Google Assistant makes a splash at CES 2018

CES just wrapped up in Las Vegas.  The event, which takes place yearly, is where the cutting edge of consumer products are shown off.  This year had a clear theme -  getting everyday consumer products connected and equipped with voice interfaces.  Refrigerators, mirrors, toilets, televisions, cars, you name it, people are putting voice into it.  We aren’t here to tell you that all of those gadgets are necessary, but we can say that the age of voice interface is ramping up.  It is no longer in the early adopter stage as Amazon has now sold more than 10 million Alexa powered Echo products.  The market for voice products is no longer a 1 horse race, as Google has put a dent in what was once an Alexa only market.  In Q4 of 2017 it was reported that 7.6 million Google Home products sold, that is more than the total smart speakers sold in all of 2016.  That is a massive amount of hardware.  Reports indicate that 2018 will be even bigger for the purchase of smart speakers, with an estimated 56 million speakers to ship.  These voice assistants aren’t exclusive to their companies hardware though.  Google, for example, has their voice assistant on phones and a lot of the new connected products that were shown off at CES.  Reports say that Google’s voice assistant is now available on over 400 million devices!   This is an exciting time to be involved in Voice.  It can be a seamless and satisfying way to interact with a computer.  Over the holidays, the team at Bluefin did a fun in-house project, developing a Google Action for our kegerator.  We had previously built a connected keg, powered by the open-source Kegbot Arduino, and Raspberry Pi software.  A flow meter collects data on the kegs use and a web interface lets the user give input details about the keg, such as beer type and size of the keg.   Since Google Assistant isn’t restricted to one device, the information is available on any device with Google Assistant.  In the office, we use our Google Home to ask the kegbot questions, like “When was the last beer poured,” but we can also access it on a phone with Google Assistant enabled. Imagine you are at a liquor store, and can’t remember if the keg is low, you simply ask the voice assistant, “How much beer is left in the keg?” With what we were able to do in a week with our in house project, the possibilities seem endless for how helpful voice integration will be.

Below is a quick demonstration of some of what the voice assisted kegbot can do:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7fsNlsVhOM&t=18s

 

Designing Connected Health Products People Love

Uplift Cooperative recently attended the Partners Connected Health Conference in Boston's Seaport District.  Uplift attended the event as a sponsor and promoter,  and showed off some of our impressive technologies at our booth in the "Connected Health Pavilion".  We worked with our Uplift Cooperative partner, Cantina, to host a Design Thinking Workshop.  As a follow-up to the very successful workshop, where over 80 people attended, the authors of the Workshop have created a 2-part series blog post about "Designing Connected Health Products People Love".  We are pleased to be a partner of Cantina as part of Uplift and also pleased to present the first part of that series: Several years ago, the designer Jonathan Shariat wrote an arresting blog post entitled “How Bad UX Killed Jenny.” It’s a cautionary tale for anyone working at the intersection of technology and user experience.

It describes how a young patient recovering from an aggressive cancer treatment died in a hospital due to a lack of hydration. Although hydration was part of the recovery protocol, and despite the fact that the nurses on staff each had over ten years of experience, something went terribly wrong. How did they miss this critical information when the charting software was developed precisely to ensure that each step in treatment was taken and properly recorded?

... to find out more about this revolutionary design thinking click here!

Make sure to follow us for part two of this 2-part series.

Voice Apps are the New Mobile Apps of the Day

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The Voice Assistant and Voice Interface market for the past few years has experienced an increase in demand for high quality voice apps. Although the market as a whole is in the growth stage, the need for well designed voice apps has arrived.

Voice Assisted Devices

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Smart speakers, and devices with voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant has boomed in the past year. If you look farther down the line, analysts predict that by 2020, up to 75% of all US households will have some sort of smart speaker in the home. There is no doubt that this market, just like the mobile phone market of the late 2000s, will see a massive influx of voice apps to support that consumer demand.

Voice Assisted Applications

The Alexa App Store is glutted with daily briefings and trivia apps. But analyzing the usage of most apps you see that many people will use a skill once and never “touch” it again. The market is longing for valuable voice interactions that give users cause to interact with them on a regular basis.

Benefits of Adding Voice to Your App

Companies have seen three main benefits from implementing voice interactions into their apps. 1) By receiving exactly what consumers are asking, businesses are able to tailor content on other platforms to best fit the information customers are looking for.  2) Some companies have found that voice interfaces can fill needs otherwise unreached by standard interface structures and 3) they have also seen that consumers feel that voice can be much more convenient and immediate than their traditional content acquisition solutions.

For more information on getting a voice app developed and launched along with a full report on the voice assisted market, get in contact with us here.

Game Changers Business Conference & Expo

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Bluefin Technology Partners attended Worcester Chamber of Commerce’s  Game Changers event October 20th.  During the day long event, many local business’ showcased their products and services.  We had the pleasure of listening to Congressman James McGovern and Anthony Consigli of Consigli Construction discuss the climate of politics and construction in the region.  Mechanics hall was filled with entrepreneurs and business people, excited about how far Worcester has come and where it is going.  Thanks to the hard work of local business’, officials and the Chamber of Commerce, downtown Worcester is thriving!

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Our very own Jay Cahill, Co-founder and Partner of Bluefin,  participated in one of the days many insightful panels.  He spoke to an involved crowd about recruiting and retaining talent from the cities’ many local colleges.  Jay was joined by Ben Pleat of Doorbell, David Crouch of Ten24, and Jessica Walsh of Worcester Wares on the panel.  The panel agreed that the growth of the downtown area has helped develop their companies and attract talent.  Worcester has talented students leaving many of the area colleges, it appears Worcester’s revitalization helps to keep them in the area.

Bluefin has been lucky enough to work out of the Worcester Idea Labs, run by Action! Worcester, for the past 3 years.  The space has been not only beautiful, but great for collaborating with other businesses.  We partnered with Blustream, a connected humidity tracking company, who we worked with to help build their mobile application.  Worcester innovation has been picking up steam; it was great to see it on full display at Game Changers!

Tips & Tricks for Alexa Development

Amazon just released a slew of new Echo products. The new expanded product line-up adds variety to their offering. The new products include:  a reduction in size to the standard Echo, the introduction of the Echo Spot, an alarm clock shaped device with a display. They've also released an accessory that allows you to connect your landline to your Echo ecosystem to make and receive calls through voice interaction. With a great new product line-up we thought it would be a good time to share some tips and tricks we've found during our Alexa development projects. These 6 tips might seem fairly straightforward, but they are always good to remember.

  1. When you write your skill’s example phrases, make sure they don’t contain any, emoticons, symbols, exclamation points, or grammatical errors. Example phrases should only include content that is intended to be spoken exactly by Alexa users. Make sure that if any of your intents allow users to ask about specific things that you don't generalize such as, "Alexa, ask example list to add {item} to my list." If you want to write an example phrase like the one mentioned, it should look like this: "Alexa, ask example list to add carrots to my list." Amazon Help Page

  2. If your Skill connects to an outside service, make sure that the user authenticates their account in the app. If they don't compete the account linking, an error message clarifies that the account isn't properly linked. Additionally, that response must create a card in the Alexa app pointing you towards the Link Account page. Without the proper error handling, Amazon will not approve your skill. Amazon Help Page

  3. Only add intents that are fully developed and deployable to a new version of your skill, or it will be declined. Adding intents that are not fully implemented will be tested by Amazon even if it has no utterances. Use version control well, and you will be in great shape!

  4. Select the example phrases that you display in the skill store from the sample utterances you develop in the skill. If the example phrases are word-for-word, you can be sure that the commands will work. Amazon Help Page

  5. If you do make changes to one part of a skill, make sure that you reflect those changes throughout. This can be an easy mistake to make when changing an invocation name late in the game.

  6. Properly manage sessions, by closing them when a user input isn't needed. When Alexa is expecting a response the microphone should be on waiting for user input, but otherwise should be turned off. During a one-shot request, "Alexa, launch {myskill}", or a help request, "Alexa, launch {myskill} help", you also need to make sure sessions are either open or closed intentionally.Amazon Help Page

These are only some of the tricks we've learned while helping our customers develop Alexa skills. If you need help building an Alexa skill you can go to our  Alexa development page to find out more!

Join us at the Connected Health Conference

Bluefin Technology Partners, a member of the Uplift Cooperative, is excited to announce a partnership with PCH Alliance and the Connected Health Conference.  The event aims to bring together the brightest minds in the health and technology sector.  The conference is a 3-day event in Boston on October 25th thought the 27th, it’s focused on shaping the future of personal health and clinical care.  Through our partnership we are offering a $200 discount off the conference price when you register online, email Michael Po (mike@bluefintechpartners.com) to get the discount code.

Connected health and wellness devices is poised to be a $612 billion market by 2024. Advances in technology will drive this market and healthier lives for those who adopt it.  To drive these advances, technology companies are focusing on patients and their caregivers.  Uplift will lead a “Happy Hour” design thinking workshop on Friday (10/27) from 1pm to 3pm.  The session will focus on the importance of user research, journey mapping, and “user-centered” design to deliver connected health products that patients and providers will adopt. If you are interested in attending the workshop only, please contact Michael Po.

This is the 9th annual Connected Health Conference.  The programming and presentations will focus on advancing progress in care delivery and the innovative application of personal connected health technologies. The event will allow you to preview the latest innovations, experience early-stage technologies and meet the entrepreneurs, providers and business leaders shaping the market.

Join us at the conference to shape the future of healthcare together!

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Is Voice The New Touch?

Gone are the days when your home’s IoT devices are controlled through your smartphone or web browser. With smart speakers entering more and more consumer residences, smart home  product interactions have shifted to include non-tactile interfaces which foster unique experiences. Consumers have shown that they are behind the shift, as the number one selling product during Amazon’s Prime Day on July 12 was their Echo Dot. The ability to execute commands and receive information passively without directly changing your task at hand seems to be highly valued by users. Another important feature about these products is that they can be easily integrated to work with other devices as control hubs. With the release of Google Home last November, and the arrival of a second giant to the playing field, the smart speaker/virtual assistant market entered the growth stage of its product life cycle. Prior to this, Amazon’s Echo series had controlled the market with other products launching, but either not creating traction, or having a large enough ecosystem to give them a retainable foothold. While both the Echo and the Google Home have similar functionality, the way in which they interact with other products along with the ecosystem architecture lends for different experiences depending on what product you use. Both products allow users to integrate other devices and services into their voice controlled environments, but use different methods to achieve the same purpose.

Being the first major smart speaker in the market, the Amazon Echo has had a massive lead over Google Home. This is represented in the number of Echo Skills, what amazon calls its voice apps, that have been developed since they released their device. A staggering 15,000  skills have been developed as of June 2017, but it is important to note that a large number of these have only been installed under 100 times. Skills are either integrations or dedicated apps for the device. Skills have been available for the Echo since launch with developer support from the beginning. Skills are handled through an app store experience where you to install individual skills onto the Echo based on users interests. Google takes a different approach with their Google Actions, their version of the same kind of app. Actions are not separate apps that need to be installed on the Google Home, rather Actions get directly integrated into the Google Assistant and can be used immediately by users. Users can still browse available Actions through a directory. This has the benefit of not requiring users to choose apps they need ahead of time. Conversely with Actions, users may find that there are more features than they actually use build into the system.

Neither Amazon or Google’s ecosystem is very challenging to integrate into current systems with straightforward processes for implementation. Both platforms have similar introductory courses on building a simple fact based app for either Alexa or Google Home. Both programs have incentives for developers to build on their platform. Google is currently trying to increase their total number of Actions through cash prizes, while Amazon has a longstanding rewards programs including Echo dot and other perks.

We suggest that the first voice based platform you introduce your product on be Amazon’s Echo through their Skills. There are currently many more users, the build time for the integration is similar to Google’s and if you are in individual developer you are more likely to get some Echo merchandise by releasing a Skill. The caveat that is the Amazon will require you to produce documentation to inform users to install your Skill. But in the short term, it is more likely that your user will actually own Amazon’s product over Google’s. Long term, Google will be a better system, because they have a much more established and wide reaching ecosystem, along with stronger computing potential. Currently their market share is much smaller than Amazon making them a less beneficial first development choice.'

Need assistance building your first Alexa skill? Click through to let Bluefin help you!

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.

IoT Industries: Personal Health and Wellness

IoT has made another industry one of their own -- personal health and wellness. Throughout this series we have described how IoT is everywhere from cannabis and the food industry to Animal/Pet Health and smart homes. Now IoT is expanding rapidly into the personal health and wellness space where new devices are being introduced at a feverish pace. The next trillion dollar industry globally, the Health & Wellness market space, is dominated mostly by beauty and anti-aging product sales at $679 billion, followed by fitness and mind + body exercise ($390 billion) and healthy eating, nutrition and weight loss sales ($277 billion).  But not far behind in terms of annual growth is the fitness and wearable technology sales (think Nike, Gramin and Apple smart watches) is up $10 billion to $81.4 billion in wholesale sales in the US. The digital fitness category is now a $330 million market annually, and that is just one of many wearable fitness categories that is experiencing exponential growth.

Since the FitBit release over ten years ago in 2007, the Internet of Things (IoT) has moved above and beyond smartwatches to many other products that we can easily wear to enhance our personal health and wellness. IoT is enabling  a range of health and fitness devices that are available from both established companies and new start-ups. Industry giants and thought leaders such as  FitBit, Under Armour, and Intel have recently all announced new health and wellness connected devices.

Under Armour

Co-developed with HTC, the HealthBox is a package consisting of three new devices from UnderArmour (UA). UA Band is a wrist worn activity tracker designed for athletes, UA Heart Rate is a chest strap heart monitor to measure workout intensity and estimate the number of calories burned. Lastly, UA Scale is a WiFi weight scale that also measures body fat percentage.

Sleep Number Bed

Probably one of the most interesting products IoT has created for personal health, the Sleep Number IT Bed is a connected bed. The connected bed included its SleepIQ algorithm and predictive modeling, as well as Active Comfort technology that lets the bed adjust to firmness and support to the user’s needs. It also includes an app that would allow it to interact with other connected devices, perhaps suggesting a different sleep setting post-workout.

LifeBEAM

The LifeBEAM smart helmet was created to enhance performance for bikers. The helmet includes an integrated heart rate monitor that measures heart rate, calories, and performance. The helmet works with a dual module with bluetooth 4.0 and ANT connectivity. The helmet also includes an optical sensor that is compatible with the weather.

Digistole

Digistole is a footwear brand that has completely reinvented athletic footwear. It has brought the very first Smart Shoe 002 the first connected, interactive, heating, and shock absorbing shoes with automatic lighting. The shoe has different features such as smart heating, accurate tracking, and 3D stride analyzer. The shoe manages all its best features through one dedicated app that is connected and interactive; compatible with both iOS and Android devices using Bluetooth 4.0.

LifeFuels

 

LifeFuels created the smart nutrition model.  They have developed a smart water bottle that includes includes a water tracker, that tracks the intake of water throughout the day, as well as suggesting many nutritional additives to the water via the “fuelpods.”

 

 

 

Intel

Intel has been making it big lately with IoT and connected products. Recently, they announced Curie, a small computer module. Through their partnerships with ESPN and Red Bull Intel is incorporating the Curie chip into BMX bikes and snowboards. Additionally, with their partnership with Oakley, Intel created Radar Pace; a pair of smart goggles that are being developed to track the user’s run and offer real time personal training and coaching tips.

 

Personal wellness should be the top priority for everyone and IoT is making it easier and more fun for people to motivate their minds and bodies toward a healthier existence. IoT is making our lives easier one connected product at a time. Stay tuned for our next IoT Industry post to see new and innovative ways IoT is changing our lives.

 

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.

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.