Introducing the PiAQ

Recently, we’ve gotten a lot of buzz for a project we’re really excited about here in the labs – our PiAQ. It’s something we’re glad to see get attention, because we think it’s going to be a valuable tool to increase the quality of life for a lot of people.

open source air quality piaq

The PiAQ is an indoor air quality sensor built to fit on a $35 credit-card sized computer called a Raspberry Pi. Raspberry Pis are great for educational programs or for do-it-yourself projects like our sensor. The PiAQ uses that small computer to power air quality monitors, as well as run software (like our Rosetta Home, a home-monitoring software in development here in the lab) that can interpret and visualize what those monitors are tracking.

The Raspberry Pi provides a great platform for us to build upon, as it’s a trusted low-cost alternative to many of the commercial devices that exist in the Internet of Things space. Since the Pi is compatible with a variety of devices and can run many different types software, it’s the perfect candidate to start building up your smart home. There have been several Pi-based smart home DIY kits, including some with environmental sensors.

The goal for this project is to make information about the air people breathe more accessible. While the prevailing thought has been that outdoor air quality – especially in cities – is worse than indoor, did you know that the reverse can actually be true? In fact, the EPA estimates that indoor air quality can be two-to-five times worse than outdoors in some places, which is especially troubling considering we spent most of our time indoors.

As well as helping people monitor their own indoor air quality, we also built the PiAQ as a launching point for a larger project we’ve been working on: Rosetta Home 2.0. Rosetta Home is a whole-home automation system that will include indoor air quality sensing. By building on top of the Pi, we not only are able to use the Pi’s existing hardware and software, but we also bring the project forward into the Pi community at large. By opening the project up to this community, we get one of the largest groups of “beta-testers” possible; people who are passionate about technology and interested in helping us make the best sensor we can. To date, there have been over 10 million Raspberry Pi units sold.

At CRT Labs, we’re excited about what open-source hardware and software can do for emerging technologies. Currently, you can view our GitHub repository for the PiAQ (and our other projects) and download our hardware schematics and as well as our software. You can build your own PiAQ, or modify the software to your needs. It also allows you to help us debug the code, or find any flaws in our hardware. The more eyes we have on our projects, the quicker we can iterate them.


It’s great that we have this community open to us, not just to create this product, but to allow us to use what we learn from the PiAQ to expand our indoor air quality sensing even further. We’re working on developing stand-alone sensors that can be networked together in order to give you a sense of the indoor air quality of your whole home. That stat above, where the EPA says your home’s air can be up to five times worse than outdoors, can affect your daily life. For example, NAR’s CTO was curious about his home’s air quality when his wife complained of frequent headaches. He brought home an indoor air quality (IAQ) sensor, and found out his home’s CO2 was above recommended levels. To counter this, he started opening the windows at night and running his whole-house fan and quickly after, his family’s headaches disappeared.

Our IAQs will measure not only CO2, but temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, light and sound intensity, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), CO, and NO2. Temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and light and sound intensity all contribute to your home’s comfort levels. When it’s too humid, you know to run a dehumidifier; if your baby can’t sleep, you can check the sound levels to see if maybe the party next door is louder than you thought. CO, CO2, and NO2 can actually cause short and long-term health effects. In the short-term, these pollutants can cause headaches, drowsiness, sinus issues, and light-headedness; in the long-term, they have serious consequences, especially when exposure lasts for hours at a time. If you know about what levels these gases occur within your home, you’re able to start mitigating them, like our CTO did when CO2 reached high levels in his house.

The PiAQ will be available to purchase starting in Q1 2017. We are looking for research partnerships; email us and tell us about your projects, and we can work together to see how the PiAQ can fit your needs.

The PiAQ is the exciting first step in beginning to create an ecosystem where the home’s health is monitored just like we monitor our own fitness. The FitBit got people talking about their own health – we now all know that 10,000 steps is a good goal to maintain our body’s fitness. Our goal is to get people talking about the home in the same way. We think about what we do in the lab in terms of our REALTOR® members’ code of ethics: “Under all is the land. Upon its wise utilization and widely allocated ownership depend the survival and growth of free institutions and of our civilization.” We are striving to change how people think about their homes, and by making the home’s health a priority, we can help to positively impact everyone’s lives.

#004 – Things Thursday – Google Home is coming, WeMo meets Nest, and Joe speaks!

Google's new competitor to the Amazon Echo...coming this fall.

Google’s new competitor to the Amazon Echo…coming this fall.

  1. Google Home Brings A Standalone Robot Assistant To Your Digs (Via TechInsider)
    We watched the Google I/O presentation yesterday looking for this device and Google brought it. There are a lot of questions around the features, but it seems like a good start for Google. The Home Hub will control smart home devices and allow you to query the web just like the Amazon Echo. The differentiator here is the tie ins to the Google Ecosystem. For instance, you can query about videos and have them streamed to your Chromecast-enabled TV. Google also says it has the most intelligent search for a smart hub. Very excited to play with this one. Check out the story on TechInsider.
  2. Belkin Wemo Switches get Nest integration (Via SlashGear)
    This is an interesting integration and adds to Nest’s list of ‘works with Nest’ devices. Belkin’s light switches and smart plugs can now be set to react to the Home/Away modes in Nest thermostats. So, for example, let’s say you’re leaving for work in the morning and have some lights on in the AM. Nest has a mode to detect when you are away. When it senses you are not home, it can now turn these lights off or on based on your preferences. This could be turned into a very low cost security system, where lights will stay on when you leave to give the appearance of being home. Belkin devices
  3. Unsticking the Stuck Smart Home (Via CRT Blogs (cough, cough)) Our very own Joe Sullivan was in a lather over a piece written by Recode about how the smart home was stuck. He wasn’t alone. We felt the piece was pretty general and cherry-picked a few things. I won’t spoil the fun. Joe does a great job explaining our thinking and our approach to this space. Check it out!!

That’s it for this week. What do you think? Have something you’d like us to cover? Let us know in the comments below!!

CRTLabs Wins 30k for Charity as Part of Hackathon Team

roll out the barrel

A representation of the ChicagoHacksBig team after our win. Front row is CRTLabs team – Joe Sullivan, Chad Curry, Dave Conroy and Chris Coté. 😉 Photo found on New Old Stock and Courtesy of:

Part of our work here at CRTLabs is to build for the future. As we do that, we need to learn, grow and fail. We had the opportunity to do all three as part of a hackathon team. We participated with people from many different groups around the Chicago area and one from NYC. Our team was called ChicagoHacksBig and we were entered into the Koding Virtual Global Hackathon sponsored by IBM, among others, and happening on Feb. 20 & 21. The prizes were $100,000 for 1st, $30,000 for 2nd and $10,000 for 3rd.

NOTE: If you’re just interested in seeing the work we did, you can use the following links:

  • The ChicagoHacksBig team page is here.
  • If you just want to play with the visualizations, you can go here.
  • If you want to access our code on GitHub, head here.

When it Began

We were invited to participate by Chris Phenner, someone we know in the Chicago tech community and who works for Gimbal Beacons. He’d submitted a proposal for the hackathon back in December and asked if we’d like to join. He’d also decided that we would be giving our winnings to a good cause called SmartChicago Collaborative, supporting technology exposure to underserved areas in Chicago. Because Chris’ idea was to do some type of representation of a map of indoor space, we thought this would be cool application for commercial or residential space. We were excited for the chance to win for a charity in Chicago, work with people in the tech community here and grateful for the experience. This was also a great chance for us to explore how this could work for real estate in the future.

Race for the Prize

Initially, our designs were on indoor mapping and we thought this would be a cool way to see how beaconing would could be used to describe how people relate to a space. The implications for real estate are big. This could mean understanding foot traffic in malls or built spaces and being able to advise the retailers on the opportunities beacons provide. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out because we weren’t able to get enough people in the space to install an app for the beacons to access.

So, we had to pivot. We had to pivot 3 days before the hackathon was to start!! We were fortunate to work with the folks at DoStuff Media, whose app would provide the data for us to visualize. DoStuff used Gimbal’s beacons and geofencing of 4,500 venues around the US to provide anonymized data about how people who had their app moved about 16 different cities over the course of one evening. Over 10,000 people were moving around these cities and this data lead to how we were able to show what spots were popular over the course of an evening.

Four cities mapped at the same time.

Figure 1 – Putting four of the cities we mapped next to each other.

We started work Saturday AM. Chris dug into the data and we all discussed how we might want to show this. We landed on heat mapping and some stream graphs. Dave prepped the servers for the Koding site, as we needed to use their IDE for the hackathon. Joe worked on the user experience and layout for the site. I started working on HTML/CSS for the initial page and navigation we didn’t end up using. We thought it would be cool to visualize the data using maps. So, Chris cooked up some cool heat maps using Leaflet and heatmap.js. These are pretty lightweight frameworks that could have some great implications for real estate. One of our visualizations was created using quadrants, showing four different cities compared side by side. Chris started out comparing Austin (where DoStuff is located and has the most data), Portland, LA and Chicago (where we’re based). He then took this template and created a few more in this style. Then we decided to let the maps stand on their own. What’s cool about this is you can dive into each map a little deeper.

Chicago Map.

Figure 2 – Chicago Map. What’s interesting about this one is how Milwaukee Avenue lights up over the course of the evening.

We created streamgraphs and I think the results were great. The end result is that not only did the ChicagoHacksBig team create some great data visualizations, we also won $30,000 for SmartChicago Collaborative.

Wrap-Up and Final Thoughts

It was a great experience all around and we want to thank Chris Phenner for asking us to be a part of it and DoStuff for access to their data, as it was nice exposure to a dataset on a large scale.


Figure 3 – A streamgraph showing how long people spent at certain venues. What’s cool about this is the various ways you can visualize the data. Love it.

For us, the visualizations could be used in future project for our members. This is a great template for things like creating apps that give you a sense of foot traffic and pedestrian congregation on a larger scale. Or apps that give you a sense of overall air quality for a city. Or apps that show how traffic moves through a city. It changes the tenor and discussion about a neighborhood.

My thanks to Chris, Dave and Joe for their hard work in the name of CRTLabs, NAR and our members. l can tell you I’m extremely proud of this team for how they worked together for this and worked with the others in ChicagoHacksBig. Kudos to you.

CRTLabs Looking for Two Interns!

We're looking for a couple of good people...are you one of them?

We’re looking for a couple of good people…are you one of them?

TL;DR – Job posting attached and also italicized below.

I’m really excited to announce that we need help. We have a couple of intern positions we are looking to fill and you may be a candidate. I’ve included the job postings below, but let me tell you why you want to work at the National Association of REALTORS® this summer.

Our group, CRTLabs, is on the forefront of what’s happening in the Internet of Things and smart home space. We are partnered with a number of vendors, universities, NGOs and government agencies. A couple of our projects we are working on this summer include a Department of Energy Challenge focused on an energy management smart hub and the Array of Things project which received a $3.1 million dollar grant from the National Science foundation. But we also want your ideas, too.

We recently placed second as part of a team in a global hackathon (our project here). This was out of 1,250 teams and over 90,000 participants. Our prize was $30,000 and we’re giving it to the SmartChicago Collaborative to promote technology in Chicago.

We have an active lab that is responsible for testing new smart home hardware and software as well as building devices and products to support these. If you work with us, you will be exposed to scientists at top national laboratories and work with four awesome people who eat and breath this stuff. We have two staff engineers who are regarded by the smart home/IoT industry as being top notch. We’re creating IoT & smart home software and hardware to help improve quality of life for homeowners all over the country. We are a fun group to work with and are excited by new ways of approaching a problem. We have 1.1 million members and are engaging with them to field test products and projects. We’ve been on the IoT Podcast, in Yahoo! Finance and Fortune magazine talking about our work.

We are an active part of the ITA’s IoT Council – I sit on the Executive Board and co-lead the Case Studies Group. The IoT Council is comprised of Fortune 500 companies, smaller companies, City of Chicago and leading research universities. NAR is the only trade association on this board.

We are community-minded and want to help make a difference in the name of our membership. They are the local experts in every community and we are there to make sure we help them keep at the forefront.

This is an amazing opportunity for the right person. For more information, see the description below for how to apply and what we’re looking for. Here’s the official job posting:

The Center for REALTOR® Technology at the National Association of REALTORS® is looking for qualified candidates for two paid internships to work on hardware and software projects with CRTLabs. This group is focused on smart home technology and the internet of things, as well as renewables. This position requires an understanding of fundamental software principles and methods. Hardware is also part of this work, so interest in hardware is a plus. Specifically, we are looking for candidates who must:

  • Have experience with programming
    • Python
    • Ruby
    • JS
    • HTML
    • CSS
    • or other appropriate language
  • Interest in hardware/hardware experience
    • Raspberry Pi
    • Arduino
    • Photon
    • BeagleBoards
    • ODroids
    • Sensors/Actuators
  • Be willing to learn
  • Document work

This is an opportunity to work with some passionate, dedicated professionals who are working on ground-breaking projects. You would be heavily involved in the day-to-day work and gain experience. This team recently placed second in a global hackathon and won $30,000 for the Smart Chicago Collaborative.

This position will run from April or May (when you can start) until the end of August. The hours are 8:30-5 Monday-Friday. For inquiries, please reach out to Chad Curry at and put ‘Summer Intern’ in the subject line. Thanks!!

If this sounds like you, apply!!! If you know someone who this would work for, send them this post!


CRTLabs V1.0

Presenting CRT Labs v1.0. It’s been a few months in the making, but we’ve finally got the last of our furniture in.

Some of the details include;

Workbench and Hood
Workbench and Hood


Lounge and Meeting area
Lounge and Meeting area


Display Wall
Display Wall




Christmas Lights
Christmas Lights


I’ve also included a panorama of the space, it’s a pretty big image, so give it a second to load.

CRTLabs, Security & The Internet of Things

As you may be aware, CRT & CRTLabs are focused on the Internet of Things and what it means for real estate. There are a couple of areas we are focused on in order to promote security for the consumer and for the device manufacturer. This focus is part of our holistic approach to the Internet of Things. Not only are we working with vendors, universities, NGOs & government agencies to improve the devices on the market, we also want to ensure that consumers and our membership are protected as best as possible. Currently, security can seem like an afterthought for vendors. We want to make sure they are taking it seriously as we educate our membership on the value of these devices.

Partnership with The Online Trust Alliance – Consumer Focused
Last week, NAR released a smart home checklist in partnership with the Online Trust Allianceº. This is a great tool for our members to provide to buyers and sellers. This checklist covers what to consider when it comes to smart home devices as well as some security best practices for routers, gateways and other networking mechanisms. As we move forward in this ‘always connected’ paradigm, having this checklist will only increase in value.

The smart home checklist was released during Cyber Security Month to highlight that when consumers and REALTORS think of cyber security, we need to think not only in the context of the online world, but also in the context of the real world as these smart sensors and nodes come online.

Along with our work on the checklist, CRT’s been reviewing the Online Trust Alliance’s IoT Trust Framework. This document is in its second draft and will be a guide for manufacturers and consumers in this space. Personally, I am interested in its potential as a springboard for a certification for IoT products. Follow Online Trust Alliance on twitter at @otalliance.

Partnership with – Vendor Focused
Another project focused on security is aimed at educating IoT vendors on its importance. is a group comprised of information security researchers who are stressing the importance of secure devices and code. You may remember the story about the hacking of the Jeep Cherokee this past summer. That work was done in partnership with a group called I Am the Calvalry who are stressing the importance of security for connected vehicles. is an analogue for smart devices. It’s comprised of security researchers from all around the world focused on educating consumers and vendors on the importance of security for these devices. CRT is working to promote their work and partner with them on educating manufacturers to the importance of security.

One of the cool initiatives from is a program to harden the code for device manufacturers. Using a product called BugCrowd, vendors can offer ‘bug bounties’ on their code to verified info security researchers. This allows for an independent third party to review the code and help improve its security. It also frees up vendor resources and allows them to focus more on the features for their products. Follow on twitter at @builditsecurely.

What do you think?
As we push ahead in this space, we’d love to hear from you. Are there projects in Iot & Security you’re familiar with? Tweet your thoughts to @crtlabs.

º Note: CRT signed NAR up as a member of the Online Trust Allianace last month