CRT Labs was launched in August 2015 with the purpose of educating the REALTOR® membership about emerging technologies that could have a potential impact on the real estate industry. Since then, we have strongly advocated for proper security and privacy in today’s smart home, developed fantastic educational material for REALTORS®, and designed innovative and affordable solutions for monitoring indoor air quality.
Today, we are excited to be discussing blockchains, which we feel have countless applications for use in our industry. The purpose of this blog post is to give a basic explanation of what blockchains are, how they differ from traditional database models, and to provide an update on NAR’s research.
What Are Blockchains?
Blockchains are digital ledgers that are shared among a distributed network of computers and interested parties. These digital ledgers are permanent and tamper-proof because the underlying technology allows each participant on the network to interact with the ledger in a secure way without the need for a central administrator.
While that might sound complex and a bit difficult to understand, the basic idea behind blockchains is actually pretty straight forward.
This digital record of events, or ledger, maintains a continuing growing list of ordered entries called blocks. Each block is linked to the next in chronological order and contains cryptographically secured information that links it to the previous block (like a chain). This allows for information to be added to the ledger in a manner that is impossible to alter retroactively.
What Are the Benefits to Blockchains?
Beyond the fact that they are tamper-proof by design, there are many other advantages to using blockchains instead of traditional databases in your applications.
Some of the key benefits:
- Each participant retains its own copy of transactions, as ledgers are not centralized and can not be controlled or altered by a single party.
- Blockchains allow for smart contracts, meaning the ledger itself can be programmed to trigger transactions automatically based on predefined, software-based clauses.
- Decentralization of the data removes any single point of failure.
These benefits are often overlooked due to skepticism surrounding early blockchain applications involving digital currencies like Bitcoin. Although Bitcoin is the most successful example of a blockchain application, it is important to not equate the two.
Bitcoin uses blockchain technology, but Blockchains ≠ Bitcoin.
Why Is NAR Focusing on Blockchain Research?
Personally, I believe blockchain has the potential to be one the most impactful technologies of the next few decades. I also predict we will begin to see more and more blockchain-based applications enter the mainstream real estate industry in next few years. After financial tech and supply chain management, the real estate market will be the target for entrepreneurs trying to disrupt traditional business models.
CRT Labs believes that smart contracts could greatly reduce the cost of doing business. The automated checks and balances these smart contracts provide will help REALTORS® and their clients get to the closing table faster and with less risk involved. We are also beginning to see the public sector getting involved. Chicago’s Cook County is testing Blockchain-Based Property Title Transfer which could help protect rights to property ownership records.
NAR’s short term goals are to create practical, open source blockchain applications that highlight the positive aspects of the technology that can also be used as case studies by our industry partners. Our first project uses blockchain to provide an improved method of sharing membership engagement levels (committee service, education history, CE Tracking) across all local, state, and national levels of the association. We are hoping that this initial work will help lay the groundwork for adoption of more high-impact projects in the future.
NAR’s Progress To Date
Since September 2015, NAR and CRT labs have:
- met with NAR committees, advisory boards, and industry partners on over twenty occasions to discuss the potential of this new technology
- published two white papers ( 1, 2 )
- released the source code for the prototype that what will soon become our membership engagement tracker.
Over the next few months, I will be speaking at three conferences on this topic:
CRT Labs and NAR also plan to continue developing and sharing practical blockchain solutions.
This video is from the Workplace of the Future Event hosted by EX3 Labs.
The program included individual learning stations showcasing how augmented reality is changing digital experiences in real estate, architecture, and building inspections.
These specific videos show the Microsoft HoloLens can be used to enhance interior and exterior design.
EX3Labs Demo at 1871 from CRTLabs on Vimeo.
Following up on last week’s CES 2017 Trends Roundup, we wanted to share five products that we saw that we are really excited to watch in 2017!
||Occly is a wearable personal safety device specifically designed to be a visual deterrent. It can be worn on the body or clipped to an accessory. Occly is armed with a panic button, four cameras that provide nearly 360 degrees of coverage, sirens, a microphone, LED lighting, wireless capabilities, and a number of automatic alarm sensors.|
||The NVIDIA Shield is a media streaming device, similar to an Apple TV or Chromecast that allows gaming, apps, and home control in one. It also touts support for Google Home.
||FLOW is a smart, connected mobile accessory to track, monitor and reduce your exposure to air pollution – indoors, outdoors and on the go.
||SPARROW is a wearable environmental health and safety monitor that measures Carbon Monoxide (CO), along with temperature, pressure and relative humidity. It can be attached to your smartphone case, clothes, bag, purse, stroller, bike, and even placed in your car.
||Solpad’s have redesigned the solar panel, integrating batteries into the panel itself, and added software and hardware to integrate it with smart homes and a mobile app. Integrating the batteries into the panels could potentially cut installation costs in half.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Earlier this month, CRT Labs had the opportunity to visit the Miguel A. Barreto Boys & Girls Club in Chicago. For those of you who are not familiar with Boys & Girls clubs, they are an organization that offers youth a safe place to learn and grow. Programs offered focus on academic success, building character, and leading healthy lifestyles. The Barreto Club serves young people between the ages of 6 and 18, and the yearly membership is only $5. Fees are intentionally kept low so that all children in the community have an opportunity to join.
Since The National Association of REALTORS® announced their partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America, CRT has been looking for a way to share our expertise in a way that would connect with the young club members. Utilizing specialized Kano Kits, the goal was to teach the children how to build a computer, learn what’s inside it, and experiment with writing some code. The children worked with some of the same Raspberry Pi hardware that we use in the labs. The ninety minute session was an incredible success, and we’d like to give a special thank you to Linette Stephens and Jeremy Murphy who helped coordinate the event. Please check out the photos below.
The Barreto location is one of eight clubs operated by the Union League Boys and Girls Clubs. Opened in 1970, Barreto was rebuilt in 2003 at its original site located at 1214 North Washtenaw Avenue in Chicago. Donations can be made and allocated directly to the Union League Club, or any other Boys & Girls Club, on the National BCGA website, where all donations from REALTORS®, REALTOR® Associations and Firms are being collected. To learn more about the NAR/BGCA partnership, and how to get involved with your local Boys & Girls Club, visit www.realtor.org/BGCA. There you will find a Club locator, a toolkit, and hear how other REALTORS® and REALTORS® Associations and Firms have gotten involved with BGCA.