The Versatile Raspberry Pi

This week’s guest post is republished with permission from our friends in Information Services at the National Association of REALTORS®. The librarians are some of our closest collaborators here at NAR, and recently Abby Creitz came to us with a series of projects that would help them rethink how members interact with our Library and Archives at NAR HQ. One of these projects, described here, includes a Raspberry Pi as a dedicated media/slideshow device. CRT Labs has featured the Raspberry Pi before, using them for projects like running servers and small computer projects, as well as as the base for an indoor air quality sensor. Other projects in the Library’s future include a customized iPad kiosk, a rethinking of the library’s lobby space, and more, which we will update you on as they happen! 

Ever heard of Raspberry Pi? No, I’m not referring to a baked good or an obscure geometric theorem; I’m talking about a small, inexpensive computer perfect for learning to code, and for DIY experimentation. I first heard of Raspberry Pi when I came across a Tooth Fairy Transport system created by one of the greatest dads in the world. What peaked my interest in the video was the use of a pneumatic tube system (#HomeAmenityGoals), but the real takeaway was how a Raspberry Pi made the project possible. Raspberry Pi has been used in many other innovative ways, some of which are great ways to implement smart home and home improvement projects for those unafraid of learning a new skill! At NAR Library & Archives, we decided to use it to improve how we interact with visitors.

NAR Library & Archives decided to partner with NAR’s CRT Labs to create and run a looping slideshow full of information about how REALTORS® and NAR staff use the library and its services (inspired by the Chicago Association of REALTORS®’ new office space in the REALTOR® Building). We decided that a Raspberry Pi would be the best way to run the slideshow continuously, dedicating the unit to the sole purpose of running the slideshow.

Raspberry Pi 2

Raspberry Pi

Out of the box, the Raspberry Pi was fairly simple to set up. It is a single board computer, containing all the components of a regular computer, just on a smaller surface. There are a few different Raspberry Pi kits available for purchase, but the kit we chose comes with an SD card, power cord, and an HDMI cable. You have to provide your own input devices (mouse, keyboard, microphones, etc.) and output devices (screen, speakers, etc.). We connected a Raspberry Pi to a large wall-mounted TV using an HDMI cable, plugged in a keyboard and mouse to the Raspberry Pi unit, connected the Raspberry Pi to WiFi, opened up a browser, and lastly, ran the slideshow using Google Slides.

Why do this instead of using a desktop computer? There were a number of reasons, but just to name a few: a Raspberry Pi cost $35, whereas a desktop computer costs hundreds; a Raspberry Pi has a footprint the size of a deck of cards, while the desktop takes up much more space; and using a Raspberry Pi leaves the desktop computer free for other demonstrations, or for use by our visitors while still exposing them to the information about our department that we wish to convey.

This sort of informational slideshow set-up could be used at open houses using the owner’s TV, or in reception areas of real estate offices. What other kind of projects could you see yourself undertaking with this technology?

Abby Creitz is the Web Content & Information Specialist for NAR Library & Archives. This post was originally published by Information Services Blog on June 21, 2017.

Navigating the Smart Home: Utilities and Insurance Companies

A picture of a man standing at a crossroads in a redwood forest. There is text on the picture that reads Navigating the Smart Home

NOTE: At this year’s REALTOR® Legislative Meetings, I was talking about our work with Andrew Sims, CEO of Dayton Area Board of REALTORS®. I shared with him things we talk to REALTORS® about in our presentations, and at one point, he said, ‘That should be written down somewhere.’ I realized immediately he was right. So, I’ll start by doing that in this post.

When we speak at associations and brokerages, our standard presentation includes a lot of information about why REALTORS® should care about smart homes. The biggest reason is because other industries that touch the housing market are getting involved. Utilities and insurance companies are creating rebates and programs around smart home technology. Smart home devices will allow you to do things like:

  • monitor and save energy
  • keep your home secure
  • prevent extensive damage to your property

Knowing what is available and who is offering it is a great information for you and your clients. We will include links to more information in this article.

Utilities

I realized immediately smart devices would mean big things for how consumers use energy when I first saw the Nest Thermostat in 2012. These devices help consumers save 10-15% in energy costs. As I traveled and spoke, however, members weren’t too keen on its $249 price tag at that time. But around 2014, REALTORS® began sharing stories of rebates from utilities and energy savings for their clients. They were even sharing stories of how the thermostats were paying for themselves in a short amount of time. These programs have only grown.

ComEd, Chicago’s largest electric utility, is offering $100 rebates on certain smart thermostats. They’ve even extended rebates (amounts vary) toward the purchases of light bulbs, power strips and security cameras, and has a site dedicated to selling smart home devices with instant rebates included. Check with your local electric and gas companies to see what rebates they may be offering on these devices.

Insurance

In the insurance industry, smart home devices are being offered as ways to reduce premiums and risk. Specific smart device types that can be up for discounts are:

  • Locks
  • Cameras
  • Water leak detectors
  • Smoke/CO alarms

One such insurer is Liberty Mutual, an NAR REALTOR Benefits® partner. They are giving away a Nest Protect smoke and CO detector and up to 5% off of insurance premiums. You can find all the life safety and security products included in Liberty Mutual’s program by searching the Liberty Mutual site.

Another insurance company with an interesting offering is State Farm. They are working with camera company Canary to provide discounts on burglar alarm insurance.

Educate Yourself So You Can Educate Clients

These are just a few examples of smart home promotions you can find outside our industry and share with your clients. Companies like Nest and Ecobee have rebates and rewards websites you can use to check and see what’s offered in your area. This is very fertile ground and there are a lot of opportunities for you to connect with your clients by educating them on these discounts and programs. Search your local area for opportunities for clients and make sure they know what’s out there.

Smile for the Camera? Considerations for Using Surveillance Technology

Our next guest blogger is Jessica Edgerton, associate counsel at the National Association of REALTORS®. Following Lee Adkins’ post about voice assistant hubs, we wanted to share a look at the legality of having cameras and microphones in homes for sale.

Real estate agents and sellers sometimes use video recording devices to monitor open houses and walk-throughs. The motivations for surveillance are varied, and can be compelling. Video recording can offer an added layer of security for real estate agents conducting solo showings or open houses in remote areas. A prominently posted notice that security cameras are in place may act as a deterrent for physical attacks, theft, and vandalism. Some sellers and real estate agents may even use recordings to gain insight into a home’s marketability.

Canary Camera set up in CRT Labs

Canary Camera set up in CRT Labs

While surveillance technology can offer many benefits during the home-selling process, it is important to consider the possible legal implications. In general, individuals have the right to control legal activities within their own home. However, every state has privacy laws addressing the ways in which people may be permissibly recorded, and these laws vary widely. In addition, the laws governing audio surveillance versus video surveillance are not the same. It is therefore essential that homeowners and real estate professionals consult with an attorney prior to setting up any surveillance as part of a sales plan.

Video-Only Surveillance

Video surveillance is generally permissible in any situation where an individual does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Because it would be unreasonable to expect privacy while one is in public, the ubiquitous presence of video cameras on street corners, at banks, and in public transportation is entirely within the bounds of the law. Similarly, if a video camera records a prospective buyer walking into a home’s entryway with her real estate agent during an open house, she would have a difficult time claiming that she had had a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, if the buyer steps into a bathroom to use the facilities, she would almost certainly – and reasonably – expect privacy. Therefore, homeowners should avoid installing cameras in bathrooms, even if the homeowner’s intent in doing so is both reasonable and innocent – for example, as an effort to prevent the theft of prescription drugs. (Instead, sellers should always make sure that medicines, weapons, and valuables are securely locked up or taken off-site during showings.)

Audio Surveillance

With very limited exceptions, audio surveillance laws in every state require the consent of one or all parties to a recorded conversation. Know your state laws prior to utilizing any recording device that captures audio.

Ethical Considerations

In addition to legal considerations, sellers and real estate agents should consider the ethical and reputational implications of making surreptitious recordings. The following best practices can help avoid reputational debacles involving recording devices:

  • Provide Notice. Consider providing prior notice when recordings may be made during a showing. You can post the notice in the MLS or on the property, or send notification via email prior to showings and open houses. In addition, if any cameras have an audio recording function, be sure to disable the audio function or get all necessary consents pursuant to your state’s laws.
  • Keep Recordings To Yourself. Never publish or share any recording you make of other people without their consent. The only exception to this is if you happen to record possible criminal activity – in that case, you should discuss the incident with the police, and provide them with the recording upon their request.

A Note to Buyers’ Agents: Don’t Take Privacy For Granted

Buyers and their agents should keep in mind that nanny-cams, surveillance cameras, mobile phones, laptops, and tablets are all capable of recording video and, in many cases, audio. Prior to any walk-through or open house, buyers’ agents should consider advising their clients of the possibility of hidden recording devices. A good practice is to simply save all thoughts on a house until everyone is back on the sidewalk.

Jessica Edgerton is associate counsel at NAR. Her work includes extensive membership education and outreach. She is a regular speaker on the subjects of cyber fraud, cybersecurity, and legal risk mitigation for real estate professionals. She contributes to REALTOR® Magazine, AE Magazine, and RIS Media on a wide range of risk management topics.

Tech Trends 2017: A New Webinar from CRT Labs for REALTORS®

Looking for an in-depth look at the Smart Home trends of 2017? Look no further than this new webinar!

Join our User Experience Designer, Joe Sullivan, as he talks about six product categories making waves this year. Joe has a lot of great information on current smart devices, including a look at what each product does, the benefits of incorporating them into your current lifestyle, and some questions buyers and sellers may have about homes with smart home fixtures. Joe also goes over some tips for REALTORS® when working with smart home tech during the listing process. The webinar covers three security and three lifestyle smart home product families – smart locks, smart security cameras, smart doorbells, smart lights, smart thermostats, and smart air quality monitors. If you’re interested in this webinar, head on over to the product page at the REALTOR® Store and check it out! And let us know what other topics you’d like to see covered in webinars – we’re always excited to help our members learn more about technology and its impact on real estate.

 

The Iterative Smart Home

Almost three years ago, Chad wrote a post about the beginnings of what he called the Iterative Smart Home. Smart home technology was just beginning to break out into the mainstream, and the need for a common, unifying system was coming to the forefront. Several players emerged (and I’ll cover their fates later in this post) with each vying to become the central hub of a smart home. Where is this technology now, what have we learned in the past three years, and what’s next for the iterative smart home?

hub

The iterative smart home that Chad wrote about seems simple now, but was revolutionary even three years ago. You chose your own devices – which could span multiple product categories, brands, and even protocols – and put them together in a system that you, ultimately, would design yourself. Central to this concept was a smart hub that would talk to all these devices without you having to program anything on your own. There were four companies that Chad pointed out were creating hubs with this in mind: SmartThings, NinjaBlocks, Revolv, and Staples Connect. As of this post (December 2016), three of these four technologies no longer exist; only the SmartThings hub, which was bought by Samsung and is the cornerstone of their smart home product line, can be purchased today. And while covering the fleeting nature of some technology is a post all on its own, I have to acknowledge that in technology, especially in such a relatively new platform like smart home devices, companies will come and go quickly. This, of course, poses a problem when you tie it to devices that typically have long lifespans, like thermostats, refrigerators, and other home appliances; but it also highlights the need for a unifying and iterative smart home platform to emerge.

As I mentioned, SmartThings is one of the hubs that existed in 2016 and is still going strong, along with the Wink, which I covered in a previous look back at some of our old predictions. I personally have a SmartThings hub in my home, and it really brought me around to making that space “smarter.” I decided to use smart products to solve a problem that my apartment’s layout has – a lack of easy-to-access lighting. By replacing my regular CFL bulbs with Hue and GE Link bulbs, I can now control a variety of lights all from my phone; and to handle the bulbs that I couldn’t replace outright, I hooked up some WeMo Insight Switches. The Hue and GE Links can speak to each other with the bridge that Hue requires for use of its bulbs; but the bulbs had no way of speaking to the WeMo switches. On top of this, my new Google Home can only natively speak to the Hue bulbs – so asking Google to turn my lights on and off only worked with those bulbs, and again not the switches. I could create a series of programmed actions through a service like IFTTT; or I could have a hub do the legwork. I picked up SmartThings since it worked with the devices I had just installed as well as Google Home. It was easy to set up – I just plugged in the hub, ran the setup through an app on my iPhone, and within minutes the hub had discovered all my devices and I was up and running. Now, Google can turn on and off all my lights, not just the bulbs. Using SmartThings, I was also able to set up an automation – when my home network detects my phone is close to home, my hallway lights turn on, which is great since I have to fumble in the dark when I open my front door just to turn on my lights.

This iterative thought process is intuitive – I identified a problem, began breaking it down into small solutions, and by taking steps on my own, was able to completely change the way I interact with the lights in my home. Before coming to CRT Labs, I was a bit skeptical on the usefulness of this technology; but now I know I have the flexibility to create a home that works the way I want it to. This is possible because companies are working together to make their products work together, instead of closing off their ecosystems so that you have to buy in to one brand and stick with it.

I talked a bit last week about voice control and the future of IoT; I believe that an iterative smart home will be part of why voice control will become more popular. By allowing a homeowner to chose their products, including the voice controller that works best for them, the owner gains a level of control and familiarity with the system they are creating for themselves. And that DIY mentality is something that we noted in our Smart Home Survey as important to REALTOR® clients when talking about smart home technology. With voice control becoming more common, I think that device manufacturers will begin creating their products with voice control in mind; for example, I could have even more voice control of my lights than I currently do with my Google Home, being able to set lights to exact colors that I save as favorites. We’ll also be seeing a move to have more devices interact with each other out of the box – if your thermostat kicked on in one room, it could trigger a light in the room you’re in to let you know that you’ll be using HVAC at that time. This flexibility will allow us to begin seeing our homes as an entire ecosystem, not just a series of rooms.

#007 – Things Thursday – A Smart Home Speaker Battle, IoT Security (again) & More

Image of people beneath an array of security cameras
After a lengthy summer and fall break, Things Thursday returns! Today, we’ll look at the battle of the smart speakers, and what smart home devices can mean for older homeowners plus much more!

  1.  Amazon Echo v Google Home: Battle of the smart speakers (via Wareable)
    Wareable looks at the pros and cons of the two best voice enabled smart speakers on the market. If you’re not sure which speaker to get, this is a good piece for you. Also, please note that Amazon makes the Echo Dot as well, and that goes for $50. I think it makes a great closing gift. As far as the article goes, personally, I think Amazon has the lead, but Google is gaining fast here. Today they released their developer API for Actions, which are like Alexa’s Skills. This allows for custom apps for voice interaction. By way of example, here’s an Alexa Skill for Tech Valley Homes Real Estate by Voiceter Pro. In my opinion, this is going to be the dominant way for controlling and interacting with our homes. It happens we wrote about this very subject and you can check out Adrienne’s post on the future of IoT and the role voice plays.
  2. What Bruce Schneier teaches us about IoT and cybersecurity (via IoT Central)
    Bruce Schneier is a highly respected security expert and boy does he have opinions about IoT and security. They are solid ones at that. Recently he testified to the Congress Committee on Energy and Commerce on the topic of the DDoS attacks. What he does well in his testimony is simply define how we should think about smart home technology and the internet of things in general. Currently, we tend to trivialize the security concerns related to these replacements of everyday devices (smart lights = lights, smart thermostats = thermostats, etc.). In fact, what Schneier recommends is that we don’t do this and instead we see each item as an individual computer. Treat these devices as needing the same hardening as we provide for laptops and other computers. I recommend both the article and testimony above.
  3. Top 10 Smart Home Technologies for Older Homeowners (via Claims Journal)
    SRES Designees take note. Claims Journal just published a list of devices that older homeowners will find useful. MIT’s AgeLab and The Hartford insurance company conducted the survey. Here’s something I found truly fascinating from the study:

    According to the survey, just over half (51 percent) of homeowners over the age of 50 either have smart home technology or are interested in buying it. Of those who do not currently have smart home technology but plan to purchase it or are interested in getting it, about half (49 percent) are willing to spend between $101 and $500 on it in a year.

    Pretty cool to see these numbers. This seems to align with previous reports and it also shows a great opportunity to provide these devices as closing gifts, as, according to our Smart Home Survey, only 2% of members are giving these devices as closing gifts.

  4. BONUS: If you haven’t already, check out our Smart Home Survey (via CRT Labs Blog)
    Great segue to talking about our Smart Home Survey…We are really excited by our new survey as it’s helping us set direction and see where we can provide coverage. We’d love to get your feedback on it. Let us know how you’re using it too!!

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.