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 389: Is Matter ready for its close up?

I’m in Austin this week, for Silicon Labs’ Works With event, and while there I hosted a panel that provided a good sense of what is going to happen with the Matter smart home interoperability protocol. I think Kevin is a bit more optimistic than I am. We also got some small updates on Amazon’s Sidewalk Network plans, which we discuss. After that, we talk about some news from Silicon Labs, and why folks in the IoT should keep an eye on Apple’s satellite plans. Then we talk about Lutron’s new smart paddle switch and dimmer that will fit right into existing home decor as well as how long certain device lifespans should be in the wake of Eero canceling support for its first-generation mesh routers. We then look at what is likely the next-generation wired Nest Hello doorbells, and look at some new resources for mapping out smart building capabilities before discussing funding for industrial IoT middleware provider Litmus Automation. We end by answering a listener’s question about smart smoke alarms and sending notifications to a phone.

The new Diva paddle switch and dimmer. Image courtesy of Lutron.

Our guest this week is Prashant Kanhere, the CTO of PayRange. PayRange provides a Bluetooth-based module that installs on a vending machine, washing machine, or pool table and replaces coin payments with electronic payments. I’ve followed this company for years and was stoked to see they had half a million devices under management now. With that scale, the company has figured out how to monitor those devices and how to update their firmware over tiny sips of connectivity. It’s a process that could come in handy for other IoT devices on low data-rate networks that need security or feature updates. We also discuss how the app works and the future of smart pool tables for a bit of fun. Enjoy the show.

Host: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Prashant Kanhere, the CTO of PayRange
Sponsors:  Infineon and Silicon Labs

  • Matter may be too little, too late
  • The IoT should keep an eye on Apple’s satellite ambitions
  • Lutron’s new switch will fit right in
  • Dynamic pricing could come for commercial laundromats
  • Smart pool tables are in the future

Episode 388: Insurers come for the smart home

This week launched with a bang for those interested in the role insurers might play in the smart home as State Farm agreed to make a 1.2 billion equity investment in security firm ADT. This follows on the heels of Google’s equity investment in ADT in 2020 and signals a shift in the way insurance companies are thinking about the smart home. Google also said it would add more money to its ADT partnership. We then discuss a Matter demonstration at IFA and give some updates on what to expect from the protocol. After that we discuss the upcoming Google event and the Apple event from this week before taking a quick break.

The Flair vents work with a temperature-sensing puck. Image courtesy of Flair.

We don’t have a guest this week so we dove right back into the news with a trio of big fundings for the internet of things. First up is funding for a satellite IoT company called OQ that is special because it can use existing NB-IoT and LTE-M radios. The second funding is $140 million for Morse Micro, a chip company that is making chips for Wi-Fi HaLow deployments. The final funding is for Flair, a maker of connected HVAC vents for the home, which raised $7.6 million. We then talk about Ring adding end-to-end encryption for its wireless doorbell and video camera products, new ways to address your Nest Hub Max without saying “Hey Google” first, and new lights from Philips Hue. I also review the Hue Tap Dial Switch and realize my love of buttons is going to force me to do some serious work when Matter arrives. We end the show by answering a listener question about a smart button (or maybe a dumb one) for a smart garage door opener.

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

  • With the smart home, insurers can make sure you’re staying secure
  • Matter previewed at IFA
  • Wi-Fi HaLow got a big boost with Morse Micro funding
  • Climate change and energy conservation is driving smarter HVAC
  • I really love the Hue Tap Dial Switch

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 386: We question Nova Labs’ 5G deal

Nova Labs, the company behind the decentralized Helium IoT network, has acquired FreedomFi, a company trying to build a decentralized 5G network. Kevin and I share our doubts about the value of a decentralized 5G network and question how this might work before moving on to discuss an array of security news. We start with the latest report on OT security from cybersecurity firm Claroty before sharing research on air-gapped networks bypasses with lights and sound. We end with a story about Amazon patching Ring apps on Android devices and my hope of a new tool that could make it easy to monitor devices that might invade your privacy. We also talk about a new wearable that tracks mood, Kevin’s frustration with devices, Nordic Semiconductor’s foray into Wi-Fi chips, Chamberlain’s reversal of HomeKit support, and InfluxDB announcing native connectors for MQTT. We end the show by answering a listener question about NovaLabs and its 5G plans.

The Happy Ring will track your moods and is only available via a subscription. Image courtesy of Happy Health.

Our guest this week is Josh Corman, who returns to the show to discuss his work at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (he just joined Claroty as vice president of cyber safety strategy). Infrastructure in the U.S. and in many other countries has become increasingly attractive to hackers seeking ransoms or more serious disruption. Whether it’s someone hoping for profits or a nation-state, Corman points out some of the easiest and most effective steps an entity can take, even if that organization doesn’t have a formal cybersecurity program — or the budget for one.  He starts with the Bad Practices list from CISA that states organizations should avoid hard-coded passwords, establish multi-factor authentication and to avoid using software that has reached its end of life. We also discuss an easy effort to get your Stuff off Search, a program that helps any IT person suss out open ports on popular search sites such as Shodan, Censys and Thingful. It’s so easy I can do it.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Josh Corman, Founder, I am The Cavalry and VP Cyber Safety Strategy at Claroty
Sponsors: Silicon Labs and Impinj

  • We have big concerns about a decentralized 5G network’s viability
  • More vulnerabilities are showing up in firmware
  • Here’s a mood ring for the 21st century
  • We need to get more companies to do the bare minimum for cybersecurity
  • How to get your stuff off search and start securing your network

Episode 385: Google Cloud kills IoT Core and hearing aids get smart

This week’s show kicks off with a whispered bang that Kevin will soon hear, thanks to the FDA approving over-the-counter hearing aids. We talk about what happened and what it means for innovation in wearables before then tackling Google killing off its Google Cloud IoT Core service that manages device data and connects that data to Google’s Cloud Platform. Then we turn to security news including a John Deere hack shared at Defcon last week and an “Evil PLC” attack that affects industrial controllers from all major vendors. The smart home also gets a cool project called Fluid One that will create a network of ultra wideband sensors in a home which then lets you control devices by pointing a phone in their direction. With Omdia stating that this year there will be 2 billion smart home devices globally, we should figure out easier ways to control them. Finally, we talk about research that lets you power wearable sensors with sweat. It’s gross, but also really useful. We end the show by answering a listener question about continuous video recording on Apple’s HomeKit Secure Video.

Hearing aids can now be sold over the counter, which should lower costs and drive more innovation.

Our guest this week is Chris Albrecht, the founder and editor of Ottomate, a newsletter dedicated to food robotics. We talk about where you’re likely to see food robots first, and what they might look like. He then discusses how many places that already have robots serving diners and frying their food. Plus, we get a glimpse of a future food court comprised of meal-making vending machines that could line the lobby of a hotel, providing hot food even if the hotel doesn’t offer room service. And of course, we talk about delivery robots and how inefficient it is to use a two-ton vehicle to deliver two tacos. Our automated world of food delivery and cooking awaits us, and I’m honestly eager to see it. Enjoy the show.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Chris Albrecht, founder and editor of Ottomate.news
Sponsors: Silicon Labs and Impinj

  • We’re excited for more innovation in hearing aids.
  • Our favorite hacks from Defcon.
  • Powering wearables could become a sweaty business.
  • All the places food vending machines could thrive.
  • Where is my robot delivery driver, and how far might it travel?

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 383: Meet Insteon’s new CEO

Last week, we kicked off the podcast with a discussion on the Helium peer-to-peer IoT network, and this week we did the same thing. This time we dug into the disclosures that Helium didn’t actually have Lime or Salesforce.com as current customers, despite having listed them prominently on its web site. Nova Labs CEO Amir Haleem tried to explain what happened in a Twitter thread, but since the crypto industry is full of scammers, it feels like a company should aspite to higher levels of integrity. Then we discuss the planned Semtech acquisition of Sierra Wireless and explain what it might mean for LoRaWAN. Then we talk about the creation of a new connectivity and hardware company thanks to the combination of Telit and Thales’ connectivity business. From there we highlight the mailbox of the future, some cool battery tech, a secret Google device, a broken Google integration and ADT’s Google partnership. Then we note that Home Assistant’s latest hardware option, the Home Assistant Yellow is now shipping to early buyers, and discuss a smart scarf deployed by a UK soccer team to measure fans’ feelings during a match. We end by answering a listener question about how to track their laundry in the wake of Smart Dry’s closure.

The new Dronedek mailbox has a section for postal delivery and a climate-controlled chamber for food delivered via drone. Image courtesy of Dronedek.

Our guest this week is Ken Fairbanks, the CEO of Insteon Technologies Inc. who is ready to share what happened between the end of Insteon in April and his acquisition of the assets in June. He also discloses what comes next for the new Insteon and explains why customers were caught off guard by the abrupt closure and the equally abrupt return of service for their hubs. Fairbanks is still trying to piece together the assets he purchased, but is also trying to talk to users about what they want to see for the smart home service. He also explains why he had to charge a subscription and how he plans to move forward. If you’re an Insteon customer take a listen, and if you are smart home user you might learn why it’s so hard to restart a dying connected home business.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Ken Fairbanks, the CEO of Insteon Technologies Inc.
Sponsors: Silicon Labs and Impinj

  • Who’s using the Helium network?
  • Two big mergers in industrial and enterprise IoT
  • Good news from Google and some bad news from Google
  • Behind the scenes during the Insteon sale
  • Insteon has plans for 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 381: Alexa and Qualcomm embrace ambient tech

This week’s show kicks off with our discussion of several announcements from Amazon’s Alexa Live developers’ conference held Wednesday. Alexa is getting several features as part of the launch of the Matter smart home interoperability protocol that should launch in the fall. For example, users will be able to name a device once and put it in a group and that nomenclature will work across Alexa, manufacturer apps, and other controllers such as Google Home or Apple’s Siri. Amazon also shared new ways for developers to access context in the home thanks to its new Ambient Home Dev Kit and new ways for developers to build Routines for Alexa. Also ahead of Matter, Thread is getting an update, so Kevin and I explain what that entails before turning to Qualcomm’s new wearables chip.

The Google Glass AR prototype. Image courtesy of Google.

One of the keywords for Qualcomm’s new wearable platform is ambient, as the chipmaker has moved several features to a low-power always-on processor to ensure that smart watches built using the platform have always-on sensing, wake-word detection, and a nice display without compromising on battery life. Then we talk about FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s inquiry into data-gathering and sharing practices by cell phone providers, especially when it comes to location data. We also discuss Google’s new plans for AR glasses, using the IoT to detect forest fires, and yet another security flaw. This time it’s in a GPS tracker from a Chinese provider. We also say goodbye to Microsoft’s Sam George who retired from his role leading Microsoft Azure IoT. We end by answering a listener question about tracking the temperature of a fish pond.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Sponsors: InfluxData and Intent

  • With new features Alexa is a smarter brain for the smart home
  • Thread’s getting an update ahead of Matter
  • Qualcomm’s wearable chip is better late than never
  • The FCC wants to know what carriers want with your location
  • Google’s new glasses respect the camera shy