CES 2018 – Five Key Takeaways

With the pace that technology is currently advancing, it is amazing to see how it becomes increasingly woven into our daily lives. The Consumer Electronics Show, now in its 51st year, is the proving grounds for these new advancements. With over 170,000 attendees and 3900 vendors, CES is the world’s largest tradeshow. Over the past three years, CRT Lab’s has covered the trends that emerge, and what they mean for real estate. This year, we saw the following five key trends.

1) Increased Focus on Air Quality

There is a special marketplace on the show floor within CES that is specifically made for startups and technology pioneers called Eureka Park. This section is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Techstars, and is a great place to get insights on where technology trends may be headed.


As we began to notice two years ago at the Lab’s first visit to CES, air quality is getting more and more attention of more importance to today’s consumers. In previous years we have met innovative startups like Plume Labs and elichens. This year, having built our own indoor air quality monitor, we were able to meet with and collect samples of the latest innovations directly from the sensor manufacturers.

2) Google Has Arrived

This year Google made its first-ever appearance at CES. They had an especially rocky start with their giant two-story outdoor booth having to be shut down due to heavy rains on day one, and faced power issues midweek.

Despite all this, by perhaps what may be brute-force alone, their presence was felt. Previous years at CES have been absolutely dominated by Amazon’s Voice Assistant Alexa, and for the search giant’s first year ever to be exhibiting – they had incredible product penetration.

Photo by Dieter Bohn / The Verge

From sponsoring the city-wide monorail, buses, taxis, and their incredibly impressive two-story outdoor booth, it seemed like Google was everywhere.

A Google Assistant shows off the company’s all white jumpsuits (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

In fact, they even had real life Google Assistants working overtime on the exhibition floor giving product demonstrations, running contests, and doing giveaways of Google Assitant compatible devices.

3) Urban Agriculture

If you’ve visited CRT Labs over the past two years, you’ve most likely seen some of our aquaponics systems. Filled with fish, ghost shrimp, herbs and vegetables, these systems work based on a symbiotic relationship between the aquatic life and the plants growing above. As more and more people are moving to major urban areas, the demand for locally grown produce is only growing higher.

Aquaponics @ CRT Labs

The Grove aquaponics set-up for CRT Labs, with kale above and goldfish in the tank.

This year at CES, there were dozens of companies trying to capture some of that demand by offering consumers a way to grow their own vegetables at home. What is reassuring to us that this will be a future trend to watch is just the sheer number of different approaches companies are taking to solve this problem. We saw sleek, counter-top units like the Aspara Smart Veggie Grower, to full popup greenhouses like the Grow Pods by Opcom.

4) Smart City and Autonomous Vehicles

We saw an incredible amount of technology this year that was trying to marry all of the innovation together to provide solutions for smart cities. Two of the best examples of this would be the Bosch Climo System and Toyota’s e-pallet, both of which won Innovation Awards this year. The Climo System is a smart air monitoring solution designed and developed to evaluate, visualize and act upon the outdoor air quality enabled with real-time tracking of ambient air pollutants. According to their website, the Climo System has eight different sensors that measure particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. It is also equipped to monitor pollen levels, which is a common cause of allergies. We can’t help but be reminded of the Chicago based project, the Array of Things, which has similar goals.

Toyota announced a new business alliance between partners Amazon, Mazda, Pizza Hut, Uber, and Didi (Chinese Ride Sharing) focusing on what they are calling “Mobility as a Service”. As part of this, they also revealed the first of their concept vehicles, the e-Pallet.

Photo by Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

The idea being that the e-Pallet would be a completely modular and customizable solution for autonomous transportation needs. From ridesharing and automated delivers, to on-demand retail experiences, the e-Pallet is made to be the starting point for any company who has a use case for electric autonomous vehicles.

5) Voice Control Integration Becomes Deeper

This year at CES we saw the deeper integration of voice assistants into the smart home. The best example of this would be Kohler, who unveiled Kohler Konnect this year. Enabling voice control technology for your shower, bathtub, toilet, mirror, and faucet. While this main seem a bit overkill at first, there are many uses cases for touchless/handsfree operation in the bathroom. In fact, Kohler received a CES 2018 Innovation award for the efforts, in their company’s impressive debut.

For more coverage, check out this great video from REALTOR Magazine:

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.

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.

These Three Commercial Real Estate Tech Companies Are All About Connections

This week on the CRT Labs blog, Jacob Knabb from NAR’s Commercial division writes about some much-needed advancements in commercial real estate technology.

For years the commercial real estate sector has been allergic to technological advances. Data-sharing and easy access to listing information made no sense in a business where proprietary information, in-house data, and brokers who are hush-hush about who might be in their rolodex were the norm. This reputation for lagging behind the field is fast becoming obsolete, however, as commercial real estate has proven ripe for disruption. Over the past few years tech startups have been breaking into this market, changing the status quo and capitalizing on weaknesses in protocol and needlessly opaque communications between investors, brokers, and client reps. It’s suddenly fun to follow the commercial real estate tech market.

Floating Through Space by Ryan Tang

Today I want to look at three of the more exciting, noteworthy commercial real estate tech companies that have come onto my radar recently: VTS, WeWork, and CommissionTrac. The common theme for each of these products is a dynamic ability to leverage technology to speed up traditionally time-consuming, costly processes and to facilitate connections.

Let’s start with VTS, a platform Forbes touted for its ability to enable “real estate professionals [to] track deals and manage space in real-time, and collaboratively.” VTS is made for property managers, brokers, and tenant reps. This is what makes it revolutionary: VTS centralizes property portfolios, making them accessible to all of the key players in real time. “High quality, visual, actionable data gold,” as Duke Long called it in NAR’s magazine Commercial Connections earlier this year. Leasing data is delivered in an intuitive, visually pleasing display. Even for massive portfolios or team members spread around the globe.

WeWork excels because it can “[b]uild, acquire, and manage assets with technology” by streamlining construction, acquisition, and asset management. I attended a panel discussion on technologies serving the built environment at DisruptCRE in Chicago this May that featured Megan Dodds, WeWork’s Midwest director of community. Dodds was able to convey WeWork’s focus on maximizing square footage by creating shared office scenarios that are proving to be quite appealing to millennials eager for community and companies hungry for space to house their untethered workforce. In other words: they create killer office environments that hum along at maximum occupancy, generating strong ROI for investors. WeWork will be exhibiting in the Commercial Marketplace at NAR’s REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Chicago and I can’t wait to learn more about them in November.

I’m going to end this with a bang by taking a quick jaunt into bookkeeping technology. Almost lost you there, didn’t I? Most commercial practitioners detest this part of the job for a reason. It’s complicated to do and expansive to pay to have done. Atlanta-based ComissionTrac is disrupting accounting by providing a platform able to handle invoicing, deposits, commission distributions, and general ledger reports. You send them copies of all the paperwork, or your Quickbooks files, and they do all the heavy-lifting. You can run reports on any device from any location with a signal. CommissionTrac is customizable for agents, ‘back office,’ and principals and the full-service package is $9.99 a head (aka: affordable).

Commercial real estate pros love monitoring trends and here the lines are fairly straightforward: technology will only continue to blossom and grow. Baby Boomers are aging out of the workforce and notions of proprietary data and technology are becoming increasingly obsolete. With IoT establishing a firm foothold in commercial real estate, the next round of breakthroughs are likely to address security solutions. But for the time being connectivity is the word of the hour, and just like with other industries, the commercial real estate industry will thrive as it keeps that connectivity at the forefront of its technological advances.

Jacob S. Knabb is Commercial Communications & Member Services Associate for the National Association of REALTORS®. He works frequently with CRT Labs, keeping us informed of the latest and greatest in commercial real estate technology trends.