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Where are we at with the smart home IoT takeover? #rollcall

(TECH NEWS) Whether you think it’s the robot apocalypse or our first step toward Star Trek, it’s now part of the world. So where do we stand?

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Google home IoT

Three kinds of people

Tech-literate humanity pretty much falls into three categories right now, all predicated on their response to the phrase “Internet of Things” (IoT). First, there are the people with serious concerns about the complex, imperfectly secured, largely user-inaccessible communications network that is currently the “Internet of Things.” I can respect that. No one wants their toaster plotting against them.

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Second, you have people thrilled their devices are learning to network without them. We’re getting past the nonsense necessary to kludge together a half-functional home from a pile of disagreeing, disagreeable electronics. I respect that too, as only someone who recently spent six hours on the Herculean task of getting my computer to recognize the existence of the smartphone sitting on top of it can.

Entering Phase One

But it’s the third group I want to talk to today, the group that exists with every issue: people too busy doing actual stuff to have any investment in the question. Here’s the deal, people with lives: “Internet of Things” means getting a human space to provide digital services without an intervening interface. It’s happening, now. We’re officially into Phase One of stepping into a room, telling it what you want in normal human words, and the room doing it. It’s pretty cool.

“Zero UI”

The oft-quoted goal for IoT devices is “zero UI.” “UI” is User Interface, how you get your gadget to do things. It used to be punched paper cards, then a command line. Now it’s graphical bits and bobs you poke and swipe, but the Holy Grail has always been no interface at all. You talk, it does.

Apple, Amazon, and Google have products out right now meant to do just that. CRT Labs recently spotlighted these tech giants, who are shaping the future of IoT through voice control.

How you like them Apples?

Apple’s entry is Siri. Y’all know Siri. Everybody knows Siri. Well, except the actual Siri, who didn’t know she existed until well after she did. But most everyone else is at least acquainted with the disembodied voice of the Colossus of Cupertino. As a rule I’m not a big Apple fan, but even I grant that Apple interfaces set the standard for clarity and convenience. Oddly, of the three big players, Siri is probably the least user-friendly, with voice input limited to fairly formal commands.

Siri — or more accurately Apple Home, the app that lets Siri take over your house — is only compatible with a short list of devices, most Apple-branded. However, Apple has a huge plus: no new equipment. The Google and Amazon options require users to purchase a dedicated hub. Apple provides a simple upgrade for owners of various iThings that lets the gadget run others. If you’re already an Apple user, that’s a darn good reason to stick with Siri.

What Amazon brings to the table

Of the two dedicated-technology solutions, Amazon is the most complete. In keeping with Siri’s “evil computer from a 70s Sci-Fi film” naming convention, Amazon’s voice assistant is called Alexa. But it seems she can be trusted to open the pod bay doors. Amazon’s entry is the most user-friendly of the three biggies, with programmable algorithms that improve understanding of voice commands over time.

Unlike Siri, Alexa is also designed for ease of integration with third party tools. This makes her less likely to go into a sulk and stop speaking to your stereo, or interrupt a Netflix binge to have a Bluetooth shouting match with your TV. Amazon offers more options besides Alexa. Tap, Echo Dot, and Echo are entry, core, and premium respectively, but all of them will broadcast Pandora or order a pizza if you ask – and they smoke Google on price. The entry-level Tap hub is $49.99, less than half the $129 Google Home.

Google’s take

Google Home is hard to review because frankly, it’s not done yet. As with lot of Google products, it has impressive technical crunch: like Alexa, it’s designed to learn over time. And Google Assistant, in addition to not sounding like it wants to play Global Thermonuclear War with Matthew Broderick, can even answer questions and consider context like time of day. But its list of compatible gadgets is short. Comparable to Siri, but without Siri’s certainty that at least Apple-branded products will work.

Review aside, the vital point is this: the Internet of Things is here. Whether you think it’s the robot apocalypse or our first step toward Star Trek, it’s now part of the world. Get a piece.

#GetSmart

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Real Estate Technology

New tool translates your phone calls into 29 languages – LIVE

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) There’s no need for a language to language dictionary any longer. A lingvanex tool allows for real-time translation on phone calls in different languages.

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lingvanex translates in real time

If you’ve read a few things that I’ve written on here, you know that I often marvel at how far remote work has come. The fact that I write this as my dog sits beside me is no small feat.

What teams can accomplish in a virtual setting is pretty impressive, and tools like Slack and Trello are very helpful in this regard. However, remote workers still utilize the tried and true phone call as it remains a tool of efficiency.

This can be especially helpful if you’re working with team members or clients in other countries when a translator may need to be involved. This concept was the inspiration behind the Lingvanex Phone Call Translator.

The new tool translates voice calls into 29 different languages in real time. Working on both mobile phones and landlines, users can call countries all around the world (150 countries in total are available through the app).

This option is cheaper than roaming calls, starting at 18 cents per minute through use of VoIP. The conversation is then transcribed in real time with the details of the conversation being available only to the user, as Lingvanex does not store conversation data.

“We are happy to represent you the Phone Call Translator – a real-time voice translator, which was created to help in solving questions in travel situations and urgent business problems with foreigners or help in communicating with friends abroad,” says Lingvanex. “You can speak your native language when you call through the app. Your partner and you will hear the translation of both callers during the call, the original speech and translation will also be duplicated on the phone screen.”

The app works in a few simple steps: first, download to your device (works on both Android and iOS). Next, register and create application account – during this, you’ll select your default language. Then, you will select the language of the person you are calling. Make the call by dialing the phone number with the country code. Finally, chat it up walkie-talkie style.

Say what you need to say, then Phone Call Translator takes your words and transcribes them for the person on the other end. This could be very helpful as it gives you an extra moment to think about what to say next!

Do you think this will be helpful for you? Let us know below!

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Real Estate Technology

Should digital assistants have empathy? Big investors say yes

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Bonding with your digital assistant might be more likely than you expect with ElliQ. The rising numbers of AI assistants have created unique interactions.

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ElliQ assistant

It sounds crazy to think that you could form an actual bond with something like Siri or Alexa, but actually, humans are pretty dang good at forming emotional connections to machines. For instance, a Canadian company threw an entire retirement party for five mail delivery bots. People will use Roombas as a substitute for companionship, not unlike a cat or dog. Humans just seem to enjoy connection – even if it’s with a lifeless robot.

Intuition Robotics is taking this desire for emotional connection a step further by working to create digital assistants that can more easily bond with their human companions. At the moment, their biggest product is ElliQ, a robotic digital assistant designed to bond with eldery users. In fact, according to Intuition Robotics, their average demographic falls between ages 78 – 97.

And ElliQ seems to be doing its job. The company reports that customers interact with ElliQ regularly throughout the day, even holding conversations with the machine, and are more likely to listen to ElliQ’s suggestions, which often include proactive behavior like getting outdoors or eating more vegetables.

By working to create a more empathetic and emotional digital AI, Intuition Robotics has started to discover a whole world of new possibilities. And they’re just getting started, having recently raised another $36 million to continue research.

One of their plans? Combining these empathetic digital assistants with the automotive industry.

Imagine an assistant that could suggest you pull over when it senses you’re getting drowsy, or provide something to talk to during longer drives. Plus, unlike ElliQ, which stays put while you move around, you and the assistant will be together in a car, making it easier for the AI to learn your preferences and habits.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg for Intuition Robotics, which has recently majorly expanded its workforce. A digital assistant that can provide a better emotional connection to humans has a world of possible applications, from nursing homes to elementary schools.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of reasons to be worried about a more empathetic AI – the marketing capabilities alone are something I’m side-eyeing. That said, humans have been befriending vacuum cleaners and we’ve turned out alright, so for now, let’s focus on the positive possibilities that could come with tech from companies like Intuition Robotics.

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Real Estate Technology

Moving just got a lot easier with this NAR invested app

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Worried about moving? There’s an app for that, updater, and NAR has taken notice. They want to help their customers from beginning to end.

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updater app

Moving isn’t exactly a walk in the park. There’s coordinating movers, finding boxes, cancelling services, changing your mailing address on, well, everything, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! With so much to do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed but good news: turns out, there’s an app for that. And it’s promising enough that the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) have invested in it.

The app in question is Updater, which serves as a one-stop shop for everything you’d need for a move. Not only can the app help you craft your moving “to-do” list, but with its connection to all sorts of businesses involved in the moving process (from moving truck companies to cable services) you can keep all your prep in one place. Essentially, Updater is designed to make moving as stress-free as possible.

Updater’s current successes have drawn Second Century Ventures, the venture capital section of NAR, to invest in Updater. Which is cool, but why would a company focused on realtors want to help a company that focuses on what happens after a realtor has done their job?

“Updater’s platform delivers unique value to Realtors®, property managers and consumers alike,” said Mark Birschbach, senior VP of Strategic Business at NAR, “This investment is well aligned with SCV’s mission to support and advance technologies throughout the entire real estate ecosystem.”

Plus, Updater is a great tool for realtors to have in their back pocket. If a client seems nervous about moving or overwhelmed, Updater is a great recommendation. Not only does it help the mover, but it shows that the realtor cares about their client’s well-being, even after the deed is signed.

So, what’s next for Updater? Growth. Recently, Updater acquired Bridgevine, a company that works with home subscription services like cable and internet. This merger will allow Updater to offer more options to users while also increasing their reach. This is the first in what will likely be many growth initiatives for Updater.

David Greenberg, founder and CEO of Updater, is also looking forward to the partnership with NAR. “We’re excited to deepen our great relationship with SCV and NAR by investing heavily in the real estate industry and by enabling Realtors® and property managers to deliver an unrivaled moving experience.”

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