Blockchain Could Shape AI; Assessing Natural Light (Without Seeing the Building); and More on This Week’s Five For Wednesday!

looking up at high rise buildings with natural light

  1. Two big technology trends can help each other, according to experts. By utilizing the underlying tenets of Blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms and techniques could be easily distributed to all users, instead of controlled by major companies. Technological ownership has been one of the many ethical dilemmas around using and creating more AI/ML applications.
  2. We hope none of you would have to use this guide for its fully stated purpose, but the Wirecutter’s research in how to keep your smart home secure from domestic abusers is valuable information in any situation. The guide includes password safety tips (including our favorites, two-factor authentication and passphrases instead of passwords), reset tips and tricks, and more.
  3. Got a client wondering how much natural light their next home might get? Instead of trudging out at all hours of the day to that listing, a new website might be able to get you that info. Right now, Localize.city only works in NYC, but I wouldn’t be surprised if more tools like these started popping up all over the country.
  4. Forbes recently asked eleven real estate pros to talk about how technology has been shifting the way the industry works. Frequent CRT Labs readers will nod their heads along at most of these insights – we knew you guys were a smart bunch!
  5. And for a little fun this week – the Onion explains Blockchain. (Warning: explicit language)

Paying for Coffee with Personal Data; California’s New IoT Law; Amazon Enters Residential Real Estate; More in Five for Wednesday

tip jar and cash register at coffee shop

  1. We’ve seen a lot of science fiction revolving around using personal data to “pay” for goods and services, but one campus coffeeshop is making it science fact. Shiru Cafe on Brown University’s campus uses student’s personal information (including name, age, and college major) as currency, allowing anyone with a university ID to exchange caffeine for the ability for corporate partners to advertise to the customers through not only visual displays, but from the baristas themselves. The information given to advertisers, according to the café owners, does not include any personally identifying factors, but rather comprises of an aggregation of their entire clientele.
  2. California becomes the first state to sign a cybersecurity law specifically focused on smart home devices. Starting on January 1st, 2020, smart home device manufacturers must equip their devices with reasonable security measures to protect consumers from unauthorized modification, access, and information disclosure. “If it can be accessed outside a local area network with a password, it needs to either come with a unique password for each device, or force users to set their own password the first time they connect,” which would slow down the ability of hackers to use default usernames/passwords to gain access to devices remotely.
  3. A new start-up is looking to revolutionize how we buy homes. Instead of selling to the highest bidder, Bungalo sells their flipped homes to the first bidder that is pre-qualified for a mortgage at the listing price. The service has launched in the Dallas-Forth Worth and Tampa areas, and is sure to be a company to watch in our industry.
  4. Forbes takes a look at how Blockchain and the Internet of Things are shaping the future of real estate. They’ve noticed the same trend we have (and that Joe and I just recorded a webinar about) – technology in the real estate vertical revolves around making life easier, including the speed at which deals move and the efficiency of living in a smart home.
  5. Hydro-and-aquaponics systems are becoming increasingly common features in high-end restaurants in New York City. But they’re also popping up in unexpected places, including the cafeteria of a Manhattan high school. “As part of a nonprofit program called Teens for Food Justice, a handful of schools in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan have turned spare classrooms, unused science labs, and, in one case, an empty closet into urban hydroponic farms, an experiment in self-sufficiency, science education, and food equity.” I’m excited to see where projects like this go.

Bonus: Last week, we told you about Amazon’s newest investment into residential real estate with their investment into prefab-home builder Plant Prefab. This week, Yahoo! Finance did a great little rundown on how Amazon has been reaching into the residential real estate space, which includes their “Hire a REALTOR®” campaign and more.

CRT Labs Predicts: 2018 In Technology

crt_predicts_2018

What lies ahead in 2018? The team takes our best guesses for the future in our second annual year-in-tech predictions post. As expected, we think blockchain is going to be the hot technology trend of 2018, but we also take a look at smart home tech, smart city (and smart farming) initiatives, and more.

Adrienne:
In 2018, we’re going to see more things bought in online marketplaces than offline at retail establishments. More people will be ordering takeout on Grubhub than will be dining in at their favorite restaurants, and other traditional retail establishments will really need to start thinking about their online presence. We’ve been staring this shift in the face for a while, but with Amazon buying up Whole Foods, I think we’re about to see the scales tip in favor on online buying. What does this mean for real estate? I think big purchases are safe for now – nothing can replace the one-on-one service a REALTOR® gives to their clients – but I do expect there to be some larger attempts at “disruption” in that space, whether it be through an uptick in using Bitcoin to pay for a house, or apps connecting buyers and sellers, or something completely new (and no, not robots…I hope).

Akram:
After the first few city-wide implementations of sensors to monitor weather, air quality and traffic (such as the Array of Things in Chicago), we may see similar implementations in various other cities. This may not have immediate impact on public transportation, awareness or health this year, but data collection and analysis may prove to be useful to build on services for the coming years. The housing market may have a steady growth, with more millennials now looking to buy homes, although in some larger cities, renting may prove to be more cost effective. In 2018, there will be a wider implementation of smart home devices as they get more popular, with voice assistants becoming almost human-like in responses, but not necessarily in understanding various dynamics and social constructs in language. More items in the household may have a “smart” feature, such as furniture, doors and appliances such as refrigerators and washers. With an increase in such devices, there will be a need for interoperability, and we may see a development of a standard protocol for most common smart home devices, so they can exchange data between each other. With the increase in devices connected to the internet, encryption and privacy will yet again be a concern. There may be a wide-scale attack on popular IoT devices, leading to a leak in personal lifestyle information, which can be more crucial than just a social security number. We may also see a series of small scale attacks with companies rushing to address bugs. Cryptocurrency can be completely overturned in 2018, with governments cracking down on mining operations and increasing amount of legislations in place to control it. The bitcoin bubble may finally burst, but it may lead to increased awareness of the technology itself. Blockchain applications can see a wider implementation, however, this largely depends on the understanding of the fundamentals of blockchain by individuals and corporations.

Chad:
Renewables will continue to heat up as it was recently announced that it is now cheaper to produce energy using solar, wind, hydrothermal and geothermal than fossil fuels. This return to using nature for us to thrive will manifest itself in another way as well. We will see a large growth of biophilic architecture (plants incorporated into building design) as well as urban agriculture. Companies, like Plenty, are receiving large rounds of funding and cities are starting to wise up to the benefits of locally produced food. From more community gardens to the use of hydroculture for indoor growing year round, cities will begin investing this and seeing it as a crucial part of their smart city missions. This will also mean the boon of microfarmers as part of the gig economy. They will be key in this movement.

Dave:
I believe 2018 will be another breakout year for blockchain and digital currencies. More enterprises will enter the pilot stage as others move into production. The number of active blockchain related projects went from 26,000 in 2016 to over 86,000 in 2017*. We should start seeing more of these projects reach maturity. Specifically, in real estate, we will see escrow and title companies leveraging blockchain to help improve the real estate transfer process.  *From analysis of public code repositories on Github, an annual report by Deloitte.

Joe:
I have two predictions for 2018.
2017 was the year net neutrality was repealed; 2018 will be the year in which we feel the effects. And sadly, we’ll feel them sooner than a lot of people think. Some internet service providers have pledged not to throttle or block sites, and not to set up fast lanes. Those pledges will prove to be meaningless, especially as more consumers become cable TV cord cutters. Paid prioritization of web content will be how ISPs try to reclaim the money they’re losing, and it’s going to get very ugly very fast.
Unrelated: Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey will leave his perch by the end of Q2.

 

CRT Labs Gets It Done: Our 2017 Year In Review

2017 was a great year for CRT Labs and especially for the projects we’ve been cultivating. From meeting thousands of REALTORS® at various conferences, to publishing our first book, to winning awards, CRT Labs really was on a roll this year, and I’ve been really excited to write this wrap-up and see everything collected together.

We hit up a lot of conferences and other speaking events this year, including visiting dozens of associations, reaching out to REALTORS® all over the country and showing off our hardware and software projects. We continued our sponsorship of TechEdge, a series of one-day conferences designed to keep REALTORS® up-to-date with exciting technology trends in the real estate industry. We managed to speak at every TechEdge in 2017, talking about smart home trends, smart city initiatives, and the impact of blockchain on real estate.

Speaking of blockchain, Dave dove into the blockchain arena head first this year, and has been leading the way investigating the technology’s impact on the real estate industry. This impact goes beyond just simply using Bitcoin for transactions, and has potential to service multiple areas in the real estate world. Dave has been working on a prototype application of blockchain for associations which would help consolidate and streamline member information. Chris has also been hard at work on our Rosetta Home software, which has been showcased (and won a grant!) for its public data visualization. To go along with Rosetta Home, Akram has been finalizing our Touchstone indoor environmental quality sensor, and we had a small production run of boards in December and have begun testing them here in the labs. Together, these projects will work together to monitor and control the environment inside your home, and will make a great closing gift to give to clients.

Joe and Adrienne focused a lot on education this year, starting with the Smart Home Simplified series. These easy-to-read pamphlets tell you everything you need to know about a variety of smart home products. To supplement the Smart Home Simplified series, we also created display information for any association who is looking to set up smart home demo stations and needs placards and other information displayed for their members during demos. Chad and Adrienne will be speaking about these demo stations, along with Abby Creitz of NAR’s Information Services, at the Association Executives Institute in Charlotte in March 2018. Adrienne and Akram teamed up with the Library here at NAR to create a video display system using Raspberry Pi, and Dave and Adrienne helped the Library set up an iPad kiosk for members visiting the Library and Archives.

We also published our first book! A Pocket Guide to Cleaner Air: Plants for Commercial Spaces debuted in the summer and is the first in a series of small-scale books about indoor air quality and ways you can make the air you breathe cleaner and healthier. Adrienne wrote the book, along with Abby Creitz from Information Services, and Donna McCormick and Debbie Dell-Mayer in Information Technology. Joe designed the book, including one of the coolest book covers ever (in this writer’s completely biased opinion).

Chad, our fearless leader, was up front advocating for the team all year, speaking to everyone he could about all the great stuff happening inside the labs. He also had the wacky (at the time) idea to create a Plant Globe to display at the NAR Annual Convention in November. Chad also did a great deal of research into smart city and smart community issues, and is currently starting a project to revitalize his hometown in Iowa by helping turn their nearly-vacant shopping mall into a makerspace.

The Plant Globe installed at the Commercial Pavilion at the NAR Annual Convention in 2017 in Chicago.

It was a great year at CRT Labs, and 2018 is already shaping up the same way. We hope to see you at a conference, or to join us on a Facebook Live in the future. To get up to the minute details of the projects we’re working on, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

More Hits Than Misses: We Review Our Predictions for 2017

To start out 2017, we decided to take a stab at some predictions for the year in technology. How did our team fare? We take a look back at our predictions, with a twist – each member of the labs took a look at someone else’s predictions and reviewed them! And we added Akram to the team this year, but he’s not off the hook – he’s giving us an overall rating of this year’s predictions.

AKRAM’S OVERVIEW:
In general, the CRT Labs team had some great predictions, with a lot of them ending up being true or at least, partially true. The general prediction about security and privacy being a major problem in 2017 turned out to be accurate all around the world. Several hacks, leaks, attacks, privacy concerns, followed by new and upcoming legislations show how important 2017 was in this regard. It also means that we should keep a cautious eye out with our 2018 predictions. While renewable energy technology didn’t gain the traction we had hoped it would, it definitely is being refined and researched,  and we’re looking forward to what the coming years hold in terms of solar, wind and hydropower technologies. While increased awareness in cryptocurrencies was not part of our prediction, several applications based on its underlying technology – Blockchain – were seen implemented on a wide scale and continue to evolve as more people become aware of its uses. Tesla’s self-driving truck did disrupt the trucking industry as per our prediction – the question remains on whether they will follow suit with autonomous buses within the coming years. Keep an eye out on the CRT Labs team’s predictions for the upcoming year – it is bound to be a very interesting one!

CHAD’S PREDICTION:
After solar shingles, there will be solar siding and solar window offerings for traditional consumers. This would mean that homes wouldn’t need consistent direct sunlight to harvest energy. Homes in traditionally less-sunny places could harvest solar as effectively as homes in the southwest. Home energy battery storage will make this an even more viable option as batteries look less and less like batteries and more like traditional appliances. Cities will also begin implementing systems that aren’t one type of energy harvesting. Solar, wind and hydropower will take great steps to become prominent in large and small cities. Cities will find creative ways to gather energy from these three methods that are both practical and aren’t highly visible. Portland is already generating hydropower using its water mains. Expect smaller form factors in all three areas for ancillary energy harvesting. Solar sunflowers and wind trees are examples we may see deployed on boulevards and parks in 2017. 

Chad had a lot of solar power-related predictions this year, sensing the rise of more renewable energies being used over traditional fossil fuel sources. Solar power was the fastest-growing source of new energy in 2017 for commercial settings, beating out coal, the usual leading new energy growth source. The Paris-based International Energy Agency “expect[s] that solar PV [photovoltaic] capacity growth will be higher than any other renewable technology up to 2022.” We didn’t see the big push towards solar windows and siding – the technology is still being honed, with a paper published in late October touting the academic research into solar film for windows and siding application. Unfortunately, we did see a decrease in solar usage in residential areas, with the introduction of new laws and regulations that favor other energy sources. However, the outlook of solar energy is still bright (pun-intended) for many, with Google’s Project Sunroof giving you an estimate if your home is right for solar energy by calculating the amount of power your home could generate compared to your current energy usage. – Adrienne

CHRIS’S PREDICTION:
In the managed smart home arena, we’ll see the telecommunications companies continue to grow in importance, and many of the “closed” managed smart home systems will loosen some of their restrictions, allowing consumers to bring their own devices. In order to secure the increasing number of internet-connected devices, the government will get involved in encryption and security requirements. Open-source software will continue to be incredibly important. Open-source distributed ledger applications such as Hyperledger and Corda will be among the first widely-used Blockchain apps, and open-source tools will also become increasingly important to journalists and citizen activists. Voice control, artificial intelligence, and deep machine learning will continue to redefine our relationship with devices, and self-driving trucks will disrupt the trucking industry (with cars and busses not too far behind). Monitoring the health of your home – CO2, energy efficiency, VOC, and water contamination – will see a rise in importance as rising CO2 levels and water contamination continue to make news.

I’ll highlight each prediction by Chris and then give my take. On August 1st, Senator Mark Warner introduced legislation that addresses internet of things devices and cybersecurity. It was read twice, then referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. There has been no action since. Groups like the FCC, FTC, and Department of Commerce introduced programs to establish best practices and start a cybersecurity framework. Asset management blockchain apps are just starting to be formed. Our own Dave Conroy developed several, including at least one using Hyperledger. And, we joined the Hyperledger Association this year! For the citizen activists and journalists, Twitter seems to have been the tool du jour, since a lot of the information coming at us is now coming in 140 character bytes (or is it 280?). As far as other tools, there weren’t a lot of new innovations this year. There’s been a lot of talk about VPNs being needed. One company that made great headway into the encrypted communications front is Protonmail. They released an amazing VPN client this year and an encrypted contacts client. We are seeing more voice assistants roll out, with Google’s latest Google Assistant work, as well as Google Lens and Apple opening up on artificial intelligence/machine learningTesla showed off their electric semi truck with a host of autonomous features. It’s iminent. Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, recently declared we are ‘quarters, not years’ away from self-driving cars, and Las Vegas has been testing self-driving buses. There have been a lot of studies published this year on the effect of CO2 levels on people and the planet. While explicitly, there hasn’t been a concerted push by national entities or groups on the monitoring of the health of the home, I believe Chris’ prediction will definitely be a strong one in the coming year. We believe in it so much we are creating hardware and software to approach the problem. – Chad

JOE’S PREDICTION:

In 2017 we’re likely to see an increase in the tension between our public and private identities. On the one hand, declaring exactly who we are — and where we are, and when we are there — is an essential part of customizing many user experiences. Concerns about surveillance, though, are prompting more people to use (or at least start asking about) Tor browsers, personal VPNs, and other tools that provide increased security and anonymity. Balancing the demands of both openness and privacy will be a huge story in 2017. (To learn more about Americans and their views on surveillance, visit the Pew Research Center.)

Joe was totally on-point, although many in the non-technical world may have missed some of the more subtle things that happened this year. On the bad side for consumers and internet users, Congress voted to allow ISPs to sell all your data, Equifax was hacked, and FCC Net Neutrality was repealed. In response to these actions we did see some movement from browser vendors: Google is set to add ad-blocker technology to Chrome, and Firefox has added opt-in tracking protection. We also saw some movement in do-it-yourself VPN services like Algo, Open VPN, and Streisand. Tor didn’t get as much attention as I would have liked, but Mozilla did step up and match donations to the Tor Project. All in all, it was a pretty rough year for privacy/security minded folks on the Internet. And really everyone in the U.S. has been affected by the Equifax hack, and we have likely barely seen the fall-out from that incident. On the bright-side it’s made our legislative branches become acutely aware of the problems of consolidated data collection, and we are likely to see some major changes coming in the new year. – Chris

ADRIENNE’S PREDICTION:

Now that Google Home has hit the ground running, I predict this year the company will integrate its popular home assistant into their mesh network platform, Google Wifi. Each router will act a lot like an Amazon Echo Dot, but bring in the added mesh networking capabilities. Right now, a 3-pack of the routers costs $299, with additional units costing $129 (the same as a Google Home); however, I believe the company will introduce a smaller router, without the ethernet ports and with tiny speakers, at around $69 to compete with the $49.99 Echo Dot. Google’s goal is to get an assistant in every room in order to control your smart home. They’ve already pulled ahead of Amazon with their multi-room support, which not only has intelligent voice detection to allow you to only interact with the Google Home closest to you but also allows you to control playback on other Google audio devices in other rooms. Of course, for Google to control your whole home, they’ll need to expand compatibility, but since their API opened to the public at the end of 2016, both third party and native support for devices will be coming in 2017.

Adrienne’s absolutely crushed her 2017 prediction of “Google’s goal is to get an assistant in every room.” This year, Google expanded its hardware virtual assistant product offerings in an attempt to compete with the Amazon, the clear incumbent in this space. After an aggressive holiday discount, The Google Home Mini is currently priced at only $29. As Adrienne predicted, this makes you the ability to control your smart home with your voice in any room in your house. While they didn’t accomplish through adding voice to their mesh networking platform, I think we can give her a pass. Especially since there is still reason to believe that this may come true in 2018, as the Google Wifi is due for a hardware refresh. – Dave

DAVE’S PREDICTION:

I predict we have not seen the end of consumer-gradenial of Service (DDoS) attacks caused by consumer grade IoT devices. In fact, I feel it is possible we will see a large scale event in 2017 that would cause the disruption of legitimate internet traffic in the United States for up to 24 hours. As we covered in our Insecurity of Things blog series last October, it only takes a few dozen hardware manufacturers to not follow best practices to leave over a half million devices vulnerable to hijacking.  With these manufactures already facing heavy competition and slim profits margins, coupled with the influx of new startups rushing to into the space – security and privacy are not given the priority they deserve. Part of our mission here at CRT labs is to educate REALTORS® and consumers about these issues, and it is very promising to see both parties starting to prioritize them when they are deciding what devices to put in their homes. However, until the hardware vendors start taking on the responsibility, there is still a significant risk for large scale attacks. For more information about best practices and how you can keep your devices secure, please visit one of our partner organizations – the Online Trust Alliance.

While Dave’s prediction of a large scale disruption of legitimate internet traffic for 24 hours didn’t come true – thankfully! – it certainly wasn’t a great year for security and privacy. One information security resource recently reported that 33% of all business were hit by a DDoS attack in 2017; that’s up from 17% in 2016. Were Internet of Things devices involved in the increased number of attacks? They sure were, so much so that some tech journalists took to using “the DDoS of Things” instead. DDoS attacks are sometimes launched as a smokescreen for other kinds of cybercrime, and nothing about 2017 suggests that this bit of double nastiness shows any sign of abating. So Dave might not have hit a home run, but his batting average is way up there. – Joe