The 2017 IoT Podcast Gift Guide!

This is the $ 20 Wyze camera. It’s a solid gift.

You guys, this week’s podcast is all about the toys. Specifically toys for your kids, your dog and your loved ones. In the last year Kevin and I have tried many devices and have compiled our experiences into a gift guide for the connected life. You’ll find both our favorites like the June oven and utilitarian objects like the Ecobee 4 thermostat among a $ 20 smart camera and $ 30 motion sensor for kids. We also handled the few news items for the week– namely Apple deciding to delay the sale of the Home Pod.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

The 2017 IoT Podcast Gift Guide (written version)

There are so many connected options for gift giving. Let us show you.

Last Friday kicked off the holiday giving season, so my IoT Podcast co-host Kevin Tofel and I have pooled our experiences over the last year to create a list of tried and true devices that make a good gift. Some are for kids, some are for pets, and some are for the guy or gal who already has a connected home. I hope you can find something worth gifting or buying for yourself.

Smart Home Picks

The Wyze came sells for $ 20.

Wyze Camera ($ 19.99): For $ 20 you might expect this camera to be a piece of junk, but in our two weeks of testing we found it works really well. The camera offers two-way audio, night vision, 1080p resolution, 14-day cloud storage and motion detection. It’s wired and rated for the indoors, but if you want a simple security camera this one is an excellent place to start. With a microSD card (not included) you can even see a time lapse shot of the day, a feature that the more expensive Nest Cam also offers. The camera’s makers licensed the hardware from a Chinese company and have placed their bet on making good software while offering the cheapest prices they can. The team is based in Seattle and hail from Amazon. It doesn’t work with any other smart home platforms today, but Jessie Zhou, director of marketing at Wyze, says the company plans to add support for popular options over time. And for $ 20, the lack of integrations is not a huge deal killer.

The Netgear Arlo Wi-Fi cameras work indoors and outdoors.

Arlo Pro outdoor 2 cameras and hub ($ 349.99): For the security conscious homeowner and renters alike, these cameras make for a nice outdoor or indoor option. They are rechargeable, offer 720p video resolution, two-way audio, motion detection and night vision. We leave ours on the roof deck when we have parties and want to keep an eye on children from the Amazon Echo Show or from our phones and then toss them outside or on window ledges when we leave town for vacation. These are not always recording, so they aren’t foolproof. They have to detect motion in order to turn on, and one or two people have told me the cameras missed an event. If you want failsafe security, wired cameras are probably the way to go. That being said, these are good enough, durable, convenient and a decent price.

The Google Home now does so much more.

Google Home ($ 79 during the holidays): In the smart speaker category, our choice is the Google Home, which has managed to surpass the Amazon Echo at offering responses to everyday inquiries and has mostly met the challenge in the smart home. If you haven’t decided yet on a smart speaker option for the home, for $ 79 during the holiday season, you can pick up a decent-sounding device that can control hundredsof smart home devices and process almost any query you can think of. Plus, it can make phone calls, which turns the Google Home into a de facto land line for people as long as there is internet access and power. My only quibble with this device is that the slanted design of the top means that you can’t always see if the device “heard” your initial voice command.

The Sonos One works with the Amazon Echo.

Sonos One ($ 174 from 11/23 to 11/27): As an alternative to Google Home, we also recommend the new Sonos One for specific people. For example, this new hands-free speaker supports Alexa voice controls for your smart home, as well as for music playback on Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify and more. Even better: You’ll have a choice of digital assistants in 2018 when Sonos adds support for Google Assistant. Sound quality is excellent on the Sonos One and you can combine multiple units for multi-room audio. Plus, the Sonos companion app includes a smart configuration option to optimize audio playback for your specific room set up.

The Wink Hub 2 is smart and sleek (Credit: Wink)

Wink Hub 2 ($ 99): You can buy the Samsung SmartThings Hub for less, but we recommend the Wink Hub 2 for the extra money. This second-gen hub improves over its predecessor with a faster processor, more memory, and dual-band WiFi support. You don’t need to hardwire it to a router either, making it easy to place in the center of your smart home for maximum range of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, Zigbee and Z-Wave devices. It’s easy to use the Wink app to add new devices, create schedules or automate devices as well. Local processing means that even if your internet service goes down, Wink can still control your home; a feature that Samsung only just added to its hub. With broad device support, simple setup and the ability to work with either Alexa or Google Assistant, the Wink Hub 2 is a great choice to be the brains of your smartphone.

The Ecobee 4 thermostat and remote sensor (Credit: ecobee)

Ecobee 4 ($ 199 on sale): Nest may be the most recognizable smart thermostat brand but we think the Ecobee 4 is better. It’s just as easy to install and includes a Power Extender Kit for older HVAC systems. It also has two key benefits: Remote sensors — one included, additional sensors cost $ 79 per pair — to monitor temperature in additional rooms and a built in microphone/speaker combo that works with Amazon Alexa. The Ecobee 4 is compatible with Apple HomeKit so you’re covered regardless of your hub or smartphone platform.

Google WiFi mesh networking expands coverage and is easy to setup (Credit: Google)

Google Wi-Fi ($ 289 for a three pack / $ 249 on Black Friday at Best Buy): Unless you need super advanced router features, the Google Wi-Fi mesh network units are a great addition to any home. They’re simple to set up and less expensive than most other competing products. The three pack covers 4,500 square feet and creates a single network for your devices, making them a better choice than older network extenders. Although you use Wi-Fi to connect the units, each has an Ethernet port for wiring a device as well. Some standout features include scheduling a Wi-Fi pause for family time, guest network support and the ability to prioritize your wireless signal to a specific device for a certain length of time.

Nvidia Shield TV with remote and optional game controller (Credit: Nvidia)

Nvidia Shield TV ($ 149 on Black Friday) and Samsung SmartThings Link ($ 39.99): This recommendation might seem like it doesn’t belong on an IoT gift guide but bear with us while we explain. The Nvidia Shield TV is primarily a powerful Android TV streaming box and Chromecast unit that supports 4K HDR playback with ease. You can also play Android games on your big screen with the optional (but recommended) game controller included in the $ 169 Black Friday bundle. Nvidia also offers 1080p console games through a monthly $ 8 subscription fee: These titles are played on Nvidia’s cloud servers and streamed to you without any noticeable lag, provided you have a fast enough broadband connection. Here’s where the IoT part comes in on this double-duty device. The Shield TV supports Google Assistant voice commands through a microphone found in both the remote and the game controller. And Nvidia also plans to sell small plug-in microphones you can put throughout your home to use Google Assistant in any room. Lastly, you can add the new Samsung SmartThings Link USB stick for $ 40 which adds Zigbee and Z-Wave support, turning the Nvidia Shield TV into a fully functional SmartThings hub.

For the kids

The Kano Motion Sensor.

Kano motion sensor kit ($ 29.99): This gizmo is made by the same company that makes the Kano build-it-yourself computer for kids. The sensor plugs into the USB port on a computer and lets the user wave their hand in front of it to make music, control games and more. It’s designed for the younger set, with kids as young as five likely to understand what the device does and start interacting with it. My 11-year-old thought it was a little young for her and was not excited to see the coding challenges that Kano has set up to help youngsters learn how to program the games that use the sensor. “Oh no, coding again!” However, with a less jaded audience the games are fun, and the product is simple and intuitive to use. I’ll also add that the Kano community is wholesome and full of good child-safe computing activities.

The Littlebits Droid kit is pretty cool.

Littlebits R2D2 Droid Inventor Kit ($ 99.95): I have not tested this device, but we’re huge fans of Littlebits in this house so I’m excited about this package. Basically, the company has combined several of its bits into a Star Wars-themed Droid to excite kids. It solves one of the challenges my daughter and I had with the original Littlebits package, which was we had all these servo motors, lights and computers, but no real plan on what to do with them. We overcame that, but the cool part of this toy is that once the magic of the Droid wears off, the nits can be used to build whatever your kid desires. Or not. Either way, they still have a fun toy to play with. I’d recommend this for older kids, roughly in the tween demographic.

Stocking stuffers

You can get 5 TrackR Pixels for $ 50.

TrackR Pixel ($ 49.99 for 5): Bluetooth tracking devices are ideal for purses, wallets, backpacks, keys and any other personal item you don’t want to lose. The TrackR Pixel is roughly the size of a quarter so it’s easy to attach to just about anything without calling attention to itself. Once paired with the TrackR app on your smartphone, you can use Bluetooth or even enable an LED or a sound on the TrackR Pixel to find that lost item. It works in reverse too: By pressing a button on the TrackR Pixel, your phone will sound a tone. No more searching around the house for your smartphone! If you leave something behind while on the go, TrackR crowdsources data so if another TrackR app user passes by your lost item, you’ll see where it is in the app.

Flosstime ($ 39.99): This might be an insulting gift for an adult but it makes a good gift for a teen or child. Basically, this is a connected dental floss dispenser that suctions to your mirror and has an LED smiley face or frowny face on it. When you grab the floss, it will dispense the right amount automatically and then the frown turns upside down to cheer you on for flossing. As someone who doesn’t floss like she should I look at this as something that would compel me to actually floss in ways that my thrice-annual dental check ups do not. A warning though, this does require special refills that cost $ 6 a pop.

The Fibaro button is for advanced smart home users.

Fibaro Z-wave Button ($ 49.99) This is not a gift for the smart home novice. This is a stocking stuffer for the person who already owns a SmartThings hub or Fibaro’s own Home Center line of hubs. The button is a beautiful device that can be programmed to respond to 6 different types of touches to set a pre-programmed scene or action in motion. It comes in 8 colors (I have orange) and it’s basically like a magic wand (button) that your loved one can use to impress people with their existing smart home setup and scenes.

Crazy, expensive gifts

June Oven ($ 1,495): Without a doubt this an expensive gift but we’re both glad we bought ourselves one. June is a smart, connected convection oven that resembles a large toaster oven. Don’t be deceived though: In addition to the ceramic heating elements, the June Oven has a built in camera and included temperature probe. While the camera is fun for watching your food cook, it’s really meant to identify the foods you place inside the oven by combining the camera with a growing food database. This way, the June can pick the proper cooking mode, temperature and timer. You can always control the settings manually through the touch screen display or your connected iPhone with the June Oven app installed. Recently, June added support for an Alexa skill, so now you can preheat the oven with a voice command. Pricey, yes, but worth it if your budget allows.

The CleverPet is a pricey toy for dogs.

CleverPet ($ 299.99): Does your loved one have fur? If there’s a really good dog in your life who is food motivated and smart, then consider the CleverPet. The device is like a treat-dispensing Simple Simon game for your dog that uses its Wi-Fi connection to update the treat dispensing devices with new games and to track the treats or kibble your dog takes. It takes a while for dogs to warm up to the full capabilities of the devices and if your dog is indifferent to food, this isn’t going to work in your home. At $ 300 it’s pricey, but if you have the right pet, this will keep it entertained while you are out. It’s loud though, so if you work from home be prepared for a constant whirring noise in the background. Combine with the $ 20 Wyze camera if your pooch is home alone and you can show your officemates how smart Fido really is.

Nanoleaf Aurora Rhythm ($ 229.99): Part light, part art, this product is the gift I’d love to get. Unlike my many connected bulbs and switches this doesn’t have much of a purpose, but boy, does it look cool on the wall. The starter kit comes with nine light panels and a controller that’s capable of controlling up to 30 of the triangle LEDs. The Rhythm aspect of this kit means it will change the lights in response to your music, effectively turning your room into a disco. So if you have a fat wallet and a loved one who likes playing with light, this makes for a great present.

 

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

Network neutrality is an IoT issue too

Network neutrality is an IoT issue too: This week the FCC issued an plan that would reverse the rules put in place during the last administration that prevent ISPs from discriminating against certain packets on their networks.

The network neutrality rules prevent your broadband provider from slowing down traffic from specific companies. The concern is that an ISP like Comcast might slow down competing TV traffic from Netflix (like it did in 2014). Or in the smart home, perhaps it would prioritize packets from its own home automation and security service as opposed to Nest’s.

I’ve spent almost a decade of my reporting career writing about the effort to first enshrine net neutrality into a formal regulation, and then watched a lawsuit kill it. During that time I also watched ISPs throttle traffic, enact punitive peering agreements and more. At the same time, the fears over net neutrality shifted from broadband networks over to wireless networks, where issues like offering Netflix to a T-Mobile subscriber for free caused similar concerns over the control carriers and ISPs had over how a consumer could experience the internet.

In 2015 The FCC finally passed network neutrality rules formalizing principles that originated back in 2005 with Republican FCC Chairman Michael Powell. But the way it did it was by classifying telecommunications as a public utility. This freaked out the ISPs. There were plenty of reasons for that, yet the FCC headed by Tom Wheeler (a former lobbyist for the telecommunications industry) that enacted the rules, took care to exempt the ISPs from most upsetting aspects of being a public utility.

But the carriers chaffed. With a new chairman, plus less support initially from big internet companies that stood to benefit from net neutrality in 2008, but now have the power to go head-to-head with the ISPs, ISPs saw a chance. This week the FCC said it will vote on December 14 whether or not to repeal the 2015 net neutrality rules. This is a big story for the internet at large and there are several aspects of the internet of things that make it a great test case for network neutrality, so it’s a topic I’ll go into more depth on in a later issue.

However, beyond the frustration I feel at what is an anti-consumer and anti-innovation act by the FCC, I’m also dismayed by how much of a waste of money and time resources this all is. Lobbyists have spent millions of dollars and hours discussing this one single issue. I’ve written what is likely a book-length amount of copy on the topic as have others. And for what? We’re not adding to the debate? The compromises that were reached in the 2015 net neutrality regulations did not unilaterally favor consumers or Google to the detriment of the ISPs.

There were plenty of loopholes in the 2015 net neutrality rules that a sympathetic FCC can use to ease up on ISPs. So the idea that a repeal is needed is ridiculous. A repeal only returns us to the status quo that started this fight all the way back in 2005 once technology began infringing on the ISP’s revenue streams and they acted to stop it by blocking applications and services on the internet.

This was regulation that solved an actual problem. Which is exactly what the government is supposed to do. To suddenly repeal what took almost a decade to enact soon after coming into power isn’t a step forward or even backward. It’s just another step toward the corruption of our democracy.

Cisco is offering financing to cities for connected tech: The U.S. is further behind Europe and Asia when it comes to developing smart cities. One reason for this is the governments in other countries are investing in technology through grants and other programs. Meanwhile, in the U.S., finding funds for tech can be tough. Cisco, recognizing this, has created a $ 1 billion City Infrastructure Financing Acceleration Program. The funding will be provided through Cisco Capital in partnership with private equity firm Digital Alpha Advisors and pension fund investors APG Asset Management (APG) and Whitehelm Capital. However, there’s a large part of me that worries about cities striking revenue-sharing deals with private firms as part of funding for a connected traffic light or parking system. It also begs the question of how non-lucrative government services such as providing air quality data or safety in parks might find funds for technology. (SecurityWorld Market)

A crowdsourced ethics curriculum for techies: This has some really good ideas and books on it if you’re into that sort of thing. If you aren’t, you probably should be. (Tech Ethics Curriculum)

Meet the Chinese company that’s enabling the surveillance state: This profile of Megvii and its Face++ platform is a good indicator of what it means when a computer can identify people and what value a company accrues when doing that well. As humans, our face is our identity more so than a social security number or whatever other government issued ID is. We only moved to numbers because that was easier for computers to track. Once computers can track faces easily then we have to start thinking about security in an entirely new way. Because unlike our passports, our credit cards and our social security numbers, our face is visible and out there in the world. (MIT Technology Review)

Former AT&T IoT chief Glenn Lurie has a new gig: Lurie, who was the former president and CEO of AT&T Mobility Consumer Operations before he left in late summer, has joined Synchronoss at the CEO. Synchronoss is a company best known for messaging technology that it sells to a who’s who of carriers around the world. So Lurie’s staying with telecom, but not necessarily IoT. (Fierce Wireless)

Read the EU’s thinking on IoT security: The European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) has published a report that tries to establish a framework for IoT security. It’s a long read and I’m not through it yet. So far there’s nothing groundbreaking in it from the perspective of how it defines the IoT, what aspects need to be secured and that security has to happen horizontally across the entire services and device. If nothing else, you will gain a deep respect for the difficulty of “securing the IoT.” (ENISA report)

Amazon’s Lambda service gets some real power: I didn’t even have to wait until next week’s AWS ReInvent conference to pick up some exciting news about Amazon’s serverless computing efforts. This week, Amazon beefed up its Lambda service to allow for better authentication and ascertaining privileges on demand, more dynamism in figuring out where to process certain requests and bigger limits for what you can do on Lambda@Edge. For more on why Lambda matters read this. (AWS blog)

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Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

Lunera wants to define the shape of edge computing

The Dallas Fort Worth airport uses the Lunera lights. Image courtesy of DFW.

This week I met a company called Lunera that’s embedding computing in LED light bulbs. Literally. Each LED bulb slots into a traditional enterprise or commercial lighting ballast and contains an ARM Cortex A7 quad-core processor that also has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios. Each lightbulb-turned-server also runs a variety of applications in Docker containers.

Is this crazy? The pendulum is clearly swinging back to local compute after years of singing the praises of the cloud. And while in reality a hybrid model will emerge that shunts appropriate jobs to the cloud and other jobs to computers located at the so-called edge, the hype for edge computing is hot and heavy at the moment.

For example, Liqid is a startup that makes software that turns clusters of GPU servers into what it calls “composable infrastructure.” The idea is that factories, manufacturing plants and other operations will need intense high-powered computing to handle real-time data analytics or even some video processing. Because the jobs may change over time, the folks at Liqid believe companies will want what is essentially reconfigurable computing, storage and networking to handle changing demands.

It’s not just startups eyeing edge computing as a source of new profits and IT sales. HP Enterprise has invested significant effort into building servers that can handle the physical environments on plant floors and pack more power than the typical IoT gateway. Having visited manufacturing facilities and seen the local server closets that handle everything from general computing to highly-specific industrial controllers, this vision makes a lot of sense.

However, Lunera is taking this idea out of manufacturing and bringing it to the enterprise. This is where the local computing story falls apart for me. On one hand, the vision of having computing embedded in everyday objects that can run applications locally makes sense. On the other hand, taking the computing that used to be an IT asset and putting it into something that facilities managers used to run puts unfamiliar equipment in the hands of an overburdened IT staff.

It effectively turns a facilities asset into an IT asset, which is actively happening anyhow as IoT invades building systems. So, the recognition of this feels prescient, but perhaps too early. Competitors building lighting “platforms” are designing apps that are designed to go to work with dashboards that building managers or even line managers can use.

These Lunera bulbs have another IT function. Because of the radios in each bulb, it offers a compelling platform for asset tracking and location-based services indoors. There are others doing this without putting a server inside a light bulb. Instead, companies like Mist use existing Wi-Fi access points to create virtual beacons and mesh Wi-Fi. Once again, we’re seeing a traditional IT asset embedded into a facilities asset.

Light bulbs, light switches and other building systems have an innate advantage when it comes to becoming servers or access points. They are everywhere. They have power. And they are mapped out in building plans that can be useful when trying to manage them as computing assets.

So as edge computing becomes a reality does our notion of what a server should look like change along with it? If it does, will we have to go through the inevitable lock-in that computing went through back in the 90s when it became a platform for huge swaths of business value? Or does the shape of computing stay the same? Literally. With ruggedized boxes sitting closer to the action in offices and on plant floors?

I don’t know the answer, but I’m watching startups like Lunera and Liqid to see what the future of edge computing actually looks like.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

Making Las Vegas a Smart City

This week on The Internet of Things Podcast, host Stacey Higginbotham speaks with Michael Sherwood, Director of Technology and Innovation City of Las Vegas, about plans for a traffic light that detects pollution and can send cars along before it builds up, and what it really means to build a smart city. Sherwood shares a lot of good insights about the challenges of building a smart city that we don’t often see.

Also, co-host Kevin Tofel reviews the Wink Lookout security bundle. Plus: Google’s new AI framework for embedded devices, the push by smart home and lock companies to give delivery or service people access to your home, and SmartThings gets local control for some devices this week.

Listen here:

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis