IoT

What exactly is a ‘smart’ device anyway?

, USA TODAY Published March 2, 2019

Not too long ago, maybe you remember, most at-home tasks were done by hand.

From vacuuming the carpet and cooking dinner to turning on the lights and adjusting the temperature in the room, all the day-to-day domestic drudgery required some degree of manual labor.

Those days are fleeting as the rapidly evolving tech industry continues to unveil new convenience contraptions that are triggered by sensors, computers, timers and the sound of our voices.

“Smart” this and “connected” that. Society has grown accustomed to using simplified tech lingo to describe the latest nifty devices, but have you ever stopped to think about what it all means?

It’s easy to use the terms smart and connected interchangeably, but the truth is they’re not exactly the same thing.

Here are the differences between these similar technology terms:

Connected vs. Smart

Stay informed: How a smart home works for you all day

In November 2014, Michael E. Porter, professor of business administration at Harvard, and James E. Heppelmann, CEO of computer software company PTC Inc., broke down the differences between connected and smart technologies in the Harvard Business Review.

Connected devices, as described by the duo, have ports, antennae and protocols that facilitate communication between a product and its operating environment.

Simply put, “a connected device can share data directly with other devices or over a network,” said Rick Kowalski, senior manager of Industry and Business Intelligence at the Consumer Technology Association. “The data transmission can be one way or two way.”

A simple door or window sensor that tracks the state of your home’s entryways is an example of a connected device, Kowalski said. These devices solely let you know if a window or door is ajar.

Smart tech, on the other hand, is often more complex. These gadgets contain sensors, microprocessors, data storage, controls, software, and, typically, an embedded operating system.

“Smart devices enable more than just connectivity,” said Kowalski. “A smart device typically has an operating system that will let you connect with other information services, entertainment services or apps.”

Take a smartphone, for example. Not only does the device allow you to browse the internet and make calls, but it also lets you connect to apps that unlock endless possibilities.

New rules: ‘Don’t call me before you text’ and other rules of the digital era

Some wireless home speakers are solely connected, allowing you to play music from your smartphone via Bluetooth connection, while others that can be controlled by, say, Amazon’s cloud-based voice assistant (Alexa) are considered smart.

“Speakers didn’t become ‘smart’ until they added digital assistants that gave us answers to our questions, access to our music services, and the ability to control our smart home devices,” Kowalski said.

USA TODAY Tech contributor Jennifer Jolly gave us a tour of a prototype of the smart homes of the future, called KB Home ProjeKt, which features moving walls, 400-plus smart appliances and much more. USA TODAY

Smart home vs connected home

Crossing wires: A smart home sounds like a great idea. So why is it still so complicated?

The terms smart home and connected home have evolved to be used interchangeably, Kowalski, a consumer tech expert, said.

A truly smart home is equipped with lighting, heating, or electronic devices that can be controlled remotely — as in when you’re away from your home — by a computer, tablet or smartphone.

Using the technology within the home, you can control and see what is going on in your house, even when you’re not there by using websites or apps on a smartphone, tablet or computer.

For instance, if you’re expecting a delivery while you’re away, you can install a home camera that allows you to check in on your front porch. That way you can see when your package arrives or interact with people who come to your door even when you’re away.

Smart thermostats are intelligent because they can make calculated decisions based on other system components, such as the owner’s previous room temperature adjustments, built-in algorithms, and sensors.

A breeze: Staying cool with my new learning thermostat

Smart TV vs Regular TV

Smart TV tracking features: How to turn them off if you want some privacy

There are two major differences between smart and non-smart televisions. Smart televisions can access the internet and they can be boosted with apps—just like a smartphone or tablet. “Dumb” or regular TVs aren’t manufactured with those capabilities.

Similar to regular TVs, however, smart ones come in many shapes and sizes and you can get an LCD or Plasma.

You used to have to connect a computer or laptop to a conventional TV if you wanted to access Internet-based content. Nowadays, thanks to third-party hardware devices like Google Chromecast, Apple TV and Roku, regular TVs can become smart-er.

Still, truly smart TVs have access to streaming services like Netflix and YouTube built in.

Internet of Things

Also known as IoT, it’s the umbrella term that refers to the connection of devices to the internet. These devices broadly encompass connected appliances, connected cars, wearable tech, smart health and fitness, security cameras, smart TVs, smart clothing, smart homes, smart cities and all of the services that are layered on top of those.

As the Internet of Things grows over the coming years, more devices will join that list.

Smart switch? Psh. Leviton wants to smarten up your whole breaker box

The newly cloud-connected Leviton Load Center features intelligent circuit breakers that you can control or monitor from your phone.
by  2019

Promising to bring your breaker box into the 21st century, Leviton introduced a new Wi-Fi-enabled load center this week at this year’s NAHB International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas. Hook it up, and you’ll be able to monitor and control each individual circuit in your home direct from your phone.

Simply called the Leviton Load Center, the new breaker box uses a built-in hub to connect your circuit breakers with your router, and with the My Leviton app on your Android or iOS device. Connect everything accordingly, and you’ll be able to turn breakers off right from your phone, track their energy usage, or even predict your next power bill.

leviton-load-center-circuit-breaker2
The Leviton Load Center uses Smart Branch Circuit Breakers to communicate to the My Leviton app.Leviton

No word from Leviton yet on what this will cost, but CNET Appliances labs manager and lead technical editor Steve Conaway estimates that it’ll be expensive, likely costing at least a few thousand dollars. A dedicated DIY junkie (and the first guy I go to for advice when I need to fix something in my own house), Steve also tells me that he’d consider splurging on the Leviton Load Center in his own home — his next big project is to go solar, and a connected breaker box would let him monitor his whole-home power consumption with granular, circuit-specific detail.

Short of enthusiastic home hobbyists like Steve, the new Load Center really seems to be aimed at people who build and renovate houses. As demand for smart home tech continues to tick upwards, whole-home upgrades like Leviton’s smart breaker box might be the sort of things that catch the eye of potential home buyers.

“It is easy to install for contractors, provides home builders with a smart, safe and aesthetically pleasing product for their customers, and simplifies the daily lives of homeowners,” says Leviton president and chief operating officer Daryoush Larizadeh.

Beyond the smart features, the Leviton Load Center promises a focus on electrical safety, including patented GFCI lockout technology that Leviton claims exceeds UL standards. That, in addition to the ability to turn circuits off in the Leviton app, might help the Load Center feel like a worthy upgrade over retrofit devices like Neurio and Curb that clamp onto your existing breaker box to track its energy use.

Leviton won’t have a price for the Load Center locked down until this summer, when it’s made available through Leviton’s network of electrical distributors.

Consumer ‘Smart Home’ Technology Predictions For 2019

WRITTEN BY Mark N. Vena

The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is the premier consumer electronics event, where companies big and small get a chance to showcase their new technologies. It always provides a strong glimpse of where the industry is going, and as such, is a must-attend for analysts like myself. On the eve of the show, here are my top 5 Nostradamus-inspired predictions for 2019.

#5: We will start to see practical robot solutions for the consumer that are “sociable” in design, capable of natural interaction with humans. The solutions we’ll see in 2019 will still be a far cry from the lovable robots in The Jetsons, Star Wars, or Lost in Space, but they will be an important step forward from the single usage model products (e.g. Roomba) that we have today.

Advances in digital assistant technology such as Amazon.com'sAMZN -0.16% Alexa, Google GOOGL -0.19% Assistant, and (to a lesser extent) Apple AAPL +0.31% Siri, have laid the groundwork for the human interface capabilities needed to make these solutions useful and intuitive to use. Companies like Boston Dynamics have done amazing work with robots that utilize high resolutions cameras to sense the environment and move with animal-like dexterity. Given the developments we’re already seeing in the AI and machine learning area that will allow robots to “mature” and become more useful over time, I suspect we’ll see products similar to Sony ’s next generation Aibo (which was announced at last year’s CES). Genuine robotic pets may indeed have mainstream appeal, for uses such as giving comfort to the elderly or providing “roaming” home security surveillance in a way that a fixed camera cannot.

Mobile robot solutions like Temi, which performs a number of interesting entertainment, news dissemination, and video conferencing functions, point in the direction of where the market is headed. Roomba, look out.

#4: 802.11ax, otherwise known as Wi-Fi 6, is going to be the next “big thing” in wireless connectivity—particularly in the connected home. Both Qualcomm QCOM +0.35% and Intel INTC +1.1%introduced new chipsets supporting this new specification, and new routers with 802.11ax-based radios will start to hit the market this year from all the major routers companies (including Netgear and Linksys).

Why is 802.11ax going to be such a game changer? The essential problem with today’s Wi-Fi is not purely speed—802.11ac provides sufficient amounts of bandwidth for most home users, with theoretical speeds over the Gigabit threshold. The much larger problem is Wi-Fi congestion in the typical home, with many devices (sometimes up to 15 or 20) competing for bandwidth. The 802.11ax standard takes its cue from how LTE cellular technology solves network overcrowding, with wider and multiple channels that significantly increase throughput.  Yes, 802.11ax will be anywhere from 5X to 10X faster than existing Wi-Fi technology, but more importantly, it will handle these competing client requests for bandwidth in a more organized, intelligent and robust manner. In addition, 802.11ax promises to improve battery life on devices, since the range will be (generally) further and the transmission of data will be faster.  In that manner, the clients will not need to work as hard.

As always, the downside to new wireless standard transitions is the proverbial “chicken and egg” phenomenon—the client device and the router must both have 802.11ax support to realize these benefits. Still, there is enough industry momentum behind 802.11ax to make me believe that the transition will begin in earnest this year. Consumers will benefit from the upgrade cycle.

On a tangential note, I’m also excited about what Plume and others have done in the “beyond wireless” area with OpenSync. OpenSync is an open source initiative focused on assisting service providers by opening up hardware ecosystems to enable an improved foundation of new smart home services and apps. This type of “outside the box” initiative has already garnered support by several major service providers and device manufacturers and I expect to see a lot of traction around this later this year.

#3: If you think Amazon Alexa is already pervasive in your home, you haven’t seen anything yet. 2019 will be the year that Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant become an inescapable presence in homes and public venues. According to Amazon, by the end of 2018, tens of millions of smart devices were already connected to Alexa. Additionally, more than 28,000 smart home devices, among 4,500 unique brands, are compatible with Alexa—a 600% increase over 2017.

While I’m not prepared to declare that the voice assistant wars are over—Google Assistant has also made impressive market share gains in this area—Amazon is clearly the leader in this space. The proliferation of digital assistant devices—not just speakers, but lamps, cars, microwave ovens, TVs, clocks, and more—will be an ongoing big story for 2019. It won’t just be in the home: Amazon announced last year it was partnering with Marriott Hotels to put Echo devices in their hotel rooms to improve guest access to amenities.

Putting aside all the thorny privacy issues that will undoubtedly get more attention in 2019 as “ambient computing” in our daily lives becomes more pervasive, the bottom line is that we are rapidly becoming a world where something is always listening. While some will view this (understandably) as an Orwellian nightmare, there are undisputed productivity and lifestyle benefits to gain as well.

#2: “Genuine” wireless charging of devices will start to emerge in 2019.  Consumers have been fooled a bit by companies like Apple and Samsung who have tried to convince them that “inductive charging,” a technology that has been around for over 20 years that requires two surfaces to be touching each other for a charging connection to be enabled, is the same as genuine wireless charging. Nothing could be further from the truth. While inductive charging for cell phones and other devices eliminates the need for a cable, several innovative companies are working on genuine wireless charging that frees devices from power outlets and battery changes.

One company that shows significant potential in this area is Wi-Charge. Using safe, invisible light, Wi-Charge’s technology provides enough power to charge a phone across a room. The implications of their technology are enormous. Not only could it help solve the battery charging dilemma that nearly every consumer face on a daily basis, it could also enable the use of more IoT devices (e.g. smart locks, door and window sensors, etc.) in the home, where battery replacement is irritating, and power outlets are not available.

Wi-Charge’s technology is already FDA-approved and complies with worldwide government standards. It is currently collaborating with several well-known partners to create wire-free appliances and charging devices. This truly could be one of the big technology stories in 2019.

#1: Facebook Portal may be the first truly great home video conferencing solution that gets doomed because of privacy concerns. It pains me say this, but I can’t remember a similar product like Facebook Portal that has gotten such tremendously positive reviews from a technology, ease of use, and design standpoint, but an almost universal slap in the face from the media because of Facebook FB +0%’s bad track record in the privacy area. The major press reviews have been almost universally consistent: great hardware but you simply can’t trust Facebook.

Having been one of the early users of Portal, I can attest to Portal’s superb video quality, excellent user experience, beautiful product design, and innovation (the camera smoothly follows you as you’re speaking to someone). But to my chagrin, I haven’t been able to convince a single member of my extended family to buy one (even devoted Facebook users like my mom and aunts) because they think Facebook might spy on them when Portal is not being used.  Interestingly, they don’t have any issue using Apple’s FaceTime to video conference with families.

I recognize these fears are largely emotional since Facebook has taken many precautions, both in its backend infrastructure and with the product itself (the ability to cover up the camera to prevent the company from spying on you). Still, many consumers, particularly older ones who remain committed to the traditional Facebook platform, have been put off by the company’s rash of bad press around privacy over the past year. In that sense, Facebook has a much bigger problem than just Portal. Sales of Portal over the holiday season have been modest (even light by some reports). I won’t be surprised if Portal makes an early exit from the scene later this year. It’s a shame, but it’s self-inflicted in my view.

Beyond CES

There are numerous indications that this year’s Consumer Electronics Show will be substantially bigger this year in terms of the number of product exhibitors and attendees. After I return from CES, I will publish a recap of some the more interesting products on display next week.  At CES, I’ll be fortunate enough to attend media-only events like CES Unveiled, Pepcom’s Digital Experience, and ShowStoppers, in which hundreds of startups show off their wares in a convenient, egalitarian format. These annual events truly provide great insight into where the general consumer market is headed and I won’t be surprised if many of the products that are shown speak to many of the themes I’ve described above. Stay tuned.

What Is The Difference Between Artificial Intelligence And Machine Learning?

By Bernard Marr

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are two very hot buzzwords right now, and often seem to be used interchangeably.

They are not quite the same thing, but the perception that they are can sometimes lead to some confusion. So I thought it would be worth writing a piece to explain the difference.

Both terms crop up very frequently when the topic is Big Data, analytics, and the broader waves of technological change which are sweeping through our world.

In short, the best answer is that: Artificial Intelligence is the broader concept of machines being able to carry out tasks in a way that we would consider “smart”.

And, Machine Learning is a current application of AI based around the idea that we should really just be able to give machines access to data and let them learn for themselves.

Early Days

Artificial Intelligence has been around for a long time – the Greek myths contain stories of mechanical men designed to mimic our own behavior. Very early European computers were conceived as “logical machines” and by reproducing capabilities such as basic arithmetic and memory, engineers saw their job, fundamentally, as attempting to create mechanical brains.

As technology, and, importantly, our understanding of how our minds work, has progressed, our concept of what constitutes AI has changed. Rather than increasingly complex calculations, work in the field of AI concentrated on mimicking human decision making processes and carrying out tasks in ever more human ways.

Artificial Intelligences – devices designed to act intelligently – are often classified into one of two fundamental groups – applied or general. Applied AI is far more common – systems designed to intelligently trade stocks and shares, or maneuver an autonomous vehicle would fall into this category.

Generalized AIs – systems or devices which can in theory handle any task – are less common, but this is where some of the most exciting advancements are happening today. It is also the area that has led to the development of Machine Learning. Often referred to as a subset of AI, it’s really more accurate to think of it as the current state-of-the-art.

The Rise of Machine Learning 

Two important breakthroughs led to the emergence of Machine Learning as the vehicle which is driving AI development forward with the speed it currently has. 

One of these was the realization – credited to Arthur Samuel in 1959 – that rather than teaching computers everything they need to know about the world and how to carry out tasks, it might be possible to teach them to learn for themselves.

The second, more recently, was the emergence of the internet, and the huge increase in the amount of digital information being generated, stored, and made available for analysis.

Once these innovations were in place, engineers realized that rather than teaching computers and machines how to do everything, it would be far more efficient to code them to think like human beings, and then plug them into the internet to give them access to all of the information in the world.

Neural Networks

The development of neural networks has been key to teaching computers to think and understand the world in the way we do, while retaining the innate advantages they hold over us such as speed, accuracy and lack of bias.

A Neural Network is a computer system designed to work by classifying information in the same way a human brain does. It can be taught to recognize, for example, images, and classify them according to elements they contain.

Essentially it works on a system of probability – based on data fed to it, it is able to make statements, decisions or predictions with a degree of certainty. The addition of a feedback loop enables “learning” – by sensing or being told whether its decisions are right or wrong, it modifies the approach it takes in the future.

Machine Learning applications can read text and work out whether the person who wrote it is making a complaint or offering congratulations. They can also listen to a piece of music, decide whether it is likely to make someone happy or sad, and find other pieces of music to match the mood. In some cases, they can even compose their own music expressing the same themes, or which they know is likely to be appreciated by the admirers of the original piece.

These are all possibilities offered by systems based around ML and neural networks. Thanks in no small part to science fiction, the idea has also emerged that we should be able to communicate and interact with electronic devices and digital information, as naturally as we would with another human being. To this end, another field of AI – Natural Language Processing (NLP) – has become a source of hugely exciting innovation in recent years, and one which is heavily reliant on ML. 

NLP applications attempt to understand natural human communication, either written or spoken, and communicate in return with us using similar, natural language. ML is used here to help machines understand the vast nuances in human language, and to learn to respond in a way that a particular audience is likely to comprehend.

A Case Of Branding?

Artificial Intelligence – and in particular today ML certainly has a lot to offer. With its promise of automating mundane tasks as well as offering creative insight, industries in every sector from banking to healthcare and manufacturing are reaping the benefits. So, it’s important to bear in mind that AI and ML are something else … they are products which are being sold – consistently, and lucratively.

Machine Learning has certainly been seized as an opportunity by marketers. After AI has been around for so long, it’s possible that it started to be seen as something that’s in some way “old hat”  even before its potential has ever truly been achieved. There have been a few false starts along the road to the “AI revolution”, and the term Machine Learning certainly gives marketers something new, shiny and, importantly, firmly grounded in the here-and-now, to offer.

The fact that we will eventually develop human-like AI has often been treated as something of an inevitability by technologists. Certainly, today we are closer than ever and we are moving towards that goal with increasing speed. Much of the exciting progress that we have seen in recent years is thanks to the fundamental changes in how we envisage AI working, which have been brought about by ML. I hope this piece has helped a few people understand the distinction between AI and ML. In another piece on this subject I go deeper – literally – as I explain the theories behind another trending buzzword – Deep Learning.

14 Predictions For The Future Of Smart Home Technology

Successful CIOs, CTOs & executives from Forbes Technology Council offer firsthand insights on smart home technology & business.

A decade ago, the idea of controlling your home’s thermostat, lights and security systems remotely via smartphone would have seemed like futuristic science fiction. But 2017 proved to be the year of the smart home. Technology in this market continues to grow leaps and bounds, and Zion Market Research predicts it will reach $53.45 billion by 2022.

Shutterstock

2018 holds even more promise for the smart home industry, as devices like Google Home, Alexa and Amazon Echo become more commonplace and artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated. We asked 14 members of Forbes Technology Council what they think consumers can expect in the coming year.

1. The Next Security And Privacy Crisis

We have shared our digital footprint for convenience. With smart home technology, we are sharing our physical footprint. It is not a matter of if but when these systems will be compromised, and the consequences could be much more severe than lost social security numbers. Addressing security and privacy will become a fundamental concern that will shape this industry. – Dimitri StiliadisAporeto

2. Integration Of Smart Home Devices

Integration will make or break smart home technology. Navigating goofy AI misunderstandings for 12 appliances and the front door is not the way of the future. But can smart homes make sure you remembered to turn off all the lights? Lock up? De-activate alarms upon recognizing your face? I believe we will see more integration that supports homeowners in 2018. – Arnie Gordon, Arlyn Scales

3. A Greater Role For Artificial Intelligence

I’m wrapping up repairs and renovations on an investment property, and we opted to install a bunch of Nest and Ring products to better secure our investment. The video surveillance is great, but I can see AI being used to automate threat detection and maybe more proactively alert us if something goes awry. This would revolutionize the human aspect of remote video monitoring. – Tim MaliyilAlertBoot

4. A Focus On Surveillance And Appliances

Homeowners will like the idea of more cool ways to control their homes. Surveillance has become more necessary to combat crime, as more people work from home and want to protect their physical and intellectual property. Appliances also could be a focus since people would like their appliances to take on more of the workload. – Chalmers BrownDue

5. New Smart Home Use Cases

In 2017, the majority of applications revolved around security and thermostats, and the devices did not interoperate. In 2018, smart home device makers will take a platform approach, and the devices will interoperate and new use cases will emerge such as appliance diagnostics, energy conservation and the prevention of major damages during natural disasters. – Naresh SoniTsunami ARVR

6. Homeowner Data Sharing

Sharing the data of homeowners with businesses will probably be the next big thing in smart home technology. Having your fridge order the food you need or setting the lights and preferred temperature for your arrival is what is coming soon. The data that you share with the smart devices will be of great interest to the companies that build such products. – Ivailo NikolovSiteGround

7. Increased Efficiency, Control And Customization

AI is set to disrupt the home. Technology will become much more efficient, and we will be able to control everything from appliances to radio volume to security from one central place. As a matter of fact, as AI develops, we eventually won’t need to manually control anything, as these devices will automatically adjust to our preferences. – Arthur PerelessPereless Systems

8. Customer Service As A Differentiator

With more and more smart home devices entering the market, there is an opportunity for forward-thinking companies to use customer service as a differentiator. An IoT environment can present a number of challenges for consumers ranging from basic troubleshooting to privacy concerns. Companies that are innovative and knowledgeable about delivering customer service excellence will stand out. – Michael RingmanTELUS International

9. More Security Concerns

We’ll see a proliferation of integrated platform solutions from big players in tech. Amazon will offer in-home food delivery straight to your fridge, leveraging its smart home platform. However, security will be a concern; a customer’s home could be robbed by a contractor. I also see a future where passwords are leaked or homes get hacked, and that’s something the big players need to plan for. – Neha SampatBuilt.io

10. Higher Cross-Compatibility Standards

I’m hoping for some real progress on standards. The smart home market has huge potential, but it’s still too fragmented. Consumers shouldn’t have to think about whether they want to invest in Nest, Amazon’s Echo line or products that support Apple’s Homekit. In 2018, I expect to see greater cross-compatibility and less focus on platform lock-in. – Vik PatelNexcess

11. Smart Kitchen Gadgets

I think we’re going to see more and more smart kitchen gadgets come on the market, such as rice cookers that are connected to Alexa, smart crockpots and integrated apps. We’ll be able to ask Alexa how much time is left on the device or control them from our smartphones at work. – Thomas GriffinOptinMonster

12. Smart Spaces Outside Of The Home 

Naturally, smart home tech will continue to become more accessible and inexpensive to the mainstream. As consumers become accustomed to the conveniences that come with smart tech, they will begin to seek out these efficiencies outside of the home. Next year, we’re likely to see an uptick in commercial smart building tech, particularly in offices seeking to adapt to more mobile workplace trends. – Arie BarendrechtWiredScore

13. The Replacement Of ‘Test Phase’ Products With Better Alternatives

As more technology and innovations are brought to the market, automation will make the home experience simpler and more pleasant. Next year will see an increase in the gadgets released in the IoT sphere. However, as this technology is relatively new, the testing phase will see the cleaning out of multiple products that are replaced by better alternatives. – Alexandro PandoXyrupt

14. Increased Voice Control Integration

Home technologies will integrate into so much more of our daily lives. Voice control of technologies that are included in your phone, TV, home audio and even car dashboard will be commonplace by the end of 2018. Voice is going to be the breakthrough advancement that really allows these technologies to become ubiquitous. – Tyler ShieldsSignal Sciences

5G is almost a reality. Here’s what it’ll really feel like.

Hype alert: Don’t expect 5G to change your life right away.

BY

You couldn’t miss the explosion of purple and magenta amid the sedate stone and marble interior of Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall. T-Mobile was, at least temporarily, making its mark on the New York icon. 

The wireless carrier earlier this month had set up a pop-up event to promote the rebranding of its Metro prepaid arm, but I didn’t really care about that. I was drawn by the promise of a 5G demo. 

augmented-reality-5g-talking-john-legere-on-a-wine-bottle-original-file
AR is a technology that could benefit from 5G. Although T-Mobile’s demonstration wasn’t running on 5G at all. 

T-Mobile

And in one tiny part of the hall, jammed next to a giant replica of an Amazon Echo smart speaker, was a random collection of devices and experiences primed for 5G. There was a drone that could tap into the network for real-time controls and data exchange. An exercise bike and headset promised a cowboy-themed virtual reality experience. A collection of wine bottles featured photos of T-Mobile executives like CEO John Legere as an example of augmented reality — point your smartphone at a bottle and Legere comes to life on the screen with a quip about how T-Mobile’s innovation is “truly intoxicating.”

Eager to get started, I asked when I could tap into that 5G network. 

“Oh, there’s no 5G set up yet,” said a T-Mobile spokeswoman, explaining that these were “simulations.” 

It was hard to hide my disappointment. But I shouldn’t have been surprised — that’s been the story of 5G hype over the last several years. There have been tons of promises and fancy demonstrations for what 5G might look like, but few concrete, real-world examples.

That’s changing, with Verizon launching its 5G-based home broadband service (sort of) and AT&T poised to launch a mobile 5G service this year. Around the world, carriers in Korea, Japan and China are set to make the big 5G leap over the next year. 

The next-generation of cellular technology, 5G promises to change your life with a massive boost in speed and responsiveness. It’ll power applications like self-driving cars, telemedicine and a new universe of connected devices. You can expect to see 5G smartphones coming out in the first half of next year.

The bad news: Don’t expect your life to change quite yet. As with any new technology, 5G will experience some growing pains, and for many people, those promised speeds may not show up consistently — or at all. I talked to a number of experts and telecom industry executives to get a bead on what 5G will really look like in the early days. 

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An early 5G test van parked at the Verizon campus in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Off to the 5G races

The US carriers began jockeying for the 5G pole position early — Verizon talked about field trials back in 2015. With advanced networks being the next big thing, each carrier is eager to bolster its reputation for service quality, which they hope will translate into consumers heading their way.

Sprint has promised to build the first nationwide 5G network by early 2019. It’ll take a big step in that direction this year when it rolls out 5G capabilities to nine cities, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, though Sprint customers won’t be able to access 5G until the service launches next year.

T-Mobile said it would deploy 5G in 30 cities this year — including New York and Los Angeles — but likewise wouldn’t launch the service until 2019 because 5G phones aren’t ready. 

The two companies have agreed to merge, and T-Mobile says Sprint’s radio airwave assets could supercharge its ability to build out a 5G network faster than it could alone. T-Mobile Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert said in an interview in August that the company aims to make speeds of 100 megabits a second or faster available to 90 percent of the country, with average speeds of 450 Mbps by 2024

AT&T has said it will have mobile 5G available in a dozen markets, including Atlanta and Dallas, later this year. But it’s unclear just how broadly available the coverage will be. 

Earlier this month, Verizon launched its Home 5G broadband service in select neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Dallas and Indianapolis. But the company is using a proprietary variant of 5G — and not the industry standard — which led some to argue that it fudged its way to the starting line. Verizon said it wouldn’t expand its limited initial commercial rollout this year, and will  begin delivering the service to more homes once it switches to the industry standard next year

Verizon plans to launch its mobile service early next year, and has ambitious plans for its network speeds, saying some areas could get 5 gigabits per second, or five times the fastest home broadband connection, according to Brian Higgins, vice president of device and product marketing. 

After mocking Verizon about its home broadband plans, T-Mobile is now saying it wants to get into the 5G broadband business too.

Then there’s a cable company that’s seriously talking about 6G already.

All of these plans are enough to make your head spin.

“It’s a little confusing, isn’t it? It’s confusing to me, and I do this for a living,” T-Mobile Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray quipped at a press conference back in March.

‘Pucks’ versus phones

At the 2017 Mobile World Congress trade show, Roger Gurnani, then the chief information and technology architect for Verizon, walked on stage during a Samsung tablet event to talk about the two companies’ work on developing 5G.

Gurnani spoke of the field trials that were under way, and at the end he teased that we might see a Samsung 5G phone in a year. It wasn’t clear whether he was joking — the Samsung executive next to him looked surprised by the suggestion.

Fast-forward to this year’s show in March, and now deep into 2018, and the only thing certain is that no 5G phone exists.

Because those phones aren’t ready yet, AT&T plans to deploy “pucks,” or mobile hotspots, that capture 5G signals and broadcast Wi-Fi, giving your devices a portable internet connection.

Pucks and laptop cards were prevalent when 4G LTE first rolled around, because it was the easiest and cheapest way to release a device running on a next-generation wireless device.

Chances are, you’re probably never going to use one. These were niche devices even back in the early LTE days, although some people use them now for work to get a temporary Wi-Fi network running. 

You’re likely more interested in the first 5G phones. Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon said during a July earnings conference call that every handset maker using its flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 platform had a 5G phone slated for 2019 — a year earlier than previously expected.  

But be mindful that the early batch may suffer from some of the issues that plagued early 4G phones. Devices such as the HTC Thunderbolt were bulky, had poor battery life and tended to overheat.

Sprint and LG have vowed to create the first 5G-powered smartphone in the US, and John Tudhope, director of product marketing for Sprint, said the companies have taken into account the issues from 4G.

While T-Mobile’s Ray said he expects a premium flagship will get 5G, AT&T Chief Technology Officer Andre Fuetsch said there may be phones specifically built to house 5G technology, similar to the Thunderbolt.

“The first generation will come with its challenges,” Fuetsch said in an interview in March.

Verizon downplayed the concerns. “We learned a lot by being the 4G LTE leader,” said Brian Higgins, head of devices for Verizon, in an interview in March. “One of those is how to help our ecosystem partners improve the infrastructure, device, battery life and apps required to take advantage of new technology.” 

Also, don’t expect a 5G iPhone anytime soon.

Spotty coverage at first

Another problem with 4G LTE in those early days was coverage gaps. One minute, you were enjoying high-speed online access and streaming video, and then everything came grinding to a halt as you were kicked back down to 3G. Even if you got back into a 4G area, the phone often wouldn’t recognize it.

“Consumers should absolutely expect those early 5G networks will suffer from some of the same ills,” said Dan Hays, a consultant at PricewaterhouseCooper.

T-Mobile Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray at MWC 2018
T-Mobile Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray at MWC 2018 as he explains how the company’s use of different bands of spectrum resembles different layers on a cake. 

Roger Cheng/CNET

Given how fast 5G is supposed to be — anywhere from 10 to 100 times faster — there could be a more dramatic dropoff this time around. That’s especially the case with super-high-frequency radio waves, which deliver the fastest wireless speeds, because they often have short range and can easily be disrupted.

“Imagine if you’re going on a highway at 60 miles per hour, and then you get stuck on a street going 10 mph,” said Jefferson Wang, a managing director at Accenture Strategy. “It’s a jolt.”

The high-frequency airwaves, often referred to as millimeter-wave spectrum, require a lot more “small cells,” or compact boxes that broadcast and carry cellular signals. The Federal Communication Commission has opened the door to faster deployment of these boxes, but it will likely butt up against local municipalities and residents who don’t necessarily want them so close. That’s a potential point of tension amid all the enthusiasm for the technology.

If the carriers don’t get enough small cells deployed, you’ll likely run into small areas of intense speed and capacity, with a drop-off elsewhere as you go beyond the range of millimeter spectrum. 

The carriers intend to round out the coverage with lower-frequency airwaves for 5G, offering broader coverage and less chance of a dramatic fall to 4G. 

“The 5G experience from Sprint will be more uniform,” Sprint Chief Technology Officer John Saw said in March.      

But for all of the carriers, there’ll be plenty of areas with no 5G coverage. That’s particularly true for the deployments we’ll see this year and in 2019.

The good news: Carriers are also upgrading their 4G networks with higher speeds so the transition won’t be so bad. They’re all employing a technology called Gigabit LTE, which boosts current speeds considerably. Phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9 and the iPhone XS are already able to access it.

Price hikes?

Another concern is whether prices will change with the introduction of 5G. Former Sprint CEO Claure said in a keynote address at MWC in March that he expected 5G to be marketed as a premium service with a premium price tag.

Sprint wasn’t available to comment on whether this is still the thinking under new CEO Michel Combes, although plans may change if T-Mobile completes its deal with Sprint. 

Is it that crazy in this competitive environment? Wang notes that the model already exists for home broadband.

“You are already tolerating a payment for higher speeds,” he said.

sprint-ceo
Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure speaking at MWC 2018. He believes 5G gives him a chance to raise prices. 

Roger Cheng/CNET

Others are a bit skeptical. Hays doesn’t believe consumers will pay a premium because there aren’t any obvious benefits yet. After all, you can stream Stranger Things on your phone just fine on 4G.

“To think you can just put 5G out there and just say now it’s some form of premium service, I think that’s probably going to be a little mythical,” T-Mobile’s Ray said.

At this year’s MWC, I asked Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg about the claim made by Gurnani, who’s no longer with the company. Vestberg said he expects to see 5G phones by MWC 2019.

“But,” he added after a brief pause, “it’s a qualified guess.”

Intellecy Featured on Forbes: “Plumbing Sensor That Listens For Leaks Can Pre-empt Emergencies, Conserve Water”

By Heather L. Whitley, Senior Writer and Digital Producer, Forbes

People waste it and fight over it, while globally more than 840 million still struggle to even get access to it.

BluView detects when these signals fluctuate and alerts homeowners of potential leaks via their smartphones.

BluView detects when these signals fluctuate and alerts homeowners of potential leaks via their smartphones. ISTOCK

In the United States, 40 of the country’s 50 states are expected to suffer water shortages by 2023. Meanwhile, household leaks are wasting 900 billion gallons of water annually nationwide.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that entrepreneurs like Emilio Vargas II, president and CEO of San Diego-based Intellecy, Inc., are developing new smart home technologies to monitor, manage and reduce water use.

“Our thought was to come out with a product that was environmentally friendly and environmentally conscious,” Vargas explained. “It would help people change their behaviors by providing them with real-time data on how much water they are using, wasting or consuming.”

Getting A Clear View

By the end of 2016, Intellecy had developed its first prototype of BluView, a sensor that fits onto a water pipe. The system’s water manager continuously measures and monitors water flow based on the sounds and energy signals that are created when water moves through pipes and faucets.

BluView detects when these signals fluctuate and alerts homeowners of potential leaks via their smartphones. The sensor is like having a video camera all around the home to guard against intruders.

The BlueView app that’s being developed by Intellecy would allow users to compare water use to conservation goals.

The BluView app that’s being developed by Intellecy would allow users to compare water use to conservation goals. BLUVIEW

“We’re watching every single corner of your plumbing for a leak,” Vargas said.

Confident in the product’s abilities, Intellecy launched a campaign for BluView on Kickstarter. Although the company fell short of meeting its financial goals, Vargas said the online platform provided some useful insight.

“We learned so much from all the people who were asking us questions about our product,” Vargas recalled. “The overwhelming interest was, ‘You guys can find a leak, and now you’re going to tell me I have a leak. Why can’t you just add something to turn off the water?’”

Based on that feedback, the Intellecy team went back to the drawing board and added a motorized water valve to the BluView system, which allows customers to remotely turn off their water from their smartphones if a leak is detected. Early testing has proved successful, and Vargas said the updated product is expected to go to market early next year.

In addition to protecting against leaks, BluView addresses the larger issue of water management and conservation, Vargas noted. The real-time data provided to homeowners quantifies water-use patterns, so they can adjust their habits and reduce consumption.

“I think that’s a much bigger benefit for our country and globally,” he said.

Tech As Part Of The Team

Staying on task and managing the development of a new product would not be possible without technology, according to Vargas. From basic communication and collaboration tools to cloud-based, computer-aided design platforms, these programs allow Intellecy to run efficiently and effectively, he said.

“We have one person working about 80 miles away out of his home office,” Vargas said. “And when he designs stuff, we can see it almost instantaneously on our end as if we were looking over his shoulder.”

To track the development cycle of BluView, Intellecy uses product roadmap software that Vargas said is the perfect way to capture and prioritize customer requests and comments.

“It really does save time. It improves communication. It creates a record and really keeps us organized,” he said. “And I think it really has allowed us to do a lot of stuff with fewer people. So, it actually becomes part of our team.”

Intellecy has been accepted to three incubators that focus on water conservation, blue technology and smart home solutions. Vargas said the exposure has garnered interest in Intellecy’s technology from city governments and water utilities as well as businesses in which water plays an integral role, such as breweries and bottling companies.

But no matter where the company’s path may lead, Vargas said he will continue to embrace new software and technologies that will boost the efficiency of his small business.

Originally published August 17, 2018 on Forbes. View original article>>

11 smart home devices you didn’t know existed

With connected appliances, the dream of controlling every single aspect of our homes with a virtual butler is fast becoming reality.

Aside from the usual suspects – smart TVs, smart bulbs, smart speakers, smart thermostats, smart door locks, etc., did you know that there’s a whole army of smart appliances out there, waiting to go “Maximum Overdrive” in your home?

Turning your house into a smart home is exciting but be careful! Listen to my Komando On Demand podcast to learn how to watch for the warning signs so technology doesn’t take over your home.

You’ll be surprised by how many appliances are getting “smartified” nowadays. They may be wacky, weird or unnecessary, but some actually do make sense.

Here are 11 smart home devices that you didn’t know existed (but you’ll be glad that they do.)

1. Smart Toilet

Do your business in style with this smart toilet! The Numi from Kohler is a whirlpool of technology and it’s flushed with comforts you didn’t even know you needed. It has a motion-activated cover and heated seat, a retractable multi-function bidet, an air dryer and deodorizer, a foot warmer, fancy lights and Bluetooth speakers!

For ultimate toilet control, you even get a dockable touch-screen remote so you can totally flush it from afar. The price tag for this ridiculously lavish lavatory? Around $6,500.

2. Smart Pet Food Dispenser

Our pets are part of the family and they need not miss out on the smart appliance revolution. The PetSafe high-tech pet feeder will make them feel right at (smart) home.

This Wi-Fi connected pet feeder can be controlled with its own iPhone and Android app so you can feed your furry companion from anywhere. You can set meal schedules and slow dispense times to prevent bloating and vomiting. It will even notify you when your pet’s food has been dispensed.

The PetSafe Smart Feed is $179 but that sounds reasonable for your peace of mind, don’t you think?

PetSafe Smart Feed Automatic Dog and Cat Feeder, Smartphone, 24-Cups, Wi-Fi Enabled App for iPhone and…

By Water & Feed

$179.95$199.99

Rated 4 out of 5 by 168 reviewers on Amazon.com

3. Smart Bed

Having a perfect night’s sleep is vital to overall health and people have been using smart wearables like Fitbit to track nightly sleeping patterns. But what if your bed does that itself?

Sleep Number’s 360 smart mattresses can track your nightly sleeping patterns, make adjustments to their firmness and can even adjust their temperatures.

It’s not going to be cheap to make your bed smarter. These smart beds start at around $3,200.

4. Smart Egg Tray

Now here’s a smart product that you don’t think you’d need but it actually makes sense, in theory.

The Quirky Egg Minder is a smart egg tray that will tell you how many eggs you have at home and when it’s time to throw them away. LED lights on the tray will tell you which one is the oldest egg and, with its smartphone app, will alert you if you’re running low.

Ever been to the grocery store wondering how many eggs you have left at home? Well, with Quirky Egg Minder, you can just check remotely with your smartphone!

This eggs-ellent (sorry) idea can be yours for as low as $14 right now. Not a bad price to shell out (sorry, again) for if you’re looking for extra kitchen smarts.

Quirky Egg Minder Wink App Enabled Smart Egg Tray, PEGGM-WH01

By Quirky

$10.99

Rated 2.5 out of 5 by 517 reviewers on Amazon.com

5. Smart Toothbrush

If you think brushing your teeth optimally is hard enough then you deserve this $180 smart toothbrush from Oral-B.

The Oral-B Genius Pro 8000 smart toothbrush connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and uses facial recognition to track where you’ve brushed so you don’t miss a spot.

The app will also provide real-time visual coaching on brushing time and pressure. It is so smart, pressure sensors will even automatically slow down its brush speed to protect you from excessive brushing. It’s like having a dentist in your bathroom!

6. Smart Fork

Let’s face it, the smart toothbrush will go great with a smart fork because, you know, we need all the tech help we can get for life’s basic necessities.

If the smart toothbrush can alert you if you’re brushing too hard, this smart fork will warn you if you’re eating too fast.

The logic behind the HapiFork is sound – if you want to eat healthier, you need to slow down your eating pace. And this uber-utensil can help you do it how? By buzzing when you’re biting more than you can chew.

It connects via Bluetooth to your smartphone and with an app, you can see your eating statistics unfold in front of you in real-time. You can then upload this data to Hapi.com and have everyone judge your table manners.

HAPILABS 100 HAPIfork Bluetooth-Enabled Smart Fork (White)

By HAPILABS INC.

$62.95

Rated 2.5 out of 5 by 4 reviewers on Amazon.com

7. Smart Frying Pan

Why would anyone buy a $229 smart frying pan? Well, because they can!

The SmartyPans frying pan is an interactive frying pan that has built-in sensors that track the weight of the ingredients as you drop them on the pan.

It also has built-in temperature sensors that ensure you have the perfect level of heat each time you cook the eggs you got from your smart egg tray.

With the SmartyPans app, you can follow step-by-step cooking instructions, create and share your own step-by-step recipes and even track the nutritional value of what you’re cooking. Who wouldn’t want that for $229?

8. Smart Toaster

Do you quietly judge your old traditional bread toaster and think that it’s so dumb it can’t even make perfect toast every time?

Now, you can toss that old clunker out and get the Breville Die-Cast 2-Slice Smart Toaster instead.

With its 1-touch automation, the Breville smart toaster will lower your bread automatically with delicate care, regulate the toasting time and a fancy LED panel will inform you about the current toasting cycle.

For extra entertainment, with its Lift and Look function, you can also check your toast while it’s cooking without interrupting the toasting cycle.

Breville BTA820XL Die-Cast 2-Slice Smart Toaster, 1.2-Inch Wide x 5.2-Inch Deep

By Breville (Feb 29, 2008)

$125.95$129.95

Rated 4 out of 5 by 823 reviewers on Amazon.com

9. Smart Water Pitcher

Have you ever sat at your family dinner table thinking “Honey, our water pitcher needs to get smarter fast”?

Well, say no more, Brita’s Smart Pitcher to the rescue! Nothing incredibly fancy but this Wi-Fi enabled pitcher will track and order its own replacement filters from Amazon.

How about that? A pitcher that buys its own accessories and charges them on your credit card. The robot takeover is slowly happening people.

Brita Medium 8 Cup Infinity Smart Water Pitcher and Filter – BPA Free – Black

By Brita

$43.99

Rated 2.5 out of 5 by 82 reviewers on Amazon.com

10. Smart Floss

Cultivating healthy flossing habits is challenging. It’s just too much work, right? And getting the perfect length of floss each time is so difficult, humanity definitely needs this smart dispenser.

Flosstime is an automated floss dispenser that delivers the perfect amount of floss with a single touch. It will also frown at you if you neglect to floss your teeth (judge-y appliances seem to be a recurring theme here).

You can attach it to your bathroom mirror and have your whole family join in the flossing fun. Flosstime can be yours for $26.

11. Smart Wine Dispenser

To cap this off, why not have a glass of wine from this smart wine dispenser?

The Kuvée Connect and the Kuvée Key are Wi-Fi connected wine dispensers that will always pour the perfect glass from a FreshPour enabled wine bottle each time.

And with the Connect, you can even rate, favorite, view and buy refill wine bottles on its built-in LCD touchscreen! I bet other wine bottles can’t do that.

Apple HomeKit: Everything you need to know

Get to know the software behind Apple’s Siri-powered smart home platform.

BY  

“Siri, open my bedroom shades.” 

You might not know it, but you’re using Apple HomeKit every time you issue a smart-home-related voice command on your iPhone, HomePod — or other Siri-compatible device.

HomeKit is to Apple what Alexa skills are to Amazon, or what actions are to Google. It’s that intangible, but vital in-the-background software that makes it possible for you to turn on your smart lights every morning with a simple Siri command (or from Apple’s iOS-only Home app).

HomeKit software was introduced way back at WWDC 2014 — before we had even heard of those now-ubiquitous smart speakers called the Amazon Echo and the Google Home. Still, HomeKit and the HomePod smart speaker aren’t nearly as well known as their competitors. Here’s a close-up look at Apple HomeKit — what it is, why it matters and how it fits into the growing smart home landscape. 

A brief chronology

The timeline for HomeKit is important because it helps explain how Amazon and Google gained ground so quickly — even though they technically joined the smart home market after Apple. Take a look: 

June 2014 – Apple announces HomeKit at WWDC, but no accompanying smart speaker and keeps it closed to developers

November 2014 – Amazon introduces the Amazon Echo, along with Alexa, Alexa skills and the Alexa app

June 2015 – The first batch of HomeKit-enabled devices hit stores, updated with MFi chips as part of Apple’s certification program

September 2016Apple introduces the Home app for adding HomeKit devices and controlling them from your phone

October 2016 – Google introduces the Google Home, along with Google Assistant, Google actions and the Google Home app

February 2018 – Apple introduces the HomePod, the first Apple smart home speaker, nearly four years after HomeKit

Between November 2014 and February 2018, Amazon and Google also added additional smart speakers to their device lineup. Amazon’s smart speakers range from the $50 (£50, AU$79) Echo Dot to the $230 (£200 or roughly AU$300 converted) Echo Show. Google’s range from the $50 (£50, AU$80) Home Mini to the $399 Home Max (not yet available internationally, but we predict a £399 and AU$599 price when it is). 

TAKING A LOOK AT HOMEKIT’S COMPETITION

AppleAmazonGoogle
SoftwareHomeKit (closed)Skills (open)Actions (open)
Voice assistantSiri (iOS only)Alexa (Android and iOS)Google Assistant (Android and iOS)
Device(s)Apple HomePodAmazon Echo (among others)Google Home (among others)
Mobile appHome (iOS only)Alexa (Android and iOS)Google Home (Android and iOS)

Open or closed?

There’s a reason HomeKit isn’t as well known as Alexa skills or Google actions.

Unlike Amazon, which opened up its Alexa skills to developers early on (the same goes for Google actions), Apple has maintained control of HomeKit from day one. Outside commercial developers can’t create Siri-voice-powered integrations for their connected devices. Also, Apple previously required third-party companies requesting integration with Siri to install a piece of hardware called an MFi chip in their devices.

The MFi chip is no longer required, but HomeKit hopefuls still have to go through the MFi certification program to apply for integration with Siri. 

Largely because of its closed-off nature, HomeKit hasn’t advanced as quickly as its competitors. Here’s where you can find all of the devices that work with Apple HomeKit.

Home

HomeKit lives in the iOS-only Home app. It’s the place where you pair new compatible devices, assign them to rooms in your house and create custom “scenes” (if you want) like “Good morning.” “Good morning” might turn on your bedroom lights, adjust the living room thermostat and open all of the window shades — simultaneously. 

You can either enable your “Good morning” scene from the Home app or ask Siri to do it on your iOS device or on a HomePod smart speaker. 

sylvania-homekit-pairing
Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Adding a HomeKit device to the Home app (see the screenshot above) involves scanning a special code included with your purchase. It’s typically printed on a sticker on the device itself. 

Unlike Amazon or Google, Apple’s Home app wasn’t introduced until two years after HomeKit was first announced. The earliest HomeKit integrations, unsurprisingly, were confusing to configure because there was no mobile app to launch them from. You instead had to connect them through the third-party device’s native app, which didn’t always follow a standardized process. 

The outlook

Apple finally has all of the main pieces it needs to be a comprehensive smart home platform — HomeKit, Siri, the HomePod and the Home app. Why it took the tech giant four years between introducing HomeKit and actually offering a smart speaker to accompany it is less clear. Either way, there are still a couple of things Apple could do to grow the customer base of HomeKit: a Home app for Android customers and a HomeKit SDK that’s completely open to developers (another thing that was reportedly in the works, but is currently only available to MFi licensees) — but I’m not holding my breath.

Let your garden grow with our smart garden buying guide

by Tyler Lizen /CNET

Nature and technology don’t have to exist at odds with each other. In fact, similar smart home tech that automates your thermostat or your garage door can extend outside the walls of your house, helping you make your own corner of nature thrive.

Smart garden and lawn care tech encompasses plant sensors, weather monitors, sprinkler systems and even robot lawn mowers. The diversity is fitting for the great outdoors, but it can also make it difficult to know where to start. Once you understand your options, you can stem your plant killing ways with push notifications, you can save time with automation, or you can simply collect data and monitor the conditions of your land. The diversity of smart garden tech will prove beneficial instead of daunting once you find the tools to fit your needs.

Focus on your goals

Like their indoor counterparts, every smart garden device does one or both of the following: senses the environment around it and/or automates a task. Smart outdoor devices will thus help you learn about your environment, help it thrive or both. Robot lawn mowers focus mostly on automation, but still need to sense enough to stay within the boundaries of your yard. Both plant sensors and weather monitors focus mostly on senses, but can still send you push notifications and act as triggers for other automation devices. Connected sprinklers gather weather information, and use it to automate a watering schedule.

Except for some robot lawn mowers, all smart outdoor devices have accompanying apps and communicate with the cloud in some form or another. And that’s the end of the similarities of smart garden tech. Given how vastly different the devices are, you can quickly narrow your choices just by focusing on what you’d like your new smart gadget to accomplish. Are you a seasoned gardener looking for assistance to help you save time? Are you an enthusiast trying to collect data? Are you a busy homeowner hoping to cut your water bill? Are you an apartment dweller who struggles to keep a houseplant alive?

Connected garden tech can help with any of these goals.

Plant sensors

You place these devices into the dirt near your plants, where they gather information on the surroundings and send it to your phone, tablet or computer, ideally to help you become a more informed gardener.

This is the only category of smart outdoor tech that can actually be used indoors, making them great for keeping a potted plant alive. Even the simplest plant sensor we’ve seen measures soil moisture, and compares that info against a plant database to give you specific advice about when to water that species of plant. You’ll even get push notifications reminding you to water from all plant sensors we’ve tested, so you can steer clear of accidental procrastination.edyn-product-photos-3.jpg

The Edyn Garden Sensor measures moisture levels, nutrition levels, temperature, humidity and ambient light.Tyler Lizenby/CNET

More advanced plant sensors measure criteria such as ambient light, humidity, temperature and even levels of fertilizer in addition to the basic moisture readings. They can also measure multiple plants at once, so you’ll be able to use a single sensor to watch a whole garden.

You can expect plant-specific recommendations on each criteria your plant sensor measures. Some plant sensors even keep careful track of the numbers they collect, making them the right tool if you want to study the conditions of your garden over time.

Plant sensors are a great tool for beginners and can provide valuable assistance and reminders to seasoned gardeners as well.

Sprinklers

Using weather reports and sometimes data from your garden, these systems can help you save water by giving your yard a drink when it needs it, then automatically adjusting the schedule to stay off when it rains.

The Blossom Smart Watering Controller.Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Most of these devices replace the controller of your existing irrigation systems, making them a fit for homeowners looking to save time and money. You won’t have to fuss with your sprinkler schedule and can trim the amount of water your sprinklers use while keeping the yard green.

Smart sprinkler controllers vary in the number of zones they can control — from 6 to 16 — so check into how much coverage you need and how much the specific device offers when making your purchase.

If you don’t have an irrigation system, you have a couple of hose-fed options. These serve the same purpose as smart irrigation controllers, but can be threaded into more basic watering systems.

Weather sensors

Even more of a niche item than most smart garden tech, weather sensors can be quite useful in certain scenarios. They’re the optimal device for learning more about your surroundings in general. Plus the included sensors can be used to monitor sensitive areas of your home, like a wine cellar or a child’s room. Short of having a specific use in mind though, you might not find much value in these devices beyond what you can get from the dozens of free weather apps.

We’ve only seen two weather monitors thus far. Bloomsky adds value by taking periodic pictures of the sky over your house and letting you create time-lapse videos with them, in addition to providing hyper local weather. The Netatmo Weather Station adds value by monitoring your indoor air quality in addition to outdoor metrics like temperature and air pressure.bloomsky-product-photos-2.jpg

The BloomSky Sky2 is expensive, but has an impressive list of features.Tyler Lizenby/CNET

If you’re interested in hyperlocal weather, one of these devices will work for you.

Robot lawnmowers

Robot lawnmowers could be useful for many once the category has had time to mature, but as it stands, the tech is new, expensive and unwieldy. The benefits of robot lawnmowers are obvious — you will no longer have to spend time pacing up and down your grass to keep it from overgrowing. Just be ready to spend more than $1,000 for the privilege.

robomowdiariespt3-4.jpg

The $1,600 Robomow RS612 worked well after a tedious setup period. It’s first couple of runs also delivered spotty results.Tyler Lizenby/CNET

You’ll also need to go through a setup process. As it stands, robot lawnmowers navigate the yard using wires placed around the perimeter as guidelines (it’s the same tech that is used for electric dog collars). After your purchase, but before starting to use the machine, you’ll need to bury these wires around your yard.

So the barrier to entry into robot grass cutting is high at the moment, but if you’re willing to invest the time and money to get over that hump, you could cross one of your items off of your regular chore list. Before you splurge, consider hiring a gardener, as that might actually be cheaper.

Asking the right questions

What type of signal does the device use?

Though your options are many, the Internet is a key ingredient in any smart garden device, so it’s important to note how exactly your tech will reach the cloud.

Plenty of devices connect directly to your Wi-Fi router — allowing you to interact with them remotely. A Wi-Fi enabled device works well in most scenarios, unless you want to place a plant sensor in the far corner of your big yard, or put your sprinkler controller behind a concrete wall.

If that’s the case, you might need a device with a specialized signal. Your options include frequencies such as Z-Wave and ZigBee — which use less power than Wi-Fi, but need a hub to translate the signal for your router. The Blossom Smart Watering Controller supplements its Wi-Fi signal with a power line connection, which uses the electric wiring in your home to transmit signals.

You might also find devices that use Bluetooth, which connects directly to your smart phone and uses less battery than Wi-Fi, but doesn’t let you access your device remotely. The GreenIQ Smart Garden Hub — a smart sprinkler controller — goes one step beyond Wi-Fi using cellular signal provided by US carrier AT&T, allowing you to stay connected to your device even if your router fails.

GreenIQ connects to AT&T’s 3G cellular signal.GreenIQ

Is it weather-proofed?

If you’re going to keep your new smart device outside, you’ll want to check and see if it can hold up to the conditions. You might expect that every device in the smart outdoors category can endure weather, but that’s not necessarily true. Blossom is weather-proofed, the competing Rachio Sprinkler isn’t (Rachio does sell a waterproof enclosure). You shouldn’t submerge the Edyn Garden Sensor, but it can take normal rainfall.

Double check how much weather your device can take before making your purchase, and double check it’s operational temperature range if you live in particularly hot or cold climates. Even if you have four typical seasons, you’ll need to bring most plant sensors back inside before winter strikes.

How is it powered?

Most plant sensors and weather monitors require batteries, so you’ll want to check what type of batteries they use as well as how long those batteries typically last. The Edyn Garden Sensor gets a nice boost here, as it has a built-in solar panel that recharges its specialized battery with just a sunny day.

Others use AA or AAA, which is where Bluetooth devices or those with specialized signals get an advantage, as those signals typically use less power than Wi-Fi. Most devices provide an estimated battery lifetime.

Robot lawnmowers charge up using an included station that plugs into any outlet. You’ll want to check how much charge the lawnmower holds though. Mowers with a bigger battery capacity can mow a greater area before coming back to the station.

With irrigation controllers, power isn’t usually a factor, since you’ll be replacing your existing controller and can plug your new smart device into the same spot.

Is it compatible with your phone or tablet?

Since you’ll generally need an app to operate your smart gardening device, check to be sure the device has an app you can access. Most of these apps are free, so you can download the corresponding one before purchase to get a glimpse into how it looks and feels. Once you have your device, the app will be your main source of interaction with it.

With plant sensors, the app provides care advice. If you want plant-specific care advice, explore the plant database of the app and make sure it has your plant or a species close enough to give useful recommendations.

If you’re interested in plant sensors or weather monitors for their data, make sure the charts are readable, specific and helpful. For sprinkler systems, check out your scheduling options and make sure it’s intuitive to set them up.

Does the device play well with others?

Many of the devices in the smart outdoor family will talk to smart devices you have setup inside your home. An interconnected smart home doesn’t have to stop at the outer walls. The advantages of this could be many — the more devices you have that work together, the more chores you can automate.

A completely interoperable smart home like in “The Jetsons” isn’t feasible yet, but thanks to online rule maker If This Then That ( IFTTT) and other systems that unify third-party devices, you can tell different tools to work together in interesting ways. For example, when your Nest Protect senses a fire, it can send a signal through IFTTT to the compatible Rachio to turn on your sprinklers.copy-of-rachio-sprinkler-controller-gen-2-installed-2.jpg

The Rachio Sprinkler has an IFTTT channel.Rachio

If weather monitors or plant sensors can talk to your sprinklers, the amount of water distributed will be that much more customized. If accidental negligence is a big problem for you, a plant sensor that talks to IFTTT can go one step further than a push notification and flash your connected lights when it’s time to water.

An IFTTT channel allows the creation of these third-party rules, and it’s one of the most popular ecosystems at the moment, so I’d give an advantage to smart outdoor devices that are compatible with IFTTT over ones that aren’t.

The smart garden is also taking tentative first steps into voice controls. Smart sprinklers GreenIQ, Blossom and Rachio all work with Amazon’s always-listening speaker the Amazon Echo. Give a command to Amazon’s assistant Alexa, and you can turn on your sprinklers without even opening an app. Rachio also works with the Google Assistant for similar controls with the Google Home — a voice controlled speaker similar to the Echo.

You might not want or need your smart gardening device to work with other smart devices. But keep in mind that once you get started with home automation, you might enjoy the benefits enough that you want to keep building your smart home. At that point, interoperability could come in handy.

Making the right choice

Once you decide what you’re trying to do and pick your category, making the right choice comes down to choosing the features you want. Don’t pay more for an irrigation controller with 16 zones if you can make do with eight. If you’re never going to move a plant, you probably don’t need a plant sensor that measures temperature or sunlight, since you won’t be able to effectively alter either.

If you simply need push notifications to help you remember to water, you can also get creative and set that up yourself for free. Sometimes, apps can be quite useful with or without the product, and again, you should always take a tour of a device’s app before making your purchase.

With the right devices on your side, your yard can practically maintain itself. Get smart with your yard care, and you can use the power of the Internet to make your neighbors jealous.

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