The Building of Functioning Cities: Navigating the Smart City

Time-lapse photo of cars driving in Atlanta, GA at night. Shoes trailing tail lights and headlights with Atlanta in the background.

Photo by Joey Kyber on Unsplash

As cities become more densely populated, getting around them takes on a new sense of urgency. One of the big reasons cities are interested in smart city technology is to help solve transportation problems. In this article, we’ll look at three technologies that help residents navigate their cities and identify what the value is to them and to the real estate practitioner.

Smart street lights help the city save money, energy and reduce light pollution

Cities like Chicago, LA, Barcelona, and Amsterdam are employing new lighting strategies to cut down on light pollution, reduce energy usage, and better serve their citizens. One company working on this problem, Tvilight, has developed a solution that will brighten when there are people around at night and dim when there aren’t. Tvilight has several deployments in large and small communities throughout Europe. Their lighting allows for city administrators to remotely set levels for lights, understand evening traffic patterns, and save energy. In some cases, these lights have helped reduce maintenance costs by up to 60% as well. For the real estate practitioner, communities using these lights could become a selling point. Reduced light pollution, yet retaining a safely lit environment is something that anyone would love.

Intelligent stop lights can help clear congestion and reduce accidents

In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, adaptive signal control technology is helping improve traffic flows and reduce accidents in the city. The smart stop lights have dropped traffic congestion by 5-11%. This means fewer idling cars, saving fuel and money for drivers. Another benefit is the technology has reduced the number of accidents. Because the technology can adapt, it means less of drivers trying to outrun a light change. Sioux Falls has seen a reduction in accidents from 1 accident every three days average to 1 accident every four days average. Over time, that adds up due to all the emergency services required during these times. This data can also help inform commute times and give you a real time sense of congestion, or if there are any accidents in the area, so you can adapt your route wherever you’re going.

 

Smart parking systems can let you know if there’s a space available anywhere

One of the biggest challenges to living in a large metropolitan area is finding parking. I live in a neighborhood that used to have plentiful street parking, but now, we can drive around for 15-30 minutes trying to find a space. Libelium is a company helping cities connect with citizens by providing real time parking space data. Using magnets, sensors and cameras, Libelium relays real time information about parking spaces in a community and can reduce the amount of time you are spending looking for a space. They could also provide historical information that can help city planners think about the parking issues in their city. This data will be extremely valuable in real estate for some time to come.

As you can see from the article, cities large and small are employing these techniques. Smart city technology is not an all or nothing proposition. You don’t need to have a myriad of smart solutions added right away. Communities are employing solutions to help them solve immediate problems, then adding to those solutions. Are you seeing solutions like these in your communities? Let us know in the comments below.

Facebook Live Office Hours: Google Home Giveaway!

We’re running a contest over on our Facebook page – if you comment on our recent office hours, you’ll be automatically entered to win a Google Home! To find out more, watch the video, and then head on over to the Facebook post. As always, liking our Facebook page will notify you when we go live on Fridays at 3PM Eastern. If you comment before our next office hours (which will be 7/14/17), you’ll still be eligible for the Google Home. We’ll draw the winner live on 7/14! See you then!

Facebook Live Office Hours: Google Home Giveaway! from CRTLabs on Vimeo.

Things Thursday #019: The Future is Now (or at least, a lot nearer than I thought)

A trio of articles on this week’s Things Thursday deal with the Internet of Things, new ways of accessing your personal data, and keeping that data secure.

Internet of Secure Things

  1. 4 ways that AI is enabling today’s IoT revolution (via ReadWrite).
    Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things aren’t buzzwords anymore, but companies are still struggling to grasp what AI and IoT can do for their industries. Good news is, most companies surveyed by Accenture are interested in implementing AI and IoT strategies over the next few years, with AI being at the heart of figuring out what to do with all that data that will be whizzing about into the cloud and IoT allowing companies to think creatively about the objects that will collect that data. I’m always dubious to hear companies thinking in these terms, but I’m glad to see that there is an interest in the overlap in physical objects and non-physical data.
  2. A biometric ring could replace your passwords, cards, and keys (via engadget).
    One of the first leaps for turning your non-physical information into a physical object is the Token ring, which uses biometrics (identifiers about individuals – retina scans and fingerprint IDs are other examples of biometrics in the wild – the Token uses a fingerprint ID) to allow you to get into a locked building, pay for the bus, and more. We’ve seen a fair share of trinkets purport to do this very thing, but it looks like Token has caught the eye of some major vendors, including partnerships with several large metropolitan areas to cover their public transit. The tech that interests me the most here is the sensors included to identify if the ring is on or off your finger.
  3. On not fearing a full basket of eggs (via CRTLabs).
    A bit of a cheat on this third item, but as this nebulous data becomes what identifies you, it’s important to keep that data safe. Joe’s post (here on the blog) on password managers is a good crash course in making strong passwords, and keeping your data safe, and should be required reading for everyone in this digital age. NAR has been working hard on getting out information to our membership to keep client data secure; a good first step in the process is to assess your own digital security and pass that information on to your clients.

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.

On Not Fearing A Full Basket of Eggs, or Why You Should Use a Password Manager

If you’ve heard any of the members of CRT Labs talk about online security, you’re likely to have heard us urge you to use a password manager. And if you spend a normal amount of time online, you’ve also read about password manager breaches. The most recent high-profile attack hit LastPass earlier this year, and the attack helped spawn a lot of “are password managers really a good idea?” think pieces.

Let me be direct: yes, it’s a good idea to use a password manager. It’s a really, really, good idea, and using them is something I will continue to recommend to the REALTORS® with whom I speak.

The reason we recommend using them so strongly is because password managers solve the two most common reasons why accounts get compromised: weak and reused passwords.

WHAT’S A PASSWORD MANAGER?

A password manager is a piece of software that helps a user create, store, and use complex passwords. (There are hardware-based password managers, as well as some browser based ones, but we’ll just be talking about dedicated software managers in this post.) By “complex passwords” I mean a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters; length and unpredictability can also increase the complexity of a password.

Password managers help you create these complex passwords; the software I use allows me to create passwords up to 64 characters in length, with up to 10 numbers and 10 special characters. For example:

4+vMapXZoiD9kU2^kB[,yiuWv66dTDuPhNq#F7TFgh22d$vhWQ6^?h$waPMDY3?G

Do I use complex passwords like this for online banking and shopping? I do. Not all are this crazy, but there’s actually no reason why they shouldn’t be. They can be as complex as the above, because password managers don’t require you to remember the passwords of individual sites and services you access online; they only ask you to remember one master password that gives you access to the rest.

HERE’S WHERE FOLKS GET NERVOUS:

It’s at this point that most people start to get nervous, and they usually have both of the following concerns:

  • Are you crazy? You’re putting all of your password eggs into one basket!
  • I can’t remember a password that’s complicated enough to be my master password.

Let’s start with the all-your-eggs issue. I currently have one master password that protects 55 very complex passwords that are stored in my password manager. My master password is complex but memorable. Am I worried about someone cracking my master password and getting to my banking, investment, and shopping passwords? Not really, and here’s why:

  • My master password and password vault are shared with no one. Not even the company that provides my password management software has access to it. When you combine the strong encryption on your vault, a strong master password, as well as controlling where your information is stored – provides you multiple layers of security against any threats.
  • The encryption used by most password managers exists not only during transmission of data but also at rest.
  • My password manager encourages me to create very complex passwords because it can be done for me automatically when signing up for accounts at new websites.
  • I don’t even have to use the Internet to use my password manager. I can run it on a local network, storing all my information on my computer and other devices. None of my password information need ever go near the cloud.

This last issue — cloud vs. local storage — could be the key for you to start using a password manager if you’re afraid of hackers but see the benefit of randomly generated strong passwords. Make sure any password manager you think of using has the ability to store information away from the cloud and away from the provider’s servers.

CREATING A MASTER PASSWORD

It may seem a little daunting to come up with a complex but memorable password, but I’d like to suggest it’s not as difficult as it seems. Let’s take a look at a made-up complex password: !M2j3B*s*T*. How did I come up with this, and how would I remember it?

Let’s assume you think Michael Jordan is the best basketball player ever. You’re sure to know he wore the number 23. Introduce some special characters, start to think about the words as single letters or abbreviations, and you’ve got a memorable and very strong password.

STILL DON’T WANT TO USE A PASSWORD MANAGER? AT THE VERY LEAST, DO THIS:

Whether or not you wind up using a password manager, at the very least remember that variation (not using the same password on more than one site) and complexity (passwords with letters, numbers, and characters) are essential to protecting yourself online. It’s easier for me to use a password manager to handle that variation and complexity. If it’s not for you, devise your own system, but stick to those two password virtues. Somewhere down the line you’ll be happy you did.

LEARN MORE FROM THESE GREAT RESOURCES FROM NAR:

Check out Cybersecurity Checklist: Best Practices for Real Estate Professionals, part of nar.realtors’s coverage of data privacy and security.