The Power of Voice Control

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

Controlling a smart home is primarily focused on being able to do things as quickly as possible. Sorting through various apps for different buttons to control smart devices is cumbersome and time consuming. While it is still nice to have the ability to control devices from a smart phone, advancements in voice recognition have made voice control a more accessible convenience. Not only do users have the luxury of not having to navigate through their phones, the time it takes to complete a task is significantly reduced.

Voice control is the vehicle that will allow the smart home industry to thrive. When it boils down to it, clicking a button on a phone is not much faster than clicking a button on a device. This is especially true if the user is trying to complete a more complex task. In a Digital Trends article, the potential of voice control is explained, “Being able to issue these really complex requests that you could never really emulate using traditional input modalities, that’s where speech and language on the TV is providing tremendous value.” Utilizing voice commands enable users to find solutions to complex problems in a way that is extremely simple to navigate.

The convenience voice control brings to users is unparalleled by touch controls, making it a central part of future smart home infrastructure. Even though the power of voice commands is undeniable, it is not at the point where it can give users enough control over their homes without a mobile control device. This may not be the case in a couple years, as voice recognition continues to improve, but for now, voice controls should be coupled with some other physical/visual interface.

The current status of voice control can be observed within current smart home technology. With Amazon Echo, there isn’t a touch interface, so the user has to rely on voice commands. When it comes to asking Alexa to do something such as search the web, the user doesn’t have the control to browse through their options; they have to trust that Alexa is optimized to fit their needs at that point in time. Apple HomeKit has the voice assistant Siri, who can take the voice command and present the user with their options. They can then select the option tailored to their preferences with the touch controls on a mobile device. These smart home platforms are both powerful, but Apple HomeKit is better equipped to deal with the transition to voice control as the primary tool for home control.

Advancements in voice recognition have placed voice control at the forefront of innovation within the smart home industry. This technology is not perfect at its current stage, but it is something that will make consumers more satisfied and willing to invest in internet-enabled devices. The continual improvements to voice control technology will allow for speech-oriented commands to be the main interface for smart home control in the coming years.

Top Tech Gadgets for Back-to-School and College

The relaxing days of summer vacation are coming to an end, meaning it is time to start thinking about going back to school. Students across the country are scrambling to gather all of the school supplies necessary to get them through the year. That being said, incorporating some of the latest technology into a back-to-school shopping budget will help make the school year significantly easier for students. Whether it is a laptop, a smartphone, or some other smart device, technology can simplify everyday tasks and organization, helping students have the successful school year they deserve.

The Smart Outlet is one of the innovative technological devices that students should make sure they add to their arsenal of back-to-school supplies. Whether it is a college dorm or apartment, having control over lights and outlets from the touch of a button on a smartphone will make life so much easier. The ConnectSense Smart Outlet has two internet-enabled electrical sockets that enable users to be able to control any device that is plugged into it with Siri voice commands. This device can control any device, such as a fan or light, allowing students to be able to relax after a long day of class as they have complete control over their electronics from their phone. The Smart Outlet is one of the best technological devices for students wanting to prevail in their academic journey.

Read the full article: http://www.nbcnews.com/tech/gadgets/top-tech-gadgets-back-school-college-n625346

Meet the Smart Home: What the Jetsons got wrong…

The annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference is place where visionaries of the technology industry share their insight on a wide range of perplexing ideas. The topics that will be discussed during this intellectually inspiring conference are being selected now through a panel of voters in order to prepare for SXSW, which will be taking place in the spring of 2017. Vice President of Grid Connect, Adam Justice, has submitted a proposal to speak at this conference with the assistance of Richard Gunther, the Director of Client Experience at Universal Mind.

The proposed topic is geared around the infrastructure of the smart home industry; where it is today, where it will be in the coming years, and what technology will enhance the market itself. Justice and Gunther plan to explore the way the smart home has been portrayed by the entertainment industry throughout history, and then compare that to what the smart home actually looks like today. The inaccurate preconceptions of the smart home’s capabilities will finally be brought to light, allowing for a more precise prediction of how the Internet of Things (IoT) will propel the industry and turn this visionary’s dream into a consumer’s reality. This will be a very intriguing presentation as the complex state of the industry will be dissected by a couple of the smart home industry’s thought-leaders.

In order to show support for Grid Connect and vote for this exciting topic to be presented at SXSW, simply click on the link below. Once on the website, it takes a matter of seconds to register an account, then a vote can be casted by clicking the thumbs-up button. We appreciate the support!

VOTE HERE: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/66706

IoT and Networking

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer/Marketing

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been revolutionary in changing the way consumers interact with the technological devices in their lives. The amount of users with IoT devices in their homes, cars, and even on their bodies is also growing at an increasing rate. It is clear that IoT technology is heavily integrated into the lives of many consumers. That being said, there has been a lot of media coverage regarding the security of these devices.

Security in modern technological devices is a critical feature and a very big concern for consumers due to the threat of being hacked. Properly encrypting IoT devices is very important because very personal information can be accessed through IoT devices. In addition to simply losing personal information, the physical safety of consumers is at risk. An example of this can be found in the 2014 Jeep incident. Hackers were able to infiltrate a Jeep Cherokee via the internet in order to send commands to the car’s entertainment system, brakes, steering, and even the transmission. Despite the fact that this happened a couple of years ago, the technology is still under the same risk of being hacked. Even the FBI has intervened and has begun to warn any car makers and owners that vehicles with high levels of internet access have an increased risk of being hacked. 

These security issues aren’t just affecting cars; these problems can be observed in a variety of other Internet-enabled devices. Another example is how connected baby monitors and other home monitoring devices are being tapped into by hackers, allowing them to see if anyone is home. Essentially any IoT device can be breached and used in an unintended way if proper security measures aren’t taken. When valuable data is at risk, security should be a bigger concern for manufacturers. The current and common culture among IoT companies is to release devices to this public with minimum protective measures in order to be the first to the market. Not all companies are a part of this culture, but a large portion of them contribute to these security issues. It’s not an issue of developers being unfamiliar with the intricacy of this high-end technology, it’s an issue of not taking the extra time to implement adequate security measures.

It is clear that having impeccable security features will benefit the consumer and the manufacturer in the long run. The invasive nature of IoT technology leaves the user very vulnerable to breaches in safety and security. The manufacturers should be responsible for monitoring the activity of their devices and determining how to block suspicious activity once the product is released. However, if security systems were developed in entirety before a device is released, these extra measures wouldn’t be as necessary. As IoT technology continues to become a bigger part of the lives of the consumers, it will be vital to our safety that a higher standard of security is implemented.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is continuing to grow at a rapid pace as more devices are becoming connected. However, the IoT is rendered useless without a system of networking to support it. As WiFi-enabled devices increase in popularity, the demand for networking will expand substantially. IoT-based technology is disrupting the current networking market due to vast amount of data that is collected and the quantity of devices connected to the Internet. Companies will be expected to have extremely efficient networks that will allow for real time analysis. In addition to this, simply having faster internet speeds and creating more access points is essential in supporting the rise of IoT devices.

One of the developing applications of IoT devices is found within the smart home. Some smart technology devices require extremely fast networks. When using multiple devices, it is critical to have a network that will enable the connectivity of all devices. The IoT enabled ConnectSense sensors and Smart Outlet rely on networking to enable machine-to-machine communication. Your ConnectSense products collect data through this communication in order to provide you with accurate and efficient analysis. Improving the ConnectSense cloud is one of the ways Grid Connect is able to help you adapt to the implementation of IoT devices in your home. Having a network that can sustain the connection of multiple devices is very important. Additional actions that can be taken in order to create a more efficient network are constructing quicker router speeds, ensuring that the WiFi is able to be accessed everywhere in the home, and creating an in-home network that can sustain multiple connections.

A strong network is essential for the use of various IoT products, whether it’s a smart home device, a piece of wearable technology, or even if it’s for an industrial application. Gateways, routers, and other networking devices can help improve networking abilities in order to support the demanding nature of connected and data driven devices. Finding a perfect network configuration will compensate for whatever quantity of data your IoT devices are bringing in.

It is clear that the impact the IoT is having on networking is only going to expand as the demand for a more connected and efficient world continues to increase. Having quality control of networks will allow for an improved customer experience.  Creating networks that can handle a great deal of traffic and data will allow you to be prepared for the IoT’s disruption of the networking market.

A Smart House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

At the WindyCityThings conference this year, the Vice President of Grid Connect, Adam Justice, spoke on the current standards in the Internet of Things (IoT) world. The amount IoT devices are estimated to increase to 25 billion by the year 2020. In the smart home space, there really needs to be some sort of established standard in order for that growth to happen and to have integration between devices. There has been rapid growth and expansion for these types of standards within the past couple of years. This isn’t only an issue at the consumer level, it is an issue for the industrial IoT as well.

In terms of IoT standards, the IoT is moving extremely quickly. So things that are discussion now will be totally different than the things in discussion a couple months from now. The issue is that every manufacturer is doing their own thing and moving along too quickly. Initially the solution for the smart home seemed to be through proprietary companies. This is essentially one company trying to do it all, such as Nest or SmartThings, but in reality it is very difficult for one company to do everything and have a hub at the center of the IoT.

Standards are extremely important for the IoT because it really allows us to have interoperability, and with interoperability comes adoption and increased functionality of the smart home. In addition to this, there would be an improved experience for consumers. At this point in time, the IoT operates with an app for every different product, so consumers need to have a folder or page on their phone with an assortment of apps that all do different things. Having a system like this isn’t really a better solution to the standard devices we have today. People often wonder “how is this any easier than just turning on the lights myself?” This is because sorting through pages of apps and finding individual devices can be a cumbersome task. In order for there to be widespread adoption, there needs to be better standards in place to help improve the user experience.

Another important thing to consider is that no individual company knows how to do everything well. The companies with hub solutions often fail because they are trying to do too many things at once. So even though they have a lot of the features people are looking for, each individual aspect isn’t up to par, thus reducing the overall user experience. Instead of using this method, there needs to be different companies that have expertise in their field, contributing something to a broader system. A great example of this would be a company like Chamberlain that knows garages. There is no reason that another smart home company should go out and try to make a new and better garage door opener because Chamberlain already knows how to do that well. So they can contribute with their MyQ system to the broader smart home ecosystem.

As far as standards go, there seems to be new organizations and standards created regularly. Standards are being adopted through all different layers of technology. There is an application layer, a networking layer, and plenty of other layers along these lines. With these layers, come standards such as security layer standards and cloud standards; there are plenty of opportunities for different standards in different areas. However, the one we will primarily focus on are the application layer standards.

One of the standards that has been around for a while now is one that is called Alljoyn, which was established by the AllSeen Alliance. AllJoyn is an application layer protocol dedicated to enabling the interoperability of IoT devices. It is supposed to make it easier for devices to communicate, getting deeper into the networking layer, focusing on applications. This standard is primarily supported by Qualcomm, the Linux Foundation, Cisco, Microsoft, LG, and HTC. Some of the big pros for this is that its open source and internet access is not necessarily needed. It was created by Qualcomm and they seem to be heavily “driving the ship” and not really letting a lot of others contribute to it. This has been a standard that has been out for a while, but when examining the market, there aren’t really a lot of consumer products adopting it. So even if this is the best standard out there, if it doesn’t get adopted, it doesn’t do too much to help the industry.

Another popular standard is the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC), which was recently rebranded to the Open Connectivity Foundation. This is also an application layer protocol with the goal of interoperability. Major supporters of this are Intel, GE, Qualcomm, Microsoft, Dell, Samsung, and Cisco. A lot of these companies are the same companies that supported the AllJoyn standard. These companies are supporting different standards, hoping that they can be a part of which ever one wins out. This standard is open-source, so there is collaboration between all of its supporters. It’s still very early in development, they released the framework early in 2015. They seem to still be in the process of figuring out their purpose as well as their identity, that’s why there was a name change.

The next big standard can be found in Apple HomeKit; which Grid Connect is very familiar with as we have a product that supports HomeKit. This is a common network protocol that features end-to-end encryption. Similar to devices operating on iOS, security and privacy are at the center of this protocol as it is something that is very important to Apple. A couple key aspects of HomeKit are that it is very easy to set up, Siri voice control is built in, and there is one common app for controlling any and all devices. At Apple’s developer conference, WWDC 2016, they announced the Home app for iOS10 that will be used to control smart devices. They are still leaving it open for third party developers to develop common apps to control devices. This seems to be a great step forwards in terms of interoperability. It will be really important as we head more towards automation of the home. This means going beyond opening an app and just telling the voice assistant to turn on the lights or do something along those lines. Users have the ability to set up “if this then that” functions or even create scenes so that when they leave their home, automation can do something like turn off the lights, adjust the thermostat, and close the garage door. Joining Apples NFI program will provide anyone interested with more details.

Apple’s standard is being developed extremely quickly because they are the only ones working on developing this standard, unlike the previously discussed standards. That being said, this is only a great standard for iOS users. Those using Android and other platforms are essentially cut off from this standard. That being said, it does seem to have the most traction in comparison to other major smart home platforms. There have been a lot of HomeKit products introduced to the market thus far and there are a lot more coming soon.

The next thing to examine is the “Works with Nest” program, which has been around for a long time.  This is essentially reliant upon Nest as the center of home automation. Unlike HomeKit and some of these other standards, which are network layer communication. This is an API level, device to device integration, going towards the cloud. This doesn’t allow for connection between edge devices, internet is required to do anything. It seems to be pretty simple and easy to set up, which is why a lot of people integrate with it. However, those integrations don’t seem to be entirely useful as it’s more of a checkbox people want to checkoff to be in the smart home space. Since the Google acquisition of Nest, things seem to be a bit troublesome. There are some issues with the new CEO and things of that nature. It will be very interesting to see where this platform goes over time.

Another major platform on the Google side is called Brillo and Weave. Weave is Google’s answer to HomeKit. Brillo is essentially a stripped down version of Android, so it is a high horse power, computing intense platform. It doesn’t really belong on end devices as it is more for things like routers or something with a lot of computing power. Weave is a device to device protocol, so it includes cloud services and is very similar to HomeKit. It has one app, easy setup, and device to device integration. It looks as if it will be a really solid solution for Android, but it does appear to be a couple years behind HomeKit. Everyone at Google’s conference this year was waiting to hear more on Brillo/Weave, but the conference passed and there was no mention of it. So it appears to be in somewhat of a building mode, but they should not be counted out. One of the major ways people are going to choose their smart home ecosystem is going to based off of what they have in their pocket and what will work with that. Android has a huge market share and that is something that needs to be addressed, especially in comparison to what Apple is doing.