Episode 401: Two big smart home deals explained

The end of the year is a busy time for M&A as companies rush to get deals done before the start of a new tax year, and this week the smart home sector saw Assa Abloy sell its Yale and August smart lock and some other brands to Fortune Brands for $800 million. We explain why the deal happened and why we can blame Matter and the DoJ for the sale. Then we discuss NRG Energy’s $2.8 billion planned acquisition of Vivint, and why it is a big signal for the future of energy management as part of the smart home.  Fundings also happen ahead of the new years, and Phlux Technologies, which makes infrared sensors and Reach, a company building wireless over-the-air power transmitters both scored venture capital this week. In smart home news, we discuss a new mixer from GE that’s super smart and super pricey, and Samsung’s plans for CES this year. In security news, there’s a new botnet out there to worry about. And for developers, there’s a new $200 kit from Swarm that provides satellite connectivity. Finally, we answer a listener question about Matter and local control.

The GE Profile mixer is smart, but expensive. Image courtesy of Crate and Barrel.

Our guest this week is Cathy Pearl, a conversation designer at Google and the author of the O’Reilly book Designing Voice User Interfaces. We discuss the history of voice interactions and what changed to make Amazon’s Alexa such an innovation. We also discuss how voice can help make technology less complicated, what type of conversations people want from a voice interface and how voice also drives accessibility. Then we discuss the ethics of creating voice companions for lonely people and a time that Pearl was stuck at an airport talking to a chatbot for 20 minutes. We then end after I ask if voice is going anywhere after the upheavals in Amazon’s Alexa business. Her answer will not surprise you. Enjoy the show.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Cathy Pearl, a conversation designer at Google
Sponsors: Arm and Silicon Labs

  • Assa Abloy slams the door on Yale and August brands
  • Why NRG wants to buy Vivint
  • Using antimony to make more accurate LiDAR
  • How context dictates what we want to say and hear
  • Can digital assistants provide companionship?

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 391: Amazon’s turning Alexa into the brains of the home

This week’s show focuses on Amazon’s new devices and services launched Wednesday. Kevin and I talk about Amazon’s direction with Alexa as the manager of your life. We also gawp at the price iRobot is charging for its latest iteration of the Roomba robotic vacuum, although Kevin convinces me it’s not too crazy. Then we move into a discussion of the energy grid, sharing data from Itron on how utilities are thinking about the future electric grid, and how a partnership between Itron and Samsung SmartThings is an example of long-term thinking. Then I talk about the latest reporting from Forbes on Helium, and apologize for not being more wary about the chicanery that went on in the beginning by Helium’s executives. We then talk about my experience with the latest Yale lock. We end by answering a listener question about Ecobee thermostats that start heating or cooling before you intended.

The new Roomba is both a vacuum and mop. Image courtesy of iRobot.

Our guest this week is Elizabeth Parks, president and CMO of Parks Associates, a research firm focused on emerging technologies. Parks discusses how COVID changed the home security market as well as how monitored security providers have moved downmarket while DIY security companies have expanded upward into offering monitored security. All of this jostling has expanded the overall market. We also talk about the coming demand for energy management services as well as trends in new home building. Expect more connected devices! We end with a quick overview of what to expect from the CEDIA Expo happening this week in Dallas. It’s a fun conversation.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Elizabeth Parks of Parks Associates
Sponsors: Nordic Semiconductor and Firewalla

  • Amazon’s home robot is really Alexa
  • Why energy is becoming a hot topic in the smart home
  • A mea culpa on Helium
  • The security market is expanding thanks to the smart home
  • What to expect from CEDIA

 

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

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 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

Episode 369: Amazon’s $1B industrial IoT fund

We kick off the show this week with Insteon’s comments about its abrupt closure and asset sale before trying to salvage some good news from Arm’s latest chip news. We’re getting a new M-class processor that’s going to be super capable for machine learning at the edge and other jobs. We also give you a preview of next year’s hottest tech, wireless charging for smart home devices. Then we pivot to industrial news with Amazon’s newly announced $1 billion fund for industrial innovation. So far Amazon is investing in computer vision and robotics startups, but warehouse automation, supply chain technology and logistics are all of interest for the fund. Amazon also released a new Alexa talent for the smart home, Sense raised $105 million for smarter home energy monitoring and Wyze introduced a garage door controller. We close out the news with a found Pixel watch, an update on the Sigfox sale, and Kevin reviewing an Airthings View Pollution air quality monitor. On the hotline this week we answer a question about a HomeKit hub that’s stuck in standby mode.

Wireless charging is coming to Belkin devices. Image courtesy of Wi-Charge.

Our guest this week is Willem Sundblad, CEO of Oden Technologies. Oden Technologies is an industrial IoT startup that tries to bridge the gap between operational technology data and IT data. We discuss how its clients are using the software to help track the quality of their batch processes, and how software is helping its customers with supply chain challenges and sustainability goals. Paper manufacturing and plastics companies are facing issues getting enough raw materials with supply chains mucked up, and so are trying to use more recycled materials. But changing inputs means adjusting the process, which can be difficult and lead to poor yields while the manufacturer adjusts the recipe. Oden’s customers are able to tweak their processes for new inputs faster and without as much waste, which is something to be excited about. It’s one of the things I had hoped the IoT was going to enable, and I’m glad to see it happening.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Willem Sundblad, CEO of Oden Technologies
Sponsors: Impinj and InfluxData

  • Insteon’s final goodbye is pretty frustrating
  • Alexa has a new talent and is going to share it with Google Nest devices
  • This $200 air quality monitor does too little for so much
  • Industrial IoT software can help with sustainability goals
  • More data can lead to more confident plant operators

Episode 352: As Alexa goes, so does the smart home?

We’re back after a one-week break in the Internet of Things Podcast, and we didn’t miss too much. The biggest stories of this show are the slow collapse of CES 2022 and a Bloomberg article that uses internal Amazon documents to show how Alexa growth has stagnated and illustrates the hopes Amazon has for its smart speakers. We also talk about Alexa’s unfortunate suggestion to a 10-year-old looking for a challenge. After that, we discuss a survey related to edge computing from Zededa after we explain what edge computing means for different folks. Then, in smaller news, we highlight Level Lock’s new keypad, a smart ring, sales data on connected appliances, and my review of the Fi collar. We close out the news portions of the show by answering a listener question about why he can’t find Wi-Fi motion sensors anywhere.

The Level keypad fulfills an essential need for people who don’t carry a smartphone — or their keys. Image courtesy of Level.

Our guest this week is Raoul Wijgergangs CEO of EnOcean. Wijergangs joined EnOcean in August to help the maker of energy-harvesting IoT devices expand into building management with a focus on sustainability. In the interview, Wijergangs talks about what he’s learned from his efforts building out the Z-wave standard, and how he’s trying to apply an ecosystems approach to making buildings smarter. We also talk about the challenges of designing energy-harvesting sensors and what new energy harvesting technologies might become available. It’s a fun interview.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Raoul Wijgergangs CEO of EnOcean
Sponsors: Twilio and Silicon Labs

  • I’m no longer going to CES, and I’m not alone.
  • Alexa and the smart home are stagnant.
  • I love keypads with my smart locks.
  • Sustainable buildings should be smart and need middleware to get there.
  • New polymers might drive the next generation of energy harvesting devices.

Episode 344: Energy harvesting sensors are finally real

This week’s show kicks off with news from many of the big smart home players offering their plans for the Matter smart home protocol. First, we discuss Google’s plans, before focusing on Samsung’s latest announcements and then a surprise update from Eero, which is owned by Amazon. Sticking with Amazon, we also cover the news that Alexa is now employed in hospitals and senior living facilities. We cover industrial IoT sensor provider Augury’s $180 million round of funding, and a new report from Palo Alto Networks on how remote working and IoT devices have compromised enterprise security before heading into some news from Amazon, Aqara, Inmarsat, and two retailers removing Chinese cameras from their shelves. Finally, we answer a listener question about a switch for LIFX lighting without a neutral wire.

Alexa is heading to senior living facilities and hospitals. Image courtesy of Amazon.

Our guest this week is Steve Statler, the senior vice president of marketing at Wiliot, a company that had been making Bluetooth beacons that don’t require batteries. Now the company offers sensing as a service and licenses its chip technology. Statler explains the shift and discusses how Wiliot had to build up a web of relationships to make the sensing-as-a-service option possible. We also discuss how smart Bluetooth tags can create what Statler calls the demand chain to track products on an individual level and ensure supply meets demand based on reality instead of estimates. Statler also talks about how to make the tags recyclable, and what he still needs to make that happen. It’s a fun interview for people who have high hopes for smart labels, and who want a glimpse of the future where items in your fridge or closet may communicate with you after you’ve purchased them.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Steve Statler, Wiliot
Sponsors: Very

  • More support for Matter (and more questions too)
  • Alexa now has a role in senior living facilities and hospitals
  • Augury’s sensors have saved Colgate-Palmolive a lot of tubes of toothpaste
  • Why Wiliot switched from selling chips to selling a service
  • Do we want our clothes to ask us why we haven’t worn them in a while?

 

Episode 343: Return of the connected bunny!

We kick off this week’s podcast with a focus on chips and hardware starting with an explainer on Arm’s new Total Solutions for IoT and why it will help developers and device makers speed up time-to-market for connected products. We then talk about plans to put Linux on Arduino devices that were outed in a release from Foundries.io and plans for scalable ways to provision and secure connected devices at the manufacturing stage from Infineon. We skipped over to Amazon’s new Alexa Connect Kit SDK and what it means before tackling the new colors for Apple’s HomePod mini and a hew Apple hire. In smaller news, we discuss Tesla’s insurance plans, Wyze’s new battery-enabled doorbell, and why I should have purchased a Pixel 6 Pro, despite its giant size. We then share a crowdfunding campaign designed to bring one of the original connected devices of yesteryear back to life. Click here to resurrect your Nabaztag connected bunny. Finally, we talk about your responses to our question from the IoT Podcast Hotline related to connected devices for workshops.

The Nabaztag bunny gets resurrected. Image courtesy of Olivier Mével.

Our guest this week is John Cowan, co-founder and CEO of EDJX, a company building out a distributed software platform for developers. We start off talking about a new project EDJX is implementing with the military at Camp Mabry in Austin. We talk about the necessary hardware for sensor deployments in cities and how those might become the new infrastructure for edge computing. Cowan then explains why containers aren’t the correct match for a highly distributed computing platform at scale, and how serverless solutions can help answer this need. We discuss compute, networking and databases, so prepare to get nerdy. Enjoy the show.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: John Cowan, co-founder and CEO of EDJX
Sponsors: Very

  • Details on Arm’s plans to help the IoT
  • Amazon’s new SDK takes Alexa to more hardware
  • Bring a vintage IoT bunny back from the dead
  • Why the military needs low-latency edge computing today
  • How EDJX thinks about data decay and assurance