Tech that cares: CES 2018

At the world’s biggest gadget show, there were a few projects that stood out for me. Not because they were the biggest, baddest or even the most brightly-coloured, but because they offered simple, practical solutions for those who need them most. This is technology that addresses the realities of disability, improves quality of life, and promises accessibility for all. Here’s a quick round-up of the tech that cares, as seen at CES 2018.

#Accessible Olli

We were delighted to welcome self-driving shuttle bus Olli back to CES. This year, he has a new and exciting mission: ‘Autonomous for all of us’. The #Accessible Olli project is something we’re very proud of at IBM. It’s the culmination of a crowd-sourced effort to help those with mobility difficulties get around more easily.

IBM joined the Consumer Technology Association Foundation, Local Motors and innovators all over the world to develop an autonomous solution to transportation. The result could be life-changing for the 15 percent of us who are living with disabilities. And when you consider that this figure rises to 25 percent for those aged 50 and over, the possibilities are even further-reaching. This blog has the full story.

Accessible Olli, as seen at CES 2018

#AccessibleOlli on the Las Vegas Convention Center floor at this year’s CES

Xenoma e-skin pajamas

Japanese smart apparel firm Xenoma displayed a prototype pair of smart ‘e-skin pajamas’ for hospital patients at CES. The main focus is on dementia patients, who need close observation but might be understandably distressed by being the focus of constant attention, or worse, confined to their rooms. Instead, these pajamas can do part of the observation work themselves.

They’re fitted with cloth sensors, customized to interpret specific feedback in order to monitor movement and vital signs. For example, those on the trouser hips and legs are motion-sensors, while sensors on the shirt monitor breathing. If a patient is distressed, unmoving or agitated, the pajama sensors will relay that information to hospital personnel.

Most importantly, the sensors are unobtrusive, and don’t negatively impact the wearer’s comfort. They can also survive a washing machine, making them more or less as hardy as regular clothing. They’re not in general use yet, though there’s a clinical trial planned with a (unannounced) hospital in Germany.

UV Sense: the false fingernail that detects sun damage

Also on show was a rather interesting offering from L’Oréal: the UV Sense. This diminutive UV sensor is small enough to wear on a fingernail, and connects to a smartphone through contactless chip. It detects ultra violet rays and sends an alert to the wearer’s smartphone when they’ve been out in the sun for too long.

A similar product, in the form of a patch, has already had positive results. The company reported that 34 percent of those who wore the patch applied sunscreen more frequently than they would have done without it. The UV Sense should be available in the UK in 2019, priced at £30 (around $ 40.)

UV Sense

UV Sense: Photo courtesy of

SignAll: the world’s first automated sign language translator

This is one of my favourites: an automated sign language translation solution from SignAll, that bridges the communication gap between deaf and hearing people. It uses computer vision and Natural Language Processing to track hand gestures, and convert them to English text displayed onscreen. The cool thing about this solution is that is doesn’t require expensive, fancy hardware. Ordinary web cams and a bog-standard PC will do, though you will need a depth sensor too. The depth sensor goes in front of the person signing at chest height, while cameras surround them. They all sync up to a PC that processes the images taken from different angles to produce a translation in close to real time.

The Internet of Caring Things: beyond CES 2018

Of course, CES 2018 isn’t the only place to find caring technology initiatives. At IBM we’re always looking for ways to improve people’s quality of life with the help of technology. Recently, we’ve been investigating how the Internet of Things can aid an aging population. Take a look at this piece to discover more.

Another example of IBM’s work in healthcare is our research with Melanoma Institute Australia. Together, we’re using cognitive technology to analyse dermatological images of skin, to identify specific clinical patterns in the early stages of melanoma. We hope that this important work will help clinicians understand skin cancer better and reduce unnecessary biopsies. You can read more about this ongoing effort in our press release, or visit our website to learn about our wider work in healthcare.

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CES 2018 Smart Technology Summary

Last week, the Digi team exhibited inside the Internet of Things (IoT) Infrastructure Pavilion at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) among the most innovative thinkers, technology companies, celebrity ambassadors, and the world’s largest business leaders for consumer technology. The launch of the IoT Infrastructure Pavilion encompassed the IoT ecosystem in its entirety and provided a […]
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IoT weekly round-up: 18th January 2018

Welcome to the IoT weekly round-up. This week, net neutrality is in the news once again as Senators plan to oppose the FCC’s recent decision to scrap it. Meanwhile, cryptocurrencies are going belly-up, and there’ll soon be new speech recognition technology designed for children’s voices.

Senate leaders back plan to restore net neutrality

On 14 December, the FCC voted to end net neutrality. As suspected, the order was far from unopposed, and now 49 Democrat Senators and one Republican are ready to voice their disapproval officially. Just one more vote is needed to send the bill, led by Senator Ed Markey, to the House of Representatives.

Cryptocurrencies see dramatic loss in value

It’s long been on the cards, and now Bitcoin is crashing, amid concerns of a potential trading ban in South Korea. That said, no one’s really sure what’s behind the dramatic shift in value – such is the volatile nature of cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin is down about 15 percent, hovering below the $ 10,000 mark, leaving December’s giddy heights of around $ 20,000 far behind. Ethereum, meanwhile fell by 20 percent.

True Fit personalization platform raises $ 55 in Series C funding

Machine learning has a place in the fashion industry, if True Fit’s recent financial success is anything to go by. The clothing and footwear personalization platform has just raised $ 55 million in Series C funding. The idea is to help online shoppers find clothes that fit properly – by matching data on clothes they’ve bought previously with the ones they’re considering for their next purchase. 100 data points pulled from major clothing brands use AI to help shoppers find clothes that suit their taste and body shape.

SoapBox is creating speech recognition technology especially for children

It’s not something I’ve thought about before, but most speech recognition technology is built for adults. It just doesn’t work that well for kids. That is, until now. SoapBox Labs, an Irish startup, is creating speech technology designed to accommodate children’s higher pitched voices and characteristic speech patterns. The company plans to offer its tech to other hardware and app developers, supporting voice-recognition for home IoT devices, AR/VR and smart toys.

Keep up-to-date with the connected world

Bookmark the IoT weekly round-up series page to keep up with what’s going on in the wider world of IoT.

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IoT news of the week for Jan. 19, 2018

10 good industrial IoT predictions: This article not only offers 10 really good predictions but it also offers some accountability in the form of assessing last year’s predictions. Many of the predictions — such as AI and analytics becoming more popular — feel pretty obvious, but my favorite is that consumer devices will violate General Data Protection Regulation provisions. The provisions, which require companies to protect EU citizens’ data, go into effect in May throughout the EU. The fines are impressive and the rules are complex, so expect a lot of chatter about the topic and at least a few lawsuits testing the rules. (IoT Analytics)

Dell backs another industrial IoT security startup: A startup called VDOO just raised $ 13 million from several investors, including 83North (formerly Greylock IL), Dell Technology Capital, and the former CEO of EMC, Joe Tucci. Unlike many IoT security efforts that aim to go into a network and protect devices in them, VDOO is trying to help device makers secure their devices from the get-go. The company provides software and then a certification program. VDOO offers a way of assessing security risks on a per-device basis based on each device’s role in an enterprise as well as its risk factors. It can then implement the right procedures for the device. As an approach it makes sense, although the marketing effort to get device buyers to insist on having the certification will be tough.

C3 Raises $ 100 million: Tom Siebel’s company has raised another chunk of change and added a few more buzzwords to its press releases. The company, which started out offering a cloud service and software for energy management and analytics, added IoT to its marketing a few years ago, and now it’s focusing on AI and IoT.  The round was led by TPG Growth. More impressive than the funding is the news that TPG has more than 100 million sensors and devices under management on its software platform.

Will smart home products get cheaper or more expensive? One big trend I see happening in 2018 is that many familiar connected devices such as cameras and video doorbells will drop in price as higher-quality, low-cost Chinese goods hit the market. I saw many of the vendors at CES last year and this year. Boosting quality has become more and more important for these companies, which I think will drive U.S. consumer acceptance. However, there is a different trend that could push up prices for smart home products. Namely, the new crop of chips and features available for appliance makers and device manufacturers. These chips let companies put cameras on fridges or high-quality machine learning in ovens. The result is new features, but also higher manufacturing costs. That leads to more expensive devices. I think both trends will likely occur in tandem, as companies realize that to make a smart device it has to actually have smarts, not just a connection to the internet and an app. For products that get the mix right, new chips will lead to more value and let them justify the higher prices. For those that don’t see the value, they can buy the cheaper gear or pass on the smart home entirely.  (The Information)

Kinsa proves IoT’s value: Kinsa makes a smart thermometer that can be used to create heat maps for disease outbreaks. The company not only sells the devices in big-box stores, but it has several pilot programs where it hands out free thermostats to parents in a particular school so it can detect outbreaks (kids are little germ factories). For a deep dive into Kinsa’s beginning, check out CEO Inder Singh’s guest appearance a few years back on the podcast. For now, check out Singh in the New York Times disputing CDC numbers based on real-time analysis of fevers monitored using the company’s thermometer.  (NYT)

Let’s hear it for digital lighting: Transitioning to LEDs not only saves energy, but can offer improvements in a variety of places, such as humans’ sleep/wake cycles and better plant yields. But it also can be tuned to mitigate the affect of nighttime lighting on wildlife. (MIT Technology Review)

A new model for IoT security: I’m always on the search for new ways to attack the issue of security as we connect millions of devices to our networks. We need a new way of thinking about security, and this article illustrates one of the options out there. It combines automation — which is necessary for scale — with a protective approach, which is critical given that patches are a sub-optimal solution. (Wired)

How to pay for ambient intelligence: At this stage of the internet of things, the industry has added connectivity and remote control. In the last year, we’ve used voice as a means to interact with connected devices in a more user-friendly way, but we haven’t actually added much in the way of intelligence. This article covers one of the reasons that hasn’t happened yet. Ambient intelligence will require information from many different players and then coordinated action, but right now we don’t have ways to reasonably pay for that, which stymies development. Expect more on this topic this year. (Light Reading)

Alexa gets a personality: There are two cool things in this article. The first is that the Amazon team behind Alexa is trying to let its AI develop preferences and a personality on her own. The second is a comment from a Twitter follower that suggests Amazon could implement advertising on Alexa through her personal preferences. Perhaps when you ask Alexa what her favorite movie is the answer will be sold to the highest bidder. (TechCrunch)

Don’t give up on beacons yet: Beacons came into the tech world in 2014 after Apple made the ability to read data from bluetooth beacons part of iOS. But so far, beacons that broadcast bits of data based on a user’s location have stalled. This article digs into what we need to make beacons viable, and explains why that matters. Essentially beacons offer a convenient way to give fine-grained location context to smart buildings. This could enable wayfinding, location-aware services, and more. (Semiconductor Engineering)

Good takeaways from CES from a hardware investor: Benjamin Joffe is one of the heads of the HAX hardware accelerator and an expert on China, hardware manufacturing, and startups. His thoughts on CES are well worth reading to get some perspective about the big trends for the coming year — namely the rise of China as a provider of quality connected goods. (Medium)

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IoT News of the week for Jan. 12, 2018

CES 2018 was a show all about IoT.

Instead of the traditional news format, I’m going to offer you a list of small items I learned at CES.

Comcast goes big on the smart home: Comcast has made smart home services available to all of its homes that have its most advanced router that acts as a smart home hub as well as a broadband modem. This means that 15 million homes now have automation capabilities on top of their broadband service, plus capabilities that Comcast bought when it acquired Stringify. That’s mainstream!

Comcast also bets on security: Comcast is also launching a security service this year that looks super compelling from an IoT perspective. The back end provider will be Cujo, the maker of an IoT security box. However, Comcast is adding a software layer on top to make the process of setting up the Cujo network security system easier. Features like network traffic monitoring, quarantining devices that have security flaws and more, will be part of the service.

All about Ring’s news: AT CES a lot of people were talking about Ring. It acquired Mr. Beams, a wireless lighting company, and showed off motion sensors that could trigger the new lights. Ring is also close to settling its lawsuit with ADT according to several sources. Ring didn’t respond to requests for comment. Speaking of Ring’s lawsuits, here is a copy of the patent infringement suit filed by Skybell against Ring.

Samsung’s SmartThings is a hidden hero of CES: SmartThings has replaced ADT’s proprietary back end with the SmartThings’ Cloud. ADT’s automation and monitoring system now run on the cloud that supports all of Samsung’s connected devices and services. What’s really interesting is that offering a cheaper monitoring solution using SmartThings’ devices and cloud is more profitable for ADT according to Alex Hawkinson, CEO of SmartThings.

The runaway bride: Schlage was the buyer who had stepped back from acquiring Otto, the maker of the $ 700 smart lock. In a blog post, Sam Jadallah, the founder of Otto blamed the terms of a proposed acquisition deal for leaving Otto unable to raise enough capital to keep going. He didn’t name the company, but enough people at CES did. Schlage said it doesn’t comment on rumors and speculation.

The most open light switch ever:  LeGrand, the maker of high-end switches and outlets, has decided to go all-in on Thread and the OCF to create as open a platform as possible for the smart home. LeGrand uses Thread radios or Wi-Fi radios in its gear and then relies on the SmartThings cloud to connect its stuff to other smart devices. It’s also going to offer a connected light switch that carries software by a company called Ivani that can detect people in a room by measuring their effect on radio waves. If this sounds similar to what Cognitive Objects, the maker of the Aura security system does, you’re right.

Sprint is unsure about NB-IoT: I chatted briefly with Jan Geldmacher, president of Sprint and asked about NB-IoT V. Cat M1. He told me that the carrier is focused on M1 for now, in part because NB-IoT doesn’t have voice capability.

Yonomi raised $ 5 million: Yonomi, which has provided a software-based smart home integration service, has raised $ 5 million with most of that money coming from Gentex, a maker of automotive equipment. While consumers see Yonomi as a way to make integrations easier, manufacturers look at Yonomi’s back-end cloud software as a way to reduce the ongoing costs of operating a connected device. For more details on Yonomi’s other business, see this story from last year.

I really like Google’s new display option: One of the big Google Assistant stories at CES was the ability to add a display to Google’s Assistant, which meant that there were a lot of Echo Show-like devices that could speak to Google. My favorite was from Lenovo, because it sounded good and looked good. It costs $ 249 for the larger version and features an elegant, bamboo integrated stand.

Sears is doing smart tech support: Amid the hype of AR and VR Sears is taking a more practical approach to helping its techs and now customers repair their appliances. For the last few years, Sears has offered TechAssist, a program that lets appliance repair techs take a video of a problem and get help from a remote colleague who knows how to handle the problem. Later this year, Sears is bringing a variation of the program to consumers with Tech Talk. Customers whose appliances break have the option of calling out a repair tech or they can call a hotline to try to diagnose and fix the problem themselves. Sears will let customers do a live video chat over the phone that helps them diagnose the problem. Then a technician can be dispatched or Sears will ship the part to the customer and they can call the video chat once it arrives to try to fix it themselves. I love this option for saving on service calls, but also for those situations where your dryer breaks and you wait for days to get a repair tech out only to find out the problem is so bad you’d be better off buying a new appliance. Soon you will be able to call in and find that out.

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Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis