Episode 408: Hacking sensors and securing medical devices

This week’s show starts with an overview of the reviews for the new second generation HomePod and a deep dive into the security mess that Anker has made with its Eufy smart home cameras. We then dig into some earnings from IoT chip providers NXP and Silicon Labs, before discussing some new ideas to use RFID to prevent retail theft. We then talk about how the demand for retail tech could be generating demand for better broadband in places where broadband isn’t really all that robust. Then we cover news of a $100 million fund for Industry 5.0 companies (and explain what Industry 5.0 is) and share news of a new smart lock and a new integration for Ecobee. We talk about plans for noise sensors in NYC and Kevin’s review of a $20 Matter-capable smart plug. Finally, we answer a listener question about which video doorbell option makes the most sense, given their particular needs.

Lowe’s innovation group is testing a connected anti-theft program. Image courtesy of Lowes.

Our guest this week is Kevin Fu, who is a professor of electrical and computer science at Northeastern University, and the former acting director of medical device cybersecurity for the Food and Drug Administration. I’ve followed his efforts to hack physical sensors for years, and was excited when he started focusing on medical device security for the FDA. On the show, he discusses new federal legislation that will require companies to get an FDA review of their medical device’s cybersecurity before it goes on the market. This is a first for the U.S. in terms of requiring some sort of cybersecurity review before a product is released, and it might become an inspiration for legislation in other industries going forward. We also talk about how to regulate AI in healthcare and more. Enjoy the show.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Kevin Fu, professor of electrical and computer science at Northeastern University
Sponsor: Akenza

  • Transparency is helpful, but not a panacea for privacy
  • The chips are down, but not in the IoT
  • What is Industry 5.0 and why does it matter?
  • The Patch Act didn’t pass, but some elements of it did
  • What kind of regulations make sense for AI in medicine?

Episode 403: Matter upgrades aren’t ready for prime time

We tried Matter for the first time late last week, and have a lot to share with our listeners about what we and other journalists learned through the process. The early verdict is that most people should not update for a while because the process is tedious at best and downright frustrating at worst. But if you want to update, we provide tips. Then we focus on a story about iRobot’s Roomba vacuums that shows how a larger ecosystem of tech partners are taking device data and potentially sharing it in places consumers wouldn’t be comfortable with. Next up, we cover the acquisition of Notion by Pepper IoT, which wants to help insurers build policies around the smart home. We also cover some news bits such as an Amazon employee becoming the new chairman of Z-Wave Alliance, delays for the next generation of Raspberry Pi hardware, and further updates on the Eufy camera security snafus. We conclude the first segment of the show by answering a listener question about how far apart Thread devices should be in the home.

The Homey hub will launch in the U.S. at CES. Image courtesy of Homey.

Our guest this week is Stefan Witkamp, the commercial director at Athom, the company behind the Homey smart home hub. Witkamp explains Honey’s privacy-focused smart home hub and the plan to launch the latest generation of the Homey Pro hub at CES. This will be the first time Homey is available in the U.S. after six and half years of availability for the original Homey hub in Europe. Homey Pro has all of the radios that a smart home needs, including Thread and IR. For listeners who care about privacy, Witkamp explains how Athom created a business model that allows the company to respect user privacy. This means the $399 pro version of the hub is more expensive than other options on the market, and the cheaper version comes with a monthly subscription. We talk about what it costs to keep a home hub running and how investors can push a company to choose alternative business models. Enjoy the show.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Stefan Witkamp, Commercial Director for Homey
Sponsors: Arm and Silicon Labs

  • Wait a minute before updating to Matter
  • Will a Roomba story get everyone to care more about device privacy?
  • The smart home meets insurance in this acquisition
  • Why the Homey hub decided to focus on privacy
  • When your data isn’t for sale, the consumer pays

 

Episode 402: Google begins its Matter roll out

This week’s show is a celebration of Matter actually hitting devices, with Google announcing its Matter roll out and Eve allowing users to update its devices to Matter as well. We’re super excited to play with Matter, and you’ll read more about in the newsletter or hear us chat about it next week. We also discuss how Z-Wave’s open-source efforts have gone, and the first port of Z-Wave technology to a third party chip. Energy management is becoming a compelling use case for smart home tech given the high price of heat this winter, so we share what might help and how it may change the conversation around connected devices. Then we dig into a new Comcast report on home security that points out the things you’re worried about getting hacked in your smart home are not necessarily what’s getting hacked. In smaller news, we cover gestures and accessibility features for the Echo Show, smarter alarm systems, and a new sensor that’s itty-bitty. We close with chip news about a new RISC-V microcontroller, a new integrated Matter chip from NXP, and Qualcomm’s new LTE Cat 1 modem for IoT. We end the first segment of the show by answering a listener question about outdoor smart lights for cold climates.

Data from Comcast focused on what people think they should worry about, and what they actually do worry about when it comes to home cybersecurity.

Our guest this week is Sean Petterson, the CEO and founder of StrongArm Tech, a company that makes wearable safety devices for industrial and warehouse workers. We talk about the company’s history of building exoskeletons and its pivot to data analytics and wearables, and then the challenges associated with converting worker safety into an ROI. Petterson makes the case that analytics can drive home the importance of keeping workers healthy despite the costs of the system and the perceived costs in terms of productivity. He gives a good example from a warehouse customer using StrongArm’s analytics to send workers home after they meet their quota for the day, even if it means they get sent home early. Petterson says it’s simply not efficient or smart from an ROI perspective to keep them working. We also talk about the ethics of such software and how StrongArm tries to make sure its data isn’t used to retaliate against poor performers. Enjoy the show.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Sean Petterson, the CEO and founder of StrongArm Tech
SponsorsArm and Silicon Labs

  • Matter hits Google and Eve devices, but wait a second before updating
  • Don’t worry about someone hacking your voice assistant or robot vacuum
  • Check out this new RISC-V microcontroller
  • Keeping workers healthy improves ROI  and this company can prove it
  • What happens when worker data gets really detailed?

Episode 399: Alexa’s drama and our holiday gift guide

The biggest news in the internet of things this week was the staggering story about Amazon’s Alexa business being responsible for the majority of an estimated $10 billion loss in the year ahead. So Kevin and I discuss what Amazon pulling back on Alexa might look like and what it means for voice and the smart home. Then we talk about how a newly available Amazon device signals Amazon’s problem and the potential solutions to that problem. After talking about voice, we take a look at a new controller from Aqara that uses gestures and share our thoughts about the form factor.  After all our user interaction talk, we then cover some news, such as the FIDO Alliance planning to work on security and authentication issues for the IoT, Google’s plans for aggregating fitness data, and a new dev kit from T-Mobile. We also talk about new devices from Wyze and Firewalla. Finally, we answer a listener’s question about connecting LED fairy lights. Then it’s time to talk about the holidays.

The Aqara Cube T1 Pro costs $22.99, and is a fancy button that you can press, roll and shake. Image courtesy of Aqara.

Every year we choose 10 devices that we think make good holiday gifts for our audience and their loved ones. This year we suggest a few in the first part of the show, such as the JaxJox kettlebell and my perennial favorite, the Ember mug. (I gave this to my mom in 2019, and she still uses it every day.) This year’s gifts include a smart plug designed for Matter, a device to reboot your router, and multiple options for smart buttons from Philips Hue and Shortcut Labs. We also include a Nanoleaf option because we’re such fans of the devices as gifts for teens. We also include some fancier gifts for chefs and dog owners. There are more options in this week’s newsletter, but before we sign off we also want to thank our listeners for the gift of their time this year, and the nine years that Kevin and I have been producing this show. Y’all are awesome.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Sponsors: Arm and Silicon Labs

  • Voice is a user interface, not a platform
  • I don’t want to roll the dice on my home routines
  • Google aggregates health data in a better format
  • We love buttons and lights for smart home gifts
  • We also love cooking tech, and pet tech too

Episode 396: Here’s when you’ll get Matter on your devices

This week’s episode kicks off what I hope is a flurry of news from vendors about their Matter plans. We hear when and how vendors such as Amazon, Eve, Nanoleaf, and Schneider Electric plan to roll out Matter to new and old devices. We also call out companies that haven’t yet shared information and what you’re likely to see get support first. Then we go to other news such as leaked photos of Amazon’s Ring Car Alarm, a privacy lawsuit against Amazon going forward and new security and camera devices from Arlo. In less exciting news, we talk about a lock-picking lawyer’s discovery that the HomeKey version of the Level Home lock (the Level Lock+) can be easily picked with a simple lock pick or a bump key. Also in the bad news department, Orro Systems, the makers of a smart lighting switch and system, is looking for more investment and will stop distributing its gear so as to support existing customers. This looks like the beginning of the end. Kevin got his hands on Google’s Nest Wifi Pro, and decides that people on existing Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems probably won’t benefit much from this update, but those coming from older Wi-Fi 5 systems (like Google’s prior mesh Wi-Fi kit) will. Finally, we answer a listener question about Matter on smoke alarms.

Arlo’s new all-in-one multi-sensors and Keypad Security Hub. Image courtesy of Arlo.

Our guest this week is Peggy Carrieres, VP of Sales Enablement at Avnet, who is coming on the show to discuss what the changes in the chip sector mean for hardware designers. Carrieres spoke with me a year and half ago to talk about the chip shortage, and now has new data thanks to a survey of Avnet customers. The survey shows that 29% of respondents believe chip prices will continue to rise and that 26% expect to see more supply shortfalls. We talk about what’s driving challenges in sourcing chips and components for hardware as well as how engineers are starting to change how they design products amidst the shortage. We also point to some software developments that may help. It’s a nerdy interview, but worth the time if you’re building hardware.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Peggy Carrieres, VP of Sales Enablement at Avnet
Sponsors: Arm and Silicon Labs

  • Matter is coming to Amazon, Nanoleaf, Eve and more
  • Amazon’s next device may have a cellular data plan
  • I’m worried about Orro Systems and its future
  • Why chip shortages continue to cause problems for designers
  • Steps to help make hardware design easier in times of shortages

Episode 392: Matter is here. Now what?

Matter is now official after almost three years of waiting, and Kevin and I are super excited. Well, I am. Kevin is more measured, but we talk about what to expect and when to expect Matter to start changing your smart home. In related news, we discuss Google’s new doorbell, mesh router, and plans for the Home app. Google is also adding more sensing capabilities to the smart home through its existing hubs. In November, IKEA plans to launch its latest smart home hub, the Dirigera, which will cost about $60. This will replace the Trådfri hub, but will also let users bridge their older IKEA devices to the Matter protocol. Kevin gets to tell me that he told me so, as Amazon kills the Glow video-calling device for kids, and we lay out the five principles that are part of a new U.S. blueprint for legislation related to AI. We end by answering a question from a listener about using their SmartRent Hub as a secondary Z-wave controller.

Like other big name smart home vendors, Google already has plans for Matter. Image courtesy of Google.

Our guests this week are both from John Deere. We have Tracy Schrauben, manager, manufacturing emerging technologies at John Deere, who represents the operational technology side of the manufacturing plant. Also joining is Jason Wallin, principal architect at John Deere, who is handling IT. Both are on the show for an exclusive look at how the agricultural company is deploying the CBRS spectrum it purchased in 2020. In its Moline, Ill. plant, John Deere has deployed 14 microcells that today provide LTE connectivity to various pieces of equipment. But the plan is to get to an all-5G network as end devices become available. Our guests explain why they are unwiring the factory, some of the use cases, and what it’s like to build and manage your own private wireless network. This is a must-listen for folks who care about factory 5G.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guests: Tracy Schrauben and Jason Wallin of John Deere
Sponsors: Nordic Semiconductor and Firewalla

  • Matter is live, and now we get to test it in our homes!
  • Google’s new Home app is a much needed improvement
  • The U.S. now has a good framework for AI legislation
  • Why John Deere invested in its own spectrum for factory 5G
  • How John Deere plans to unwire its factories

Episode 390: The FTC eyes Amazon’s iRobot buy

The Federal Trade Commission is looking into Amazon’s decision to purchase the maker of Roomba vacuum cleaners for $1.7 billion. The agency this week asked Amazon and iRobot for more information about the deal, so Kevin and I took a moment to explain exactly what the FTC should worry about. Then we talk about Wi-Fi sensing showing up in Signify’s WiZ lightbulbs, and a wireless power provider paired with smart tags enabling a new retail experience — all without batteries. We touch on Nvidia’s continued forays into the metaverse and its plans to create digital twins for retailers with its new Omniverse services. We also cover two surveys this week from MachineQ and Hitachi Vantara. Those surveys focus mostly on enterprise IoT adoption and things that stand in the way of them. We also cover Helium’s new deal to bring its decentralized 5G wireless network to T-Mobile and then discuss Tile’s new QR code stickers to create a tech-savvy label for your stuff that might get lost. It’s better than sewing your name in your underwear. Kevin then discusses his review of a LoRa-based IoT development kit from Blues Wireless. We end by answering a listener question about leak monitoring and water shut off tools.

Image courtesy of MachineQ.

Our guest this week is Rob Davies, the chief insurance officer at Vivint. We start the interview by asking what a monitored security company is doing in the insurance sector, and move on to discuss what data might be most useful in building new insurance products. We also talk about how an insurance company might use smart home data to become more proactive about alleviating risk as opposed to paying out once the worst has happened. Davies uses the example of someone who has forgotten to lock their door. With Vivint’s platform, the insurance provider can let the homeowner know their door is unlocked before someone tries to break in. This creates a new relationship between insurers and their clients, and it will be interesting to see how far insurance companies take this idea. Enjoy the show.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Ron Davies, chief insurance officer Vivint
Sponsors:  Infineon and Silicon Labs

  • Why Robot OS could become Amazon’s anti-competitive advantage
  • Buy IoT gear is tough, and having customer support matters
  • This LoRa development kit was easy to set up and get data from
  • Why a monitored security firm is interested in offering insurance
  • Owning your own devices is useful for building new insurance products

Episode 387: Is Kickstarter still relevant for smart devices?

This week we start off talking about the Federal Trade Commission suing a data broker for sharing sensitive location data. It’s a topic we’re following closely, in part because location information can’t be anonymized even when companies promise that it strips identifying information from it. With that in mind, Fight for the Future, a nonprofit focused on consumer privacy, is asking the FTC to prevent large tech firms from getting access to car data. In more data-sharing news, we talk about Adrich, a Pennsylvania company that has found some success selling Bluetooth tags that track how much of a product has been used and can reorder them for consumers. But it also shares product data usage with the company making the product. Then we kick off the IFA conference with some news bits from the Home Connectivity Alliance adding new members and a plug fest, as well as updated products from Eve. Also, Tado has created a subscription plan to optimize low-energy prices. For those interested in the evolution of the security business, check out ADT’s deal with Uber to monitor drivers and riders on request. And for those who want to understand the consolidation happening in the IoT connectivity sector, we talk about Telit’s latest acquisition. We then answer a listener question about what he needs to run Hue bulbs even when the internet is out.

Image courtesy of Woosh.

This week’s guest is Winston Mok, the founder and product lead of Woosh, a company making a connected air filter. We talk about how Woosh works, its focus on sustainability, and how it plans to integrate within existing smart home services. We also talk about Mok’s decision to use Kickstarter to launch the connected air filter, a decision that would have been a no brainer back in 2014, but seems almost quaint now. Mok explains why he thinks Kickstarter was a good option for Woosh and shares some of the benefits he got from launching on the platform. He also discusses how it it helped prepare for manufacturing at scale amidst the chip shortage, and shared advice on dealing with that situation. It’s a really useful interview.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Winston Mok, founder and product lead, Woosh
Sponsors: Infineon and Silicon Labs

  • The FTC is taking action against sellers of location data
  • This company can tell how quickly you eat your peanut butter
  • A standard for connected appliances gets a boost
  • Smart air filters? Why not?
  • Is Kickstarter still relevant for launching a smart device?

Episode 384: Here’s why Amazon really bought iRobot

This week’s show kicks off with our discussion of Amazon’s planned acquisition of iRobot, the maker of Roomba robotic vacuums for $1.7 billion. We then talk about a survey from Parks Associates that indicates almost a third of people using AirTag-style trackers to track people without their knowing and why users and companies must focus on consent. Then we hit on another ethics issue associated with a connected Epson printer that stops working after a set period of time, also unbeknownst to the user. In non-ethics news, Feit has purchased LIFX assets, Energous got FCC approval for sending up to 15 watts of power over the air for wireless charging and Qualcomm signed a deal with Global Foundries to ensure its chip supply through 2028. While on the topic of chips, we talk about software that runs on existing ESP32 that uses Wi-Fi for person detection and sensing, and future Apple products for the smart home. We end with a listener question about whether he should buy a new DIY hub and devices, or wait for Matter gear.

LIFX assets are now owned by Feit. Image courtesy of LIFX.

Our guest this week is Mark Benson, the head of Samsung SmartThings US. Benson is on the show to explain how SmartThings plans to eliminate the use of Groovy apps on hubs. The way forward is using APIs for cloud-to-cloud integrations, and LUA-based event handlers for smart apps that run locally. The final shift from Goovy takes place Sept. 30 so get ready for disruption if you have an older, niche routine or app on SmartThings, or update before then. Benson also shares more information on how SmartThings plans to support Matter and what it will mean for Samsung’s overall strategy in the smart home. We dig into what it means to be a Matter controller versus a Matter bridge and what role SmartThings will play. It’s a good show.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guests: Mark Benson, the head of Samsung SmartThings US
SponsorsSilicon Labs and Impinj

  • Amazon buys iRobot to build out the next generation of the smart home
  • I’m surprised to see how many people are secretly tracking others
  • We need expiration dates for smart devices
  • SmartThings gets ready for its final goodbye to Groovy
  • How SmartThings plans to adopt Matter

Episode 382: Is Helium full of hot air?

We start this week’s show with a deep dive into a popular post from this week about the Helium network. The report pointed out that Helium only made $6,500 in the month of June from data rates. We explain why that’s not a surprise and what it will take to get those numbers up. Then we talk about Apple’s Air Tags and their potential use to track thieves and suitcases. Then Kevin reviews the Eve Motion with Thread sensor and then we focus on the excellent article from CNET that documents when Ring, Nest, Arlo and other camera companies will share your video data with police. The we cover shorter stories from Drover AI, two satellite deals including a $3.4 billion European acquisition deal, and updated lighting features from GE Cync. We then answer a listener question about Insteon’s plan for an annual fee for cloud connectivity and services.

My suitcase and obligatory Air Tag. Image courtesy of A. Allemann.

Our guest this week is Jim Ethington, CEO of Arable, a precision agriculture company. He’s on the show to talk about Arable’s $40 million in funding, and what Arable has learned in the last six years of operation. We also talk about the myth of using data to create “perfect predictions” and what sorts of predictions are more realistic when discussing how farm sensors can help farmers increase yields. Then we discuss why farmers are looking beyond simple ROI measurements when adopting technology and how sensor platforms such as Arable’s can help make their investments in sustainability or traceability pay off. We end with a list of hardware that Ethington would like to see for future field sensors. These include better connectivity options and sensors that provide more options for detecting different wavelengths of light. Enjoy the show.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Jim Ethington, CEO of Arable
Sponsors: InfluxData and Intent

  • Helium is a legit business, but is it worth $1.2 billion?
  • The Air Tag is a tool for good or evil
  • How Ring and Google decide what videos to share with police
  • The future of precision farming goes far beyond greater yields
  • Sensors with different spectral ranges will let us better monitor plant health