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 368: So long Insteon

This week we start the show with the end of Insteon, which is probably the biggest smart home story this week. We talked about what we know (which isn’t much) and why saving cloud-based smart home services is not as easy as escrowing code and hoping a community continues to support the product. In other bad business news, the company that purchased LIFX has hired a consulting firm to explore a possible sale. We also get an update on the total number of smart homes in Europe and the U.S. It’s more than I thought. In small product news, Wyze has a new door lock and Senet has expanded its partnership with Helium to expand its low-power wide-area network. We didn’t have a voicemail this week because we wanted to provide options for Insteon users who have been left out in the cold.

A three-gang Brilliant switch is $499.99, but it’s pretty powerful. Image courtesy of Brilliant.

Our guest this week is Aaron Emigh, CEO of Brilliant, who is on the show to discuss Brilliant’s plan to sell its smart home control system to DIYers, builders, and apartment owners. Brilliant makes a smart home control system that’s packed into a light switch with the lighting control, a screen, cameras, and microphones. Emigh shares why Brilliant exists and how it’s trying to meet the market’s need for smart home controls that are easier for the mainstream to work with. We also discuss business models, Matter, and the end of Insteon for an interview that covers a lot of the big issues associated with the smart home today.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Aaron Emigh, CEO of Brilliant
Sponsors: Impinj and InfluxData

  • Insteon is dead so what do you do?
  • What is happening at LIFX?
  • The chip shortage strikes the Helium network.
  • Why Brilliant teamed up with Resideo to combine the home’s OT and IT systems
  • What can other device companies learn from Insteon?

Episode 367: What do you want in a home robot?

In this week’s show we question whether or not we want Amazon’s Astro home robot after seeing a few reviews. We then note that Google has introduced gaze as signal to wake up Google Assistant, which is one of the first uses of gaze as a wake-up indicator for the smart home. Then we talk about wearables starting with a recollection from Eric Migicovsky, the founder of Pebble, about what went wrong ending up with Pebble’s assets sold to Fitbit. We compared the Pebble story to the latest funding for the Oura ring, and mentioned Fitbit’s new FDA-approved atrial fibrillation detection. Then we discuss smarter tags manufactured in a new Brazilian factory for Avery Denison before discussing two new options in air purifiers: one from Wyze and one containing a UV-filter from Xiaomi. In other product news, here’s a new smart grow lamp and watering system for houseplants and some smart trackers with a greener footprint. And for all of our Home Assistant fans, Kevin checks in on the platform after a one-year-hiatus. We close by answering a listener question about consolidating smart lights.

Amazon’s Astro robot roves around the home trying to be helpful. Image courtesy of Amazon.

Our guest this week is Dan Simpkins, CEO and co-founder of Dwellwell, a startup that aims to create a check-engine light for the smart home. Simpkins started the company in 2018 after experiencing a flood caused by frozen pipes, and realizing that many of the options available to monitor the home were too expensive and siloed. The solution he’s worked out is a SaaS product called Dwellwell that relies on custom-sensors that contribute data to several algorithms to check on the health of several home systems. We discuss how it works, why he chose to go after the multi-family and rental market and why he needs to use his own sensors. We also discuss the role Matter will play in the smart home and eventually, his platform. Enjoy the show.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Dan Simpkins, CEO of Dwellwell
Sponsors: Impinj and InfluxData

  • Is your home robot ready?
  • What we’ve learned in a decade of wearables
  • Home Assistant’s worth another look
  • Why companies should base their AI on their own sensors
  • How Dwellwell rethinks traditional maintenance devices