could transform IoT landscape (via Android Authority)
    Disney Research is one of the premier IoT/emerging technology labs in the world. They’ve got offices in Switzerland, Pittsburgh (in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University) and, of course, California. You might be surprised that Disney is doing scientific research, but when you think about the theme park business, it makes sense. Disneyworld and Disneyland are like miniature cities. So, from the lab comes another cool project from them. They’ve figured out how to reduce the power and improve the connectivity of IoT devices without an antenna. This is important for sensors that may have little to no external power options. They’ve also done research on powering devices without traditional power sources. Keep an eye on them.
  2. Microsoft Research’s ‘Emma Watch’ helped a Parkinson’s patient write again (via Wareable)
    Pretty amazing work from Microsoft Research. Parkinson’s wreaks havoc on your central nervous system and can make everyday activities a challenge. A researcher at Microsoft is building a device to reduce tremors for people living with Parkinson’s. In order to help people write or draw, the watch has tiny motors that vibrate on the patient’s arm, disrupting the feedback loop of the central nervous system. It’s pretty amazing. Click through and watch the video.
  3. Connected trees will be scrubbing the air in a city near you soon (via ReadWrite)
    Smart cities will not just be connected and gathering data, but they will help cities perform better. GreenCity Solutions are building these amazing benches that have plants and sensors embedded in them. They claim that their benches can filter the same amount of air as 275 planted trees. This means less watering needed, but the benefit of filtration from the plants is pretty great. Currently, CityTree is only in the European market and they have plans to expand to the US in late 2018. Even still, it’s a great example of how to green a space and provide some seating options. To find out more about why smart cities matter to REALTORS, check out my post on Building Functioning Cities.

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