How Amazon, Google and others are investing in AI and digital assistants for smart homes

A large number of tech incumbents including Amazon, Google, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft are making quick investment moves in artificial intelligence (AI) and digital assistants for smart homes having realised the potential these technologies can play in the smart home market, according to a new report from Navigant Research.

The report, titled “Digital Assistants and AI in the Home”, evaluates the major drivers in the smart home market, barriers and technological trends related to AI as well as the major players and digital assistants. It also discusses the role played by digital assistants in this technology ecosystem and the applications which AI is enabling in the smart home.

Paige Leuschner, research analyst with Navigant Research, said: “Current AI technologies are being used to automate tasks, identify consumer trends, and power human-like digital assistants to make people’s lives more comfortable, convenient, and efficient. Consumer-ready AI technology isn’t about creating the human-like robots portrayed in popular media, it’s about making impactful and significant progress that delivers value to consumers.”

This may be one strategy that Amazon and Google are taking advantage of – yet a recent article from Business Insider provides another.  Amazon and Google are trying hard to increase sales of their smart speakers during the holiday season by cutting down on rates considerably.  The reason behind this “desperate” move to push up smart speakers sales is explained by a chart released by Statista, which showed that individuals who own smart speakers are much more likely to procure other smart-home products. Realising this, Amazon has reduced the price of its entry-level Echo Dot speaker to $ 29.99.

A recent comScore report revealed that the number of US households that possesses a smart speaker increased to 11% in October from 8.1% in June. In a statement comScore said: "The smart speaker is the gateway device to enabling a smart home."

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Amazon and Google start their own trade war

Amazon and Google start their own trade war

Amazon and Google start their own trade war

By Marc, editor at IoT Business News.

Because Amazon and Google compete in so many areas, they’re almost bound to come into conflict. Amazon’s search capabilities compete with Google because of the size of its retail site. On the other hand, Google is well aware that Amazon Web Services is highly profitable, and is determined to get a bigger piece of the cloud computing pie.

Both companies also make voice-controlled Internet of Things (IOT) devices, such as Google Home and the Amazon Echo Show. However they’ve trodden on each others’ toes so severely recently that the argument between them has come out into the open and customers of both companies have found themselves caught in the crossfire.

Google uses YouTube to retaliate against Amazon

Google owns YouTube, the video streaming application which consumers access over broadband. However, in retaliation for Amazon not selling Google hardware, Google has decided not to allow two Amazon devices to access YouTube.

The fight for dominance in voice-controlled technology is becoming fierce. Amazon’s devices have sold better than Google’s until now but Google is clearly prepared to fight hard to get ahead. In a statement, the company commented that Amazon didn’t carry Google products such as Google Home or Chromecast and didn’t make its Prime Video accessible to Google Cast users. Further, the company said that Amazon had recently ceased selling Nest’s new products. (Nest is a sister company of Google’s).

So as a result of what Google described as a “lack of reciprocity” from Amazon, they withdrew YouTube from Amazon’s Echo Show and Fire TV.

Amazon’s response was to express disappointment at Google setting a precedent by “selectively” blocking access to an open website. It pointed out that customers could still access YouTube on the devices if they went via the internet rather than using the YouTube app.

The Chromecast, Google’s TV player, hasn’t been stocked on the Amazon website since 2015. Amazon also stopped stocking Apple’s TV player. The reason given at the time was that Amazon didn’t want customers to get confused – they might think that the Prime Video service would be available on any device sold on the Amazon site.

Apple and Amazon appear to have patched things up earlier this year with an announcement that Prime Video would feature on the Apple TV. However relationships between Google and Amazon don’t appear to be improving. Indeed, some commentators believe that a platform war is brewing. So how did they get to this point?

Google giving ultimatum date for Fire TV

Previously, the Amazon Echo Show had videos and channel subscriptions but not recommendations on its touchscreen. In September, Google took YouTube away from the device. Amazon added YouTube back but with voice commands and these were in conflict with the terms of use. So Google removed YouTube again.

Many Amazon users, using broadband simply to search for an IPhone or to browse Samsung offerings, will be unaware of this spat. But if they’re Fire TV users, the first they know of it, may be when they settle down to watch YouTube on New Year’s Day. There are many more Fire TV sticks in use than there are Echo Show devices, and removing YouTube from Fire TV would have a much bigger impact on Amazon’s customer base. But that’s what Google is threatening to do on Jan 1st, 2018.

And of course, Netflix and Apple are bound to be considering this dispute to see whether there is any possible advantage to them in the long term.

War for the voice platform

Amazon has Alexa, Google has Assistant, Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana. But only Google and Amazon have launched devices to embody their voice driven offering. And Google strongly believes that its Artificial Intelligence (AI) is better than the other three, and therefore its platform will win in the end.

Enter stage left a somewhat unexpected participant in this high tech drama – none other than Walmart. Why not? If Amazon’s products are aimed at selling more Amazon products, Google can link up with Walmart using its Home device, and push products stocked by Wal-Mart.

But it may be that both companies have another competitor they should be worrying about – Apple is about to launch the “HomePod”. Who knows? Google and Amazon may find it expedient to bury the hatchet in the future in order to try and cut off this new threat.

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Amazon unveils DeepLens camera for developers

Amazon unveils DeepLens camera for developers

Amazon has launched a new wireless camera, AWS DeepLens, designed to help train developers in deep learning technologies.

At Amazon Web Services (AWS) conference in Las Vegas last week, the company announced AWS DeepLens, a wireless camera designed to simplify the development of computer vision products.

The idea behind DeepLens is that it will enable developers to design and create AI and machine learning-based products, “in minutes”, using preconfigured frameworks already on the device, according to the company. These frameworks enable the camera to capture and interpret text characters that appear in a video stream and help developers to build image-recognition models. For example, a pet feeder incorporating the technology could recognize individual pets and feed them on demand.

The DeepLens kit comprises a compact Atom X5-powered miniature PC with audio output, two USB 2.0 connections, micro-HDMI, and a micro-SD slot for storage expansion.

Inside, the camera has 8GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. It runs Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux 16.04 Long Term Support (LTS) operating system.

Read more: AWS goes all-in on IoT at Reinvent in Las Vegas

Intel collaboration

The device has been developed in collaboration with chipmaker Intel. Miles Kingston, general manager of the Smart Home Group at Intel, said that DeepLens “brings together the full range of Intel’s hardware and software expertise to give developers a powerful tool to create new experiences, providing limitless potential for smart home integrations.”

DeepLens will face competition from Google’s AIY Vision Kit, which is considerably cheaper. DeepLens is available for $ 249 pre-order, with shipments expected in April.

In addition to DeepLens, Amazon also announced its SageMaker service aimed at model building and training for machine learning. It said that this service removes the “heavy lifting and guesswork from each step of the machine learning process.”

The service automatically provisions and manages the infrastructure to both train models and run inference to make predictions using these models. Amazon SageMaker includes ten of the most common deep learning algorithms (for example, k-means clustering, factorisation machines, linear regression, and principal component analysis), which AWS has optimized to run up to ten times faster than standard implementations.

Read more: Amazon woos Alexa developers with free AWS services

Muck and complexity

Developers simply choose an algorithm and specify their data source, and Amazon SageMaker installs and configures the underlying drivers and frameworks. Amazon SageMaker includes native integration with TensorFlow and Apache MXNet with additional framework support coming soon.

“Our original vision for AWS was to enable any individual in his or her dorm room or garage to have access to the same technology, tools, scale, and cost structure as the largest companies in the world. Our vision for machine learning is no different,” said Swami Sivasubramanian, vice president of machine learning at AWS.

“We want all developers to be able to use machine learning much more expansively and successfully, irrespective of their machine learning skill level. Amazon SageMaker removes a lot of the muck and complexity involved in machine learning to allow developers to easily get started and become competent in building, training, and deploying models.”

Read more: AWS launches Greengrass for IoT edge computing

The post Amazon unveils DeepLens camera for developers appeared first on Internet of Business.

Internet of Business

Amazon onboards new recruit, Alexa for Business

Amazon onboards Alexa for Business

Amazon has launched a new set of tools to allow businesses to use its Alexa-driven smart speakers in offices and conference rooms.

Alexa could be coming to a conference room near you soon. The artificial intelligence (AI) technology that underpins Amazon’s Dot and Echo smart speakers got bumped up the corporate agenda yesterday, with the announcement of Alexa for Business.

Alexa for Business is a set of tools for using the voice-activated virtual assistant in the workplace, explained Amazon’s chief technology officer Werner Vogels, speaking at the Amazon Web Services Reinvent conference in Las Vegas.

Voice, he said, is “a natural way of interacting with your systems. You ask your environment to give you the right answer.”

There are, for example, new integrations for popular office software, including communications tools from Microsoft Exchange and RingCentral; customer relationship management software from Salesforce; and SAP’s Concur and SuccessFactors applications, for travel and expenses and talent management, respectively. Meanwhile, tools are provided to enable IT administrators to set up and manage smart speakers on corporate networks.

Read more: BMW to add Amazon Alexa to new cars from 2018

Virtual office assistants

Work-based virtual assistants could be useful in all sorts of ways, as AWS explained in a blog post.

Devices shared by teams, for example, could be used to start meetings in conference rooms, turning on video conferencing equipment and dialing into conference calls. Or they might enable employees to use voice to request directions around an office building, find an open conference room, report a problem with building equipment or order new supplies.

Devices dedicated to individual employees, meanwhile, could help busy executives make phone calls, send messages, check calendars, schedule meetings or find information in applications such as Salesforce or SAP Concur.

In fact, many businesses are already using Alexa in the workplace, sometimes without the IT department’s knowledge. A recent survey by security tools company Armis of its clients showed that over four-fifths (82 percent) have at least one Amazon Echo in their corporate environment, “sometimes in very sensitive environments.” Armis warned that these devices could be vulnerable to the Blueborne malware.

Read more: Ocado launches Alexa app for voice-activated online shopping

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Internet of Business

Amazon Web Services Announces a Slew of New IoT Services; Brings Machine Learning to the Edge

Amazon Web Services Announces a Slew of New IoT Services; Brings Machine Learning to the Edge

Amazon Web Services Announces a Slew of New IoT Services; Brings Machine Learning to the Edge

Today at AWS re:Invent, Amazon Web Services, Inc. (AWS), an Amazon.com company, announced six significant services and capabilities for connected devices at the edge.

AWS IoT 1-Click, AWS IoT Device Management, AWS IoT Device Defender, AWS IoT Analytics, Amazon FreeRTOS, and AWS Greengrass ML Inference make getting started with IoT as easy as one click, enable customers to rapidly onboard and easily manage large fleets of devices, audit and enforce consistent security policies, and analyze IoT device data at scale.

Amazon FreeRTOS is an operating system that extends the rich functionality of AWS IoT to devices with very low computing power, such as lightbulbs, smoke detectors, and conveyor belts. And, AWS Greengrass ML Inference is a new capability for AWS Greengrass that allows machine learning models to be deployed directly to devices, where they can run machine learning inference to make decisions quickly, even when devices are not connected to the cloud.

“The explosive growth in the number and diversity of connected devices has led to equally explosive growth in the number and scale of IoT applications. Today, many of the world’s largest IoT implementations run on AWS, and the next phase of IoT is all about scale as we’ll see customers exponentially expand their fleet of connected devices,” said Dirk Didascalou, VP IoT, AWS.

“These new AWS IoT services will allow customers to simply and quickly operationalize, secure, and scale entire fleets of devices, and then act on the large volumes of data they generate with new analytics capabilities specifically designed for IoT.”

“With Amazon FreeRTOS, we’re making it easy for customers to bring AWS IoT functionality to countless numbers of small, microcontroller-based devices. And, customers have also told us they want to execute machine learning models on the connected devices themselves, so we’re excited to deliver that with AWS Greengrass ML Inference.”

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AWS IoT 1-Click: the easiest way to get started with AWS IoT (available in preview)

When considering IoT, many customers just want an easy way to get started by enabling devices to perform simple functions. These are functions like single-button devices that call technical support, reorder goods and services, or track asset locations. With AWS IoT 1-Click, enabling a device with an AWS Lambda function is as easy as downloading the mobile app, registering and selecting an AWS IoT 1-Click enabled device, and – with a single click – associating an AWS Lambda function. AWS IoT 1-Click comes with pre-built AWS Lambda code for common actions like sending an SMS or email. Customers can also easily author and upload any other Lambda function.

iRemedy is a healthcare e-commerce marketplace where healthcare consumers can buy medical supplies, drugs, devices, and technologies. “Back in August, we announced our plan to deploy 500 iRemedy NOW Internet of Things (IoT) buttons to our healthcare providers’ clients. Our customers simply click the button to order medical supplies and drug samples, or to request a call back from our service center,” said Tony Paquin, Co-Founder, President and CEO, iRemedy.

“The buttons are easy to use and drive down supply chain costs for our customers. AWS IoT 1-Click provides a fast and easy way to deploy more buttons, expand the types of actions we perform when the button is triggered, and also create simple reports.”

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New AWS IoT services for managing, securing, and analyzing the data generated by large fleets of devices

Big DataAt scale, IoT solutions can grow to billions of connected devices. Today, this requires customers to spend time onboarding and organizing devices, and even more time integrating multiple systems to manage tasks like monitoring, security, auditing, and updates. Building solutions for such tasks is time consuming and easy to get wrong, and integrating third party solutions is complex and may introduce hard-to-detect gaps in security and compliance. Once a device fleet is operationalized, analytics is often the next challenge customers face. IoT data isn’t the highly structured information that most existing analytics tools are designed to process. Real-world IoT data frequently has significant gaps, corrupted messages, and false readings, resulting in the need for customers to either build custom IoT analytics solutions, or integrate solutions from third parties. AWS IoT Device Management and AWS IoT Device Defender simplify onboarding, managing, and securing fleets of IoT devices, while AWS IoT Analytics makes it easy to run sophisticated analytics on the data generated by devices.

  • AWS IoT Device Management (available today) makes it easy to securely onboard, organize, monitor, and remotely manage IoT devices at scale throughout their lifecycle—from initial setup, through software updates, to retirement. Getting started is easy; customers simply log into the AWS IoT Console to register devices, individually or in bulk, and then upload attributes, certificates, and access policies. Once devices are in service, AWS IoT Device Management allows customers to easily group and track devices, quickly find any device in near real-time, troubleshoot device functionality, remotely update device software, and remotely reboot, reset, patch, and restore devices to factory settings, reducing the cost and effort of managing large IoT device deployments.
  • AWS IoT Device Defender (coming in the first half of 2018) continuously audits security policies associated with devices to make sure that they aren’t deviating from security best practices, and alerting customers when non-compliant devices are detected. AWS IoT Device Defender also monitors the activities of fleets of devices, identifying abnormal behavior that might indicate a potential security issue. For example, a customer can use AWS IoT Device Defender to define which ports should be open on a device, where the device should connect from, and how much data the device should send or receive. AWS IoT Device Defender then monitors device traffic and alerts customers when anomalies are detected, like traffic from a device to an unknown IP address.
  • AWS IoT Analytics (available in preview) is a fully managed analytics service that cleans, processes, stores, and analyzes IoT device data at scale. Getting started is easy: customers simply identify the device data they wish to analyze, and they can optionally choose to enrich the device data with IoT-specific metadata, such as device type and location, by using the AWS IoT Device Registry and other public data sources. AWS IoT Analytics also has features for more sophisticated analytics, like statistical inference, enabling customers to understand the performance of devices, predict device failure, and perform time-series analysis. And, by using Amazon QuickSight in conjunction with IoT Analytics, it is easy for customers to surface insights in easy-to-build visualizations and dashboards.

At Philips Healthcare, the focus is to look beyond technology to the experiences of consumers, patients, providers, and caregivers across the health continuum. “We’re launching new health IoT services that we believe will dramatically improve our scale and capabilities. Part of the Philips solution involves managing connected devices that doctors and hospitals will rely on so they can deliver first class healthcare services,” said Dale Wiggins, Vice President and General Manager, Philips HealthSuite Digital Platform.

“We chose AWS IoT services to ensure we can meet our customers’ scale and reliability requirements. We have expanded these services to ensure that data from these devices is appropriately routed, devices are updated to the latest firmware, and are monitored to ensure they function properly in the field. Using AWS IoT Device Management, we were able to quickly develop the capabilities we need in the market.”

Best known for its GPS technology, Trimble integrates a wide range of positioning technologies including GPS, laser, optical, and inertial technologies with application software, wireless communications, and services to provide complete commercial solutions. “Trimble’s commercial solutions are used in over 150 countries around the world, and we use AWS IoT as a gateway for our next-gen IoT devices,” said Jim Coleman, Senior Engineer, Trimble.

“AWS IoT Device Management has helped streamline our device onboarding, which has enabled us to meet our planned production throughput for connected devices. With AWS doing the undifferentiated heavy lifting for our IoT platform, we can spend more time on our customers than on our infrastructure.”

iDevices is making IoT accessible to everyone in the smart home industry with its line of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled products. “The IoT analytics game is a race from raw data to actionable insights. Everyone has data, but it’s the insights from that data that are of real value to our customers,” said Eric Ferguson, Chief Software Architect, iDevices.

“The tools provided by AWS IoT Analytics to ingest, filter, transform, and analyze our data sources cut out a lot of the undifferentiated heavy lifting for our team, enabling them to focus on the enrichment activities in the pipeline and the downstream machine learning models, rather than the mechanics of the pipeline itself. This gets us to the insights we need with much less effort and allows us to really focus on market differentiation.”

iRobot is a global consumer robotics company that designs and builds robots for use inside and outside the home. “At iRobot, we rely on IoT services because connecting robots to the Internet to help them do more and better things is key to how we innovate,” said Ben Kehoe, Cloud Robotics Research Scientist, iRobot.

“With AWS IoT Analytics, we gain insights into our IoT data about device performance and usage patterns so we can empower our customers to do more both inside and outside of the home.”

Valmet is a leading global developer and supplier of technologies, automation, and services for the pulp, paper, and energy industries. “Valmet is building industry leading Industrial Internet solutions for pulp, paper, and energy customers, and we are using the AWS cloud environment as part of our platform,” said Juha-Pekka Helminen, Director, Valmet Digital Ecosystem.

“AWS is continuously improving and adding tools into their portfolio. We look forward to utilizing the new AWS IoT Analytics service for our customers’ benefit.”

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Amazon FreeRTOS lets customers easily and securely connect small, low-power devices to the cloud

Today, countless devices are already capable of connecting to the cloud, and the number continues to grow dramatically. Many of these devices contain enough onboard computing power (CPU) to take advantage of AWS IoT services. However, a large number of other devices—from lightbulbs and conveyer belts to motion detectors—aren’t big enough to house a CPU and possess a microcontroller (MCU) instead. The most popular operating system used for these devices is FreeRTOS, an open source operating system for microcontrollers that allows them to perform simple tasks. FreeRTOS wasn’t designed specifically for IoT, so it lacks functionality to help devices connect securely to the cloud.

Amazon FreeRTOS extends FreeRTOS with software libraries that make it easy to securely connect small, low-power devices to AWS cloud services like AWS IoT Core, or to more powerful edge devices and gateways running AWS Greengrass (a software module that resides inside devices and gives customers the same Lambda programming model as exists within the AWS Cloud).

With Amazon FreeRTOS, developers can easily build devices with common IoT capabilities, including networking, over-the-air software updates, encryption, and certificate handling. Developers can use the Amazon FreeRTOS console to configure and download Amazon FreeRTOS, or go to FreeRTOS.org or GitHub. Several microcontroller manufacturers and AWS Partner Network (APN) Partners support Amazon FreeRTOS, including Microchip, NXP Semiconductors, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments, Arm, IAR, Percepio, and WITTENSTEIN.

Arm defines the pervasive computing shaping today’s connected world. Realized in more than 100 billion silicon chips, Arm architecture is the de-facto standard for embedded applications. “As we’ve seen the Arm-based microcontroller ecosystem grow over recent years, FreeRTOS has played a key role in enabling embedded developers,” said Rene Haas, EVP and President, IP Products Group (IPG), Arm.

“We are pleased to see AWS extend the FreeRTOS kernel with increased connectivity, while adding additional security features. Amazon FreeRTOS running on Arm-based processors is an important milestone toward improving hardware, software, and networking security for the industry.”

Allegion is a provider of security products for homes and businesses. “Amazon FreeRTOS makes it easier for Allegion to rapidly innovate new features for our connected products, such as our Schlage electronic locks, and to move easily between hardware platforms,” said Todd Graves, Senior Vice President of Engineering and Technology, Allegion.

“We can focus on our core strengths, developing innovative safety and security products, knowing that Amazon FreeRTOS will make integration reliable and predictable.”

Hive (Centrica Connected Home) is a market leader in connected home products that helps its customers manage their energy usage in the UK, Ireland, and North America. “Amazon FreeRTOS is an exciting leap forward for our business and our customers,” said Seb Chakraborty, CTO, Hive (Centrica Connected Home).

“Dev teams can now focus their energy on the application and not the plumbing, messaging or security. Instead, they choose the board, the chip, and connect to AWS IoT seamlessly.”

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New AWS Greengrass feature brings machine learning to the edge (available in preview)

Machine LearningAWS Greengrass ML Inference is a new feature of AWS Greengrass that lets application developers add machine learning to their devices, without requiring special machine learning skills. IoT devices frequently collect and forward large quantities of data, which can be used to automate real-time decision making through machine learning. To do this, customers build, train, and run machine learning on their IoT data in the cloud. However, some applications are highly latency sensitive and require the ability to make decisions without relying on always-on network connectivity.

With AWS Greengrass ML Inference, devices can run machine learning models to perform inference locally, get results, and then make smart decisions quickly, even when they’re not connected. Using Amazon SageMaker, or any machine learning framework, customers build and train their machine learning models in the cloud and then – with just a few clicks – use the AWS Greengrass console to transfer the models to devices they select.

More details available at https://aws.amazon.com/iot

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