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Integrated Platforms for Smarter Homes

Throughout our “IoT Industry Series” we have discussed how the Internet of Things is present and growing rapidly  in different industries like food and beverage, smart health, and animal health. This week we are discussing Smart Homes and the integrated platforms that exist to connect smart devices around the household.

“Smart Home” is the term commonly used to define a residence that has appliances, lighting, heating, air conditioning, TVs, computers, entertainment audio & video systems, security, and camera systems that are capable of communication with one another and can be controlled remotely from any room in the house, or from any location in the world by smartphone or Internet.

Smart Homes are the latest addition to the IoT world and technology companies are making [and connecting] products to make homes smarter and users more engaged. Companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon have created products that connect all of these devices to one overall smart source.

Google Home

Google Home is a smart speaker developed by Google that enables users to speak voice commands to interact with services through the Home’s intelligent personal assistant called Google Assistant. Google Home integrates a large number of third-party integrated products that allow users to control the connected products and the device’s features entirely by voice. Google Home has integrated support for home automation features, letting users speak commands to the device to control smart home appliances.  

Apple Home

Apple was one of the first consumer-facing technology companies to commit to the smart technology for modern households. Apple created a software platform called IOS Home where you can easily control all  HomeKit accessories. “HomeKit” is a framework created by apple that provides accessories that are compatible with iPhones. HomeKit is where users can purchase products like sensors, automatic locks, and thermostats that are connected through the Apple Home application on all iPhone owners. Apple then created an on-line web and mobile shopping experience  that lists all the products that can be easily connected to one independent and individual source. The focus of Apple Home and Home Kit is to build your own smart home from the palm of your hand.

Samsung SmartThings

Samsung SmartThings is the control  center of your future smart home. Users can control, automate, and monitor their homes from anywhere in the world with the use of the SmartThings App. Similar to the products mentioned above, SmartThings by Samsung connects most of the [smart] products around the home into one simple source. Users can connect, control, and manage products like thermostats, smart locks, and security systems from SmartThings application in their smartphone.

Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo is a smart speaker developed by Amazon.com. The device connects to the voice-controlled personal assistant Alexa. Similar to Google Home Alexa is designed to play music, set alarms, stream podcasts, provide the weather and traffic, playback audiobooks and provide a hub for future smart devices in your home..

All of these products are the new wave of the IoT and smart product industry. Internet of Things is always making life easier and more connected for users. Thanks to IoT, homes are being built today with all of these connected features. It is only a matter of time until we can personally speak to every appliance and electrical device in our home

Do you have an IoT project you need help with? Bluefin Technology Partners helps companies build amazing connected solutions. We understand the complexity and collaboration required between organizational disciplines in order to deliver an IoT product to market on time and on budget.  We provide the services needed to assess your market, manage your partners, and shepherd your project through successful launch.

The Internet of Animal Healthy Things: IoAHT

The Internet of Things (IoT) has connected more industries than ever before. As we know, IoT has advanced the Medical and Health industry in many ways.  Recently we wrote about how Granny Pods help our older citizens age in place..  We have also written about how  IoT is connecting you to your best friend and faithful companion.  IoT is now reaching much further  than our pets. IoT is engaged in  the animal industries as a whole and its changing how we care for our animals for the better.

Animal health is normally broken up into two primary segments: large animals and companion animals. This week’s blog post focusses on Animal Health and how IoT has helped different segments of animal health from large animals, to wildlife, and smaller animals/pets.

Wildlife  

IoT companies have developed  new connected products  that help to preserve natural spaces around the world, keep our wildlife safe and fortunately even going so far as to save them from extinction.. One of the main ways IoT accomplishes this is through connected tracking devices.  The devices monitor their movements and behaviors thereby  making their lives  safer and more secure. One innovative (and large!)  product for monitoring is Elephant Tracking, a GPS elephant collar that  tracks the elephant’s position in real-time and transmits the location and movement patterns to the park rangers smart phone.

Farm Animals

The farming world will realize huge benefits  from  IoT in the area of  animal health. Silent Herdsman is a neck collar that tracks all cows’ activity, detecting changes in their behavior, and data about their vital functions  This data helps  the farmer to know exactly when the cows are sick, pregnant, and most importantly when the best day for milk production is.

IoT intersects with the animal health industry, this developing sector is often called the Internet of Animal Healthy Things, or IoAHT. IoAHT software and hardware maximizes the efficiency and health of livestock. Most of the innovation around IoAHT technology has been focused on the hardware/wearable tech devices that are attached to the animals themselves and transmit info to data to data collection and analysis  systems. An example is TekVet, a health monitoring system that can immediately identify a rise in temperature that is associated with many common illnesses, allowing the livestock operator to perform early, and more successful, treatment. The monitor can track early signs of illness allowing the operator administer  early treatment and reduce livestock loss.

CattleWatch is a GPS tracker that monitors and records the cattle’s location. More importantly it monitors health conditions and predator activity, creates invisible fences that restrict cattle movement, and allows livestock producers to send out drones from their smartphones which collect live video feeds of their herds.

 

Pets

Something closer to home and an example of how IoT is helping pet owners care for their best friend  is the LINK AKC. Created by the American Kennel Club, the LINK AKC is a smart collar that combines the most advanced technology putting your dog’s needs and location right at your fingertips whenever you need it. LINK is the only curved smart collar designed to comfortably fit all dogs. The system allows a tracking unit that fits comfortably on the dog’s collar that helps with pet wellness, dog location, and keeping your dog happy and healthy.

Another example of Pet IoT is Clever Pet; an engaging ‘dog trainer’ that keeps your dog active while you’re away from home.  The product has a number of different modes that provides your dog with easy activities that progress to more difficult mental tests so that your dog stays stimulated and never gets bored. Clever Pet provides treats for successfully completing activities and sends live updates to pet owners via its mobile application.

We can’t forget about our cats! Tailio turns your basic cat litter box into a connected ‘smart’ litter box. Tailio sits underneath your litter box and monitors your cat’s weight and amount of waste produced. More importantly, it tracks the frequency of activity within the litter box and analyzes this data to determine whether your cat is healthy or if it may be trending towards an unhealthy condition so that you can be warned proactively via their mobile app.

IoT is helping all animal owners become more familiar with their animals health needs. As healthcare and wellbeing is important for human beings, it should also be important for our animals (pets, wildlife or farm). Animals can be our most loyal companions.. As much as they love and care for us and give us enjoyment, we should show them the same love, care, and appreciation.

 

Do you have an IoT project you need help with? Bluefin Technology Partners helps companies build amazing connected solutions. We understand the complexity and collaboration required between organizational disciplines in order to deliver an IoT product to market on time and on budget.  We provide the services needed to assess your market, manage your partners, and shepherd your project through successful launch.

Granny Pods are the New Assisted Living Centers

New and innovative IoT (Internet of Things) products are connecting you to your loved ones in many new ways. MedCottages or “Granny Pods," as they are oftentimes affectionately referred to,  are self contained housing units that you can drop into your backyard - adding a second home for your aging loved one.   Being close and accessible to the caregiver and providing state of the art in in-home aging amenities, Granny Pods are an up and coming product of the Internet of Things world.   The American Association of Retired People (AARP)  estimates there are over 23 million Americans that take care of their elderly parents. However, finding the perfect place for them to live in a comfortable, familiar and safe place is difficult  and [often] expensive. On many occasions, children do not  want to leave their parents in an assisted home facility on their own, or sometimes it is not in their financial abilities  to do so either.  In addition, the aging person most often wants to maintain a certain level of independence.  They want to continue their lives in a home where they control their lives.

IoT and the tech industry have come up with new products that will make aging [and life] easier for all families. MEDCottages or “Granny Pods” are tiny homes loaded with safety features and technology.  They are designed by a Blacksburg, VA company with help from Virginia Tech.  Variations of this original design are popping up from other housing manufacturers.   In each case, the mini-homes are designed for the very specific purpose of providing a fast, convenient and safe solution to aging in place.

 

 

The basis of the Granny Pods are small modular  guest houses designed to be installed in a backyard, with all the latest high-tech medical extras. Embedded IoT devices add to the  ease of caregiving and make it accessible for those that want their elders close and taken care of with dignity. The small dwelling is hooked up to the main home’s existing sewer, water and power lines. Some of the standard features include hand railings, defibrillators, first aid supplies, lighted floorboards and a soft floor to minimize damage from falls.  From an IoT perspective devices range from voice assisted lighting, locks  and appliances control to bi-directional hands free communications with caregivers anywhere in the home.   Motion detectors can monitor for falls and send alerts accordingly.

IoT has made its way into the Medical and Health industry and, like always, it is looking for ways to make our lives easier and safer. Granny Pods are allowing elderly family members to live in high-tech backyard cottages for aging in place, assisted living, and caregiving right in their loved one’s backyard.

   Do you have an IoT project you need help with? Bluefin Technology Partners helps companies build amazing connected solutions. We understand the complexity and collaboration required between organizational disciplines in order to deliver an IoT product to market on time and on budget.  We provide the services needed to assess your market, manage your partners, and shepherd your project through successful launch.

Choosing the right Power Solution for your Connected Product

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By: Jay Cahill of Bluefin Technology Partners Over the years Bluefin has developed a pretty wide and deep set of experiences in developing connected products.  We continue to get requests from the IoT community at large to share some of those experiences. To satisfy this request we are commissioning a series of blogs that focuses in on some key aspects of IoT development; one tidbit of knowledge at a time.

With that in mind, we thought we’d start off the series by sharing some thoughts and  considerations about “Powering your Connected Device.” Here are a few top of mind areas to consider  as you start to layout your Connected Device Power Strategy. 

The Basic Requirements

As you begin, it's critical to get a firm understanding of the Who, Where, What, When, and How of the product as they shape the fundamental principles of your design.   

  • Where will it operate?

  • Who will operate it?

  • What will it do?

  • When will it do it?

  • How will it communicate what it’s doing or has done?

  • Where will it Operate?

Where will the product be deployed and what will be the operating environment?  The answers to these questions inform the decision to use a constantly available  power supply or the  need to design a solution based on battery technology to power it.   

In addition to the  power draw required for normal operations of the device, the accessibility of the device could greatly impact your power designs when you have to consider that these devices may need remote access to update the firmware that runs on them. Remote updates require network accessibility and the transfer of files - meaning modems or wifi or some other radio controls - thus driving requirements for more juice.

  • Who will operate it?

Understanding the intended audience of the product and their ability to manage  the product is extremely important as you need to determine what capabilities they have in assisting in the management of the power for the device. While we should optimally design for autonomous power management in the device, you may have flexibility in your battery requirements if the operator of the device can provide a level of monitoring and metering over that device. Case in point, if the device is for human use, you are more likely to get their participation in managing power consumption versus a pet wearable, where  Rover just doesn’t care about how many bars are left on the battery meter.

  • What will it do?

The most obvious consideration for power requirement  is sorting out what functions the device will do. Fortunately or unfortunately, not all sensors and their communications mechanisms are made power consumption friendly.  For example, if you wanted to use a connected device to monitor your crops to ensure that they are getting watered properly you could develop a connected device that photographs and forwards hi-resolution photos of the crop to the cloud where they can be analyzed and compared for color and content to affirm proper watering -- Or -- you could develop a connected product with sensors that transmits text-based moisture readings from the soil that can affirm proper watering has taken place.  Same results, very different power and hence battery requirements.

  • When will it do it?

Regardless of task, the regularity of its execution will drive power needs.  In the design of a connected product you often find yourself balancing the frequency of polling the sensor, the size of the information you are capturing and the timing of offloading the data from the device.  Should you do small bite size data transmissions more frequently or larger, longer transmission less frequently?  The timeliness of the information needs to be weighed against the availability of power to supply the updates.

*** Recommendation

Once you have a firm understanding of your requirements and a broad brush on the Who, What, Where and When, invest in developing a Power Budget - a tool that outlines the consumption of power by your most critical components in your IoT design.  (Note: Coursera has a nice overview in Lecture 22).  Armed with a Power Budget you can model expected usage patterns and determine the detailed requirements for powering your IoT device over its intended lifetime.Til next time.

Engineered to Succeed, Designed to Fail

Engineered to Succeed, Designed to Fail

The Problem With Bad IoT Design

No One Left Behind

The Internet of Things (IoT) is huge. As Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said at the World Economic Forum, “"[T]he Internet will disappear. There will be so many IP addresses, so many devices, sensors, things that you are wearing, things that you are interacting with, that you won't even sense it. It will be part of your presence all the time. Imagine you walk into a room, and the room is dynamic. And with your permission and all of that, you are interacting with the things going on in the room." With startups forming to create connected devices for Pacifiers , Cows , and even Socks there is no business left unaffected by the Internet of Things. Everyone, in every industry should be looking into major growth opportunities that IoT can provide your business.

The Problem With IoT

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Hardware Engineers are not Designers. For good reason, the appeal to early adopters of IoT products is not a flashy screen or nice UI, it lies in the actual specifications. The engineers of these products live in a bubble, creating products and applications that appeal to people just like themselves. This closed loop often leads to a major problem, bad IoT design. This problem with IoT, and tech companies in general spawns an important question: New technology is for nerds, what does it take to make it cool?

Make Tech Cool Again

From an early stage, engineers must partner with hardware designers. These two sides of the production process should not act as separate entities, design should not be an afterthought. In order to appeal to the masses, connected devices/ IoT projects must have not just a useful, powerful product, it must have great hardware design. IoT companies must reach the consumers that matter. They must leave the geeky image behind and put forth major efforts in attractive, practical design.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Companies can create the most amazing product, with a plethora of features that blow even the toughest critic away. However, without proper design that appeals to everyday people, the product is doomed to fail. Here, highlighted are IoT projects that have great engineering, great technical specifications and vision. However, some are lacking visually in what we believe to be an equally important facet of product development, leading to bad IoT design.

The Good

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  • Fitbit: There is a reason why the FitBit is the best selling IoT wearable. The simple, practical design pushes it above the competition. Where comparable tech overcomplicates features, screens, etc.. FitBit has excelled in the niche activity tracker market by sticking to it's core feature set and what the user's of the product really want.

  • Apple Watch: Apple's break into the wearable market came as a huge success. Apple has always focused on simple design, as Steve Jobs famously put it, "Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple." In a crowded Mp3 player market, Apple was able to break through by creating an impossibly simple Mp3 player, the iPod. In a smartphone market that was dominated by the practical, yet aesthetically inadequate Blackberry, Apple was able to introduce a practical and beautiful phone with just one button. Now, in the wareable space, the Apple Watch has been able to grasp the simplicity of a wristwatch with the usability of a smartphone.

The Bad

  • At Bluefin we believe that there is no such thing as a bad IoT project. IoT is still a growing market, and in any growing market there is always room for innovation. This means companies will be trying new things, experimenting with strange ideas etc.. to come up with a breakthrough product. That is why we say here that there is no IoT project too strange or too small. In the hands of excellent engineers and experienced product professionals there is always a chance for an IoT project to succeed. However, we do believe in bad IoT Design. That is where "The Ugly" comes into play...

The Ugly

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  • The Daqri Smart Helmet: Daqri describes themselves as, “The human-machine interface company changing the future of work.” The smart helmet is an amazing piece of engineering. With thermal vision, data visualization and 4D work instructions Daqri hopes to change the way the way we manufacture and build. There is a robust support network as well as a custom application for developers to integrate your own workpackages into the Smart Helmet. However, we wonder, why, when the helmet is full of such amazing technical feats, must it look more like a fighter pilot helmet than a simple workplace hardhat. After Google’s deep mind AI AlphaGo beat world Champion Go Player Lee Sedol many people claimed that our Jobs will be taken by artificial intelligence in the near future. If the only alternative to AI are connected devices that look like this smart helmet I am pretty sure employees will be lining up to have their jobs taken rather than have to wear this on their head. Seriously, This helmet looks like a slightly more high tech version of this famous Official Star Trek Toy Helmet made in 1976.

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  • Pigeon Air Patrol: Pigeon Air Patrol has created a wearable pollution tracker

  • for pigeons. This project focuses less on the consumer aspect and more on practical design. The concept of pigeons tracking air pollution in London is both innovative and intriguing. However, it seems as if the hardware design has come as an afterthought. Why does the backpack need to look like it’s from a sci-fi movie? The engineering and mission are top of the line. Why have we let design fall to the back of our minds?