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.
Happy New Year! Welcome to this year’s first instalment of the IoT weekly round-up. It’s January, so naturally our crew are scoping out the Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2018) for the juiciest new developments in connected gadgetry goodness. Read on for some of the highlights so far.
Highlights from CES 2018
Automotive is the name of the game at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. We’ve seen a B2V (brain-to-vehicle) demo from Nissan that anticipates driver actions before they occur, AR in the car and new AI platforms from Nvidia, and a step in the right direction for accessible mobility with Olli, our very own self-driving shuttle bus. There have been other surprises too – including a significant presence from Google (boothed for the first time) and, in a moment of droll irony, a power cut that plunged attendees into darkness. IBM-ers Laura Langendorf and Kal Gyimesi are on the scene, so keep an eye on the blog for their coverage of #CES2018.
LifeDoor automatically closes doors in case of fire
There’s a new player on the safety gadget front, and it’s beloved of firefighters the world over. It’s called LifeDoor, and works by automatically closing your home’s doors in case of fire to prevent the spread of smoke and flames. The idea is to prevent deaths from smoke inhalation and toxic gases that could have been avoided by containment. It’s child-friendly – the doors aren’t so much slammed shut as gently closed, and can easily be pushed open again if need be. There’s planned smart home integration on the horizon, which will mean the device can sense whether or not someone is inside a room. Pre-orders will be available soon, with shipping expected for Autumn 2018.
Under Armour releases new connected shoes
Sports wearables manufacturer Under Amour has released two new pairs of connected running shoes: Hovr Phantom and Hovr Sonic. Both boast embedded Bluetooth module, accelerometer and gyroscope in their foam soles, which are triggered by movement. They sync with a connected handset to display metrics on distance travelled, stride length and running cadence. If you want a pair, they retail at $ 140 (Hovr Phantom) and $ 110 (Hovr Sonic.)
The AAA and Torc Robotics talk safety for self-driving cars
The American Automobile Association is working with Torc Robotics to establish a set of safety criteria for self-driving vehicles. As a starting point for this work, it will be testing Torc’s self-driving vehicles on public streets. The tests represent one part of a larger testing programme, involving a partnership with GoMentum Stadium, a testing facility for autonomous vehicles in California.
What exactly is going on with all of our chips? Security researchers have discovered that a flaw in Intel and some ARM processors can leak protected data if exploited. There are two exploits, Spectre and Meltdown. What’s worse is that the solution to Spectre isn’t readily available. OS vendors have tweaked their operating systems to mitigate the risks associated with Meltdown. As far as security news, this one is huge and people are trying desperately to figure out what is going on and how to fix it. For the more technically minded, the tweet stream is a good place to start. If you are less inclined to dig into how computers handle memory buffers then read Ars. (@gsuberland, Ars Technica)
Layoffs at Eero: Mesh Wi-Fi startup Eero laid off about 30 people — or about 20% of its workforce — according to this article. Eero confirmed laying off 30 people, and said it was killing a speculative project so it could focus on its “core business.” My hunch is that Eero realized that times are getting tougher for once high-flying IoT startups and it should focus on getting revenue and building a business. Especially since its claim to fame (mesh Wi-Fi) has been copied by other companies. (TechCrunch)
Speaking of Wi-Fi: Roomba vacuum robots that have Wi-Fi chips will soon use their radios to create a map of Wi-Fi coverage in your home. This way you can avoid dust bunnies and dead spots. After Roomba’s CEO got in trouble a few months back for proposing that the company would map users’ homes, this features sounds more like an attempt to do something … anything … with some of the capabilities on the device that don’t involve selling user data. After the hubbub over mapping, the CEO promised never to do that. I’m curious who takes them up on this. (TechCrunch)
Yes, even more Wi-Fi news: Cirrent, a startup I’ve been excited about for quite some time, has signed on several big name brands to use its automatic provisioning service. Electrolux, Cypress and Ayla Networks are now using Cirrent’s ZipKey service to get devices on the network faster. Electrolux will use Cirrent for its appliances, Cypress will make the feature available on its silicon and Ayla will let any company using its cloud offer the functionality. ZipKey works by using an available and certified Wi-Fi network to make a connection with a product when it comes out of the box. Then a consumer can claim the product and move it over to their own Wi-Fi network. Rob Conant, CEO of Cirrent, says ZipKey now has Wi-Fi networks covering more than 120 million homes in the U.S. and Europe — or 40% of them. Comcast is one of the companies providing hotspot access for ZipKey.
10 IoT companies to watch: The close of the year is a perfect time for lists and predictions, and most are pretty redundant. However, I liked this one from EE Times that starts off with nothing great, but then redeems itself by digging into the idea that many middlemen in the IT ecosystem are trying to absorb more roles in the industrial IoT. As an example, Arrow (a distributor and owner of EE Times) buying a company this week that lets it take on systems integration. The startups are pretty good too. (EE Times)
Smart baking startup gets more dough: Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Drop, the maker of a connected scale, raised more than$ 7 million in VC funding from firms like Alsop Louie Partners, according to an SEC filing. Drop has parlayed expertise from building its connected scale into creating recipes designed for humans and machines to make things together. That sounds fancier than it is today, but through a partnership with GE, you can use a Drop recipe to preheat your oven at the right point in a recipe automatically. Other automations could follow as cooktops get smarter. (Axios)
Ads on Alexa? Eek! This week CNBC reported that Amazon was discussing marketing opportunities with large consumer product companies. My colleague Kevin wasn’t thrilled and started wondering what would make a good voice ad on a smart speaker that could be used by multiple people. Hint: Not much. (StaceyonIoT)
New York may be the first to try to hold algorithms accountable: I starting thinking about algorithmic bias in 2015 after I left Gigaom. I toyed with the idea of doing a fellowship or writing a book about how programmers were building a world that was data-driven and seemingly rational, but was fueled by all kinds of assumptions in the code. That world is rapidly coming to pass, and even without a book, people are wising up to this. As more sensors track more things, we’re going to get a lot of junk algorithms trying to nudge people in particular directions. I loved this story of a New York City Council member trying to ensure those algorithms are transparent to citizens. (The New Yorker)
A second neural network on a stick: Last year I got excited about Intel putting silicon from Movidius on a USB stick. The idea was to offer a powerful computer vision processor in a mobile format to see what people would do with it. To me it represented the beginning of being able to train neural networks at the edge. Now, there’s a second neural network on a stick from a startup called Gyrfalcon Technology that claims to be much more powerful and use less energy. The future is coming faster than I thought. (Alisdair Allan)