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

Episode 379: Lock down your smart home’s data

This week we continue discussing privacy and data protection with a focus on the smart home. I’d like to see a feature that lets us turn on privacy as needed on our devices, but Kevin doesn’t think that’s likely. For those who want concrete steps they can take today, Mozilla and the EFF have some suggestions that will appeal to the DIY types. And smart home device makers should be aware that if they focused on privacy, the might sell more gear according to a recent survey. For those worried about security (less about privacy), we discuss network segmentation options. In smaller news on this slow news week, Unabiz will retain the Sigfox brand, the FCC approves roaming satellite broadband via Starlink, and Samsung SmartThings is readying an app update with more features. I also share the devices I connect before I head out of town. In our IoT Podcast Hotline we answer a listener question about the best platforms on which to practice IoT development.

Home Assistant hub for smart home privacy
Home Assistant’s Yellow hub can help you keep your smart home automations locale and more private. Image courtesy of Home Assistant.

Our guest this week is Vijay Sankaran, the CTO of Johnson Controls. He talks about the reasons we’re adding more sensors to our buildings, and ensuring they work with other with IT systems. He also explains what needs to happen at the edge and what should take place in the cloud, while also laying out the standards we need to make digital twins of smart buildings. On the practical front, he says that customers usually start with modernizing buildings that are more than 10 years old or those that are currently under construction. And the best way to get started is for customers to start tracking carbon consumption by trying to understand how much energy is being used in a building and then understanding what deices are using it. Only after customers understand that, can they work on optimizing their energy usage to reduce consumptions or at least allocate carbon consumption to places or products that generate the most value.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Vijay Sankaran, the CTO of Johnson Controls
Sponsors: InfluxData and Intent

  • The privacy-focused smart home is DIY but doable.
  • What would you buy if privacy concerns didn’t hold you back?
  • Here are the devices I use when on vacation.
  • When it comes to smart buildings, which should get modernized first?
  • Standards matter for digital twins of smart buildings.

Episode 377: Why there were 56 OT vulnerabilities this week

This week we cover the Ericsson mobility report that offers some stats on cellular IoT connections, including the surprising nugget that we won’t see 4G/5G connections surpass 2G/3G connections until some time next year. Then we hit another report. This one is from NPR and covers the state of audio and smart speakers. It proves that growth is slowing for smart speakers and that we may not do as many things with voice as we think. In dystopian news we cover China using COVID tracking apps to lock down protesters, and Microsoft stopping sales of some facial recognition tools. In new product news we talk about the latest Philips Hue gear, a new material that could generate electricity for wearables, and new MCUs from NXP. We also address the closure of SmartDry and explain how Google’s update on the Nest Max Hub may break your Nest x Yale lock. We end by answering a listener question about more accurate motion sensors.

Our guest this week is Daniel dos Santos, head of security research at Vedere, a business unit of Forescout. He’s on the show to discuss why Forescout released 56 new OT vulnerabilities dubbed ICEFALL. He shares the design flaws that led to these vulnerabilities and more importantly, explains what needs to happen if compromised controllers or devices can’t be fixed. He also shares a startling stat about how many industrial customers are actually updating their devices after a vulnerability has been disclosed, and how to encourage more of them to address security flaws. If you want to learn more abut securing critical infrastructure, this is a good place to start.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Daniel dos Santos, head of security research at Forescout
Sponsors: Nordic Semiconductor and Wirepas

  • There are still more 2G and 3G IoT connections than 4G/5G ones
  • With smart speakers it’s the same as it ever was
  • Are the new Hue track lights for you?
  • The ICEFALL vulnerabilities are a sign of progress actually.
  • This vendor says only one in ten patch their OT gear

Episode 374: Peekaboo offers privacy for the smart home

This week’s show kicks off with our favorite topic: bringing context into the smart home. This time it’s iRobot and its new operating system that aims to bring the smart home together. From there we discuss a merger between satellite IoT companies and a new idea for building a privacy-centric smart home from the folks at Carnegie Mellon. In more enterprise news, BT wants to stop being a telco and become a “tech-co” with a focus on digital transformation, while a group of chipmakers want to create a consortium to buy Arm. In smaller news bits we’ve got some more unsettling news around John Deere tractors, a smart blinds retrofit from Somfy and the end of Amazon’s Cloud Cam. We’re not mad. Kevin also reviewed Ecobee’s newest and fanciest thermostat and came to a surprising conclusion. In our IoT Podcast Hotline we answer a question from someone who is switching to HomeKit.

Image courtesy of iRobot.

Our guest this week is Ron Rock, CEO and co-founder of Microshare.io, who discusses why his company started building pre-packaged IoT solutions and selling the data, as opposed to trying for some horizontal IoT platform. He also talks about the next big use cases for enterprise IoT after COVID. First up is figuring out how to best use corporate real estate in a hybrid work environment and how to rightsize corporate real estate holdings post-pandemic. His third use case is my favorite. He talks about why ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) demands are driving companies to adopt IoT solutions across a wide variety of use cases and industries. We end with a bit of conversation about new building standards and how he expects those standards to develop in the next three to five years. It’s a fun show.

Host: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Ron Rock, CEO and co-founder of Microshare.io
Sponsors: LoRaWAN World Expo and InfluxData

  • Why iRobot could turn the smart home into a robot
  • The IoT satellite consolidation is here
  • Who should buy Arm? Everyone.
  • COVID drove enterprise IoT spending, but what’s next?
  • All your pre-2020 occupancy data is worthless now

Episode 372: Ecobee embraces radar sensors!

Did y’all know that almost a quarter of people who buy a smart home device, hire a professional to install it? That’s just one of the facts I learned at the Parks Associates event happening this week in Dallas. We talk about that before focusing on Google’s plans for Matter and SmartThings new Matter testing program. After that we talk about Ecobee’s new thermostats and a HomeKit sensor that uses millimeter wave sensing. In enterprise news, we mention a new real-time asset tracking network service from MachineQ, sub-$2 battery-powered Bluetooth tags from Wiliot, and LoRaWAN getting IPv6 functionality. We close with a review of Eve’s new outdoor camera, and a reminder to stay safe if you’re going to handle smart home installs yourself. In our hotline segment, we answer a listener’s question about moving from Alexa to HomeKit, and finding a garage door opener that works.

Image courtesy of Samsung.

Our guest this week is Stuart Lombard, the CEO of Ecobee and president of Generac connected devices. In our interview we dig into the new thermostats’ industrial design and why Ecobee replaced its PIR sensor with radar. Lombard also explains why services are essential for smart home providers and what Matter may do for the creation of new home services. We end with a discussion of Generac’s acquisition and why the combination of Ecobee and an energy storage and resiliency company makes sense. He didn’t share any specific products but he also gave us a hint about what to expect from the two companies going forward. Enjoy the show.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Stuart Lombard, the CEO of Ecobee and president of Generac connected devices
Sponsors: LoRaWAN World Expo and InfluxData

  • Google’s preparations for Matter includes two new SDKs
  • Cheap Bluetooth tags are about to be everywhere
  • Eve’s outdoor camera for HomeKit a good choice
  • Why radar is better for people sensing
  • How smart homes will lead to energy resiliency

Episode 371: Smart screws and massive IoT

This week’s show was recorded a few hours before the annual Google I/O event so we didn’t discuss the new Pixel Watch, but we do discuss Google’s thoughts on the Matter smart home standard from an article in The Verge, which Kevin also tied to a discussion about Sonos launching its own voice assistant. Then we discussed a new gesture-recognition and fall-detection system that combines my love of Tiny ML with RF sensing. In privacy news, we focused on the use of private data by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and why we need stronger laws to govern how state agencies use private data. In smaller news, Qualcomm launched a 5G-capable robotics platform, Inmarsat launches a program to sell its Elera satellite IoT network, and Augury acquires Seebo in an industrial IoT deal. We then turn to my favorite story of the week, the creation of smart screws and a bit on the concepts of Massive IoT. We then discuss a question from a listener about the potential to create ad-hoc mesh networks using LoRaWAN or Amazon’s Sidewalk network.

Vivint’s new doorbell camera will detect package thefts and sound an alarm when it happens. Image courtesy of Vivint.

Our guest this week is Mike Child, VP of Product Management at Vivint. This week, Vivint launched an array of new security cameras and accessories as well as a new feature called smart deter. Child is on the show to talk about the design decisions that went into building the new gear as well as what Vivint had to consider when trying to design its smart deter feature. We discuss why it’s important to own your own hardware when building novel AI-based services and what companies need to consider when evaluating partners for future integrations. He also explains why Vivint wasn’t ready to give consumers the ability to record just any message for intruders on their property. Enjoy the show.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Mike Child, VP of Product Management at Vivint
Sponsors: LoRaWAN World Expo and InfluxData

  • Google and others trying to reset expectations for Matter
  • Why this industrial IoT mashup makes sense
  • Smart screws are why we need tech for massive IoT
  • Why Vivint invested in an AI feature to deter criminals
  • Why building your own hardware is essential for advanced AI features

Episode 370: How to build the infrastructure for public tech

This week’s show kicks off with research suggesting Amazon uses data from Alexa devices to advertise its own products, and that Amazon is selling some of the insights derived from Alexa requests to third parties. This is disturbing, but so is John Deere’s ability to decommission tractors stolen by Russians from a Ukraine dealership. We talk about why this sort of power makes me nervous. And in a final story about digital rights, we discuss the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention buying location data from private companies so it can see how effective some of its COVID policies were. From there we go into basic product news, starting with new wellness features coming to your Google Nest Hub screen ahead of Google I/O next week, a new room sensor from Wyze, new light switches from Leviton that don’t require a neutral wire, and new Wi-Fi 7 chips from Qualcomm. Kevin then shares a new smart home purchase and his thoughts on the Schlage Encode Plus with Home Key door lock. We finish by answering a listener’s question about if we’ll get a custom sound detection from Amazon’s Alexa.

The Wyze room sensor has a screen, and tracks temperature, humidity and motion. Image courtesy of Wyze.

Our guest this week is Bianca Wylie, who is a partner with Digital Public, a public interest firm focused on technology. She wrote an article calling for the end of Canada’s COVID contact tracing application and explains why she thinks it’s time to sunset the app. I think her ideas are important to discuss as our governments invest in digital infrastructure without necessarily having a plan for maintaining or auditing it. The COVID-tracking apps are a great case study that we can learn from. For example, when governments implement new technology they need to figure out how they plan to maintain it and ensure that it is doing the job it was intended to do. As citizens, we need to participate in the process of buying technology, working with government officials to set the requirements and limitations of the tech our government is buying. This is a really good interview for all of us to listen to.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Bianca Wylie
Sponsors: Impinj and InfluxData

  • Amazon is selling Alexa voice data to advertisers
  • We need to classify more data as Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
  • Wi-Fi 7 chips are here but don’t upgrade your network
  • What’s wrong with Canada’s COVID contact-tracing app
  • Smart cities incur technical debt too