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How to instantly make any home smart (even on a budget)

(TECH NEWS) Make it a point to upgrade one dumb aspect of your home to a smart device this year as we all move toward smart home living.

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wifi thermostat

Budget-friendly ways to go smart

Now that smartphones are in our pockets 24-7, we are closer than ever to a fully-automated smart homes without the unsettling plot twist of the eponymous movie. Maybe your pre-war ranch home doesn’t have the wiring or power for a full smart home remodel, but with a few tools, here are a few products you can buy today to make your home much more intelligent by 2018.

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Safe and secure

Virtual doorbell
Imagine your doorbell rings, and you get a notification on your phone. Not only can you see the person at your door, but you can talk to them too. You can protect your castle without actually being home. Also, it can help keep track of those pesky Amazon deliveries (we know you’ll be buying a lot of new smart home stuff soon!). Ring does all of that, and more!

Security camera
Not only can you watch out for intruders with the Nest cam but you can keep an eye on Fido while you’re at work. You can even talk to intruders and pets with Nest’s new talk and listen system. “Hey Fido – Get off the couch!” or “Hey Robbers! I’m calling the cops!” are just two examples of this tool’s usefulness. You’ll also get smart phone notifications when motion is detected in your home and go back through ten or thirty days of footage to see what you missed. It works inside and outdoors.

Smart locks
The day of keyless home entry is here. Never again will you have to fumble for your keys with your arms full of groceries on the front porch. Smart locks are a game changer. Controlled from your smart phone, smart locks like Kwikset’s Kevo Touch can be locked and unlocked remotely, temporary digital keys can be issued to house guests or home workers, all of which makes entry for homeowners is a breeze. Some locks even lock behind you once you’ve gone a certain distance away and most options have an additional keyed backup just in case something goes wrong. Smart locks vary in tech and style so do your research to figure out which is best for you.

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Smart entertainment

Smart TV
The TV is the hub of the home, and making it smarter is one of the easiest ways to upgrade your life. Either upgrade your existing model or use Chromecast, Googleplay, or Apple TV to make it easier to interact with your biggest screen. You can even use a gaming device like the Xbox to smarten up your TV. Cast images from your smart phone to the TV, or use built-in apps to watch Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime,. Apple TV lets you stream your own purchased content on the big screen, which makes a wide range of iTunes purchases (and your weekly binge of Real Housewives) easily accessible. With a new smart TV you can get the same wide range of apps, and in some cases, even Skype! I will say, the smaller plug-ins are more easily upgradable and way more affordable.

Google Home or Alexa
For the latest in smart home tech, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Google Home and Alexa. Prime competitors in the smart home world, both devices can be summoned with a word, can search the web, make shopping lists (or any other kind of list) and even play games with you. These are the in-home assistant hubs that truly make your home feel smarter. And isn’t that the most important thing?

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Save some green

Smart switches
Control any overhead light or fan with a smart switch like the Caseta. It works like a normal switch but can be operated remotely via smartphone. Lights can be dimmed, fans can change speed, vent hoods can be summoned with a voice command while you’re ducking beneath the kitchen smoke. Anything that has a connected switch in your home can be turned on or off from anywhere at anytime.

Smart lightbulbs
Smart lightbulbs are a game changer in any smart home. Hue can go into any light fixture, be any possible color, and can be controlled by your smart phone or smart home assistant. Set up preset times for lights to turn off and on, set up different lighting modes (movie mode, sleep mode, reading mode) and control it all via voice with your smart phone. http://drift-light.comDrift bulbs will dim once you flip them off, and slowly lull you to sleep as they dim to black over thirty-seven minutes.

Thermostat
The smart thermostat is a no brainer for smart homes. Heat up the house from your warm bed, or cool it down before you get home, smart thermostats like the Ecobee can make your home more comfortable. Remote sensors can tell if you’re gone or sleeping, and some thermostats can even learn your habits and fully customize the climate zones of your home.

Smart plugs
Control anything that plugs in with a smart plug. A couple of needle nose pliers is all you need to install one of these babies. Go ahead and turn off your computer all the way from the other room, or plug your iron into it so when you’re at work you can make triple-sure you didn’t leave it on. Or if you did leave it on, with the tap of a screen it won’t burn your house down. Plug in your crockpot and turn it on at the exact right time to have dinner ready when you get home. You can even update your plugs to have motion sensor capabilities, so that the fan tursn on when you enter your office, or goes off when you leave. Try theWemo switch or Summit Link’s budget-friendly version.

Squeaky clean

Roomba
Keep that new smart home clean with the ever-popular Roomba, and get rid of those dust bunnies you’ve grown to love. With iRobot’s new Home app, scheduling your top-of-the-line vacuum service is easier than ever. Summon the Roomba immediately with the clean button or schedule a dead-of-night service and wake up to the smell of an allergen-free home. Also, DJ Roomba!

Shower controls
Control shower temps, monitor usage and save water all at the same time. Smart shower controls work with your existing set up and can monitor specific water temperature settings so you never get too hot or too cold. Evadrop adjusts shower pressure depending on where you are in the shower, so you don’t have the water on full blast while you’re just shaving your legs. Some come with an app, like SmarTap, so that you can monitor temps and usage with your phone that keep everyone comfortable, keep your home leak-free, and save our greatest natural resources.

Go forth (and prosper)!

Smart homes are it. And we all have the tools to make our home more accessible, save more energy, and impress more of our friends. Make it a point to upgrade one dumb aspect of your home to a smart device this year. I promise you won’t be sorry.

#BudgetFriendlySmartHome

C. L. Brenton is a staff writer at The American Genius. She loves writing about all things, she’s even won some contests doing it! For everything C. L. check out her website

Real Estate Technology

This tab manager uses AI to organize and focus your web browsing

(TECHNOLOGY) Tabby isn’t the first tab manager we’ve seen, but it is one of the cooler ones. Who wouldn’t want AI to help you organize web browsing?

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Logo for Tabby, a new AI-based tab manager

At one time or another, we have all been a tab hoarder. They start adding up when we are doing research, online shopping, and managing work projects. No matter what it is, we have all let tabs pile up like a stack of dirty dishes. However, several tab manager solutions can help clean up that clutter.

OneTab converts all your tabs into lists that you can later restore individually or all at once. TooManyTabs lets you preview the tabs so you can quickly find what you are looking for. Google Tabs lets you group and color code the tabs for better organization. And now Tabby, an AI-based browser assistant, manages the tabs automatically for you so you are more productive and focused.

“We built it to help everyone navigate on their browser without feeling additional fatigue due to an excess of tabs,” said Merlin Laffitte, one of Tabby’s makers. Because of more online meetings due to the pandemic, Laffitte said that he, along with his colleagues, found it difficult to focus because of the clutter created by the open tabs.

Being in a handful of online meetings myself, I know what he is talking about. Too many open tabs can be distracting and time-consuming. I have heard many people say, “I have the document pulled up.” Then, they can’t find it because it is lost among the ten, twenty, or thirty tabs they have open.

Tabby attempts to solve the pain of tab hoarding by removing unnecessary tabs without a user having to click on anything. In doing so, it makes the browser “focus-friendly.” The way the AI-based plugin works is that it takes into consideration these three main KPIs:

  • The time spent on the tab.
  • The last time you viewed the tab.
  • The frequency of viewing.

Based on these interactions, Tabby scores each tab by relevance, and makes its decision on which tab to close. Whenever a tab is removed from your browser view, Tabby will send you a notification. On the tool’s homepage, you can find the removed tabs and choose whether you would like to restore one. From there, you can also set your preferences to customize Tabby’s behavior. As you continue using it, Tabby will adapt to your habits and learn when to remove a tab when it is not being used.

Tabby is “meant to help you declutter your browser view by removing unnecessary tabs.” Currently, the product has a 5/5 review on Product Hunt, and users seem to like it. With only 25 reviews as of this writing, Tabby is still in its infancy. It’ll be interesting to see how well it does among other tab manager tools as it gains more users.

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Real Estate Technology

This law-tech tool helps tenants navigate eviction notices

(TECHNOLOGY) Law-tech tool Hello Landlord helps struggling tenants meet the eviction moratorium’s rules, but it’s greatest benefit may lie in communication.

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Man seated in trunk of car, head in hands as he considers eviction. New tools may help.

For tenants behind on rent during the pandemic, being shielded from eviction for nonpayment requires strictly following rules in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s eviction moratorium that began September 4 and runs through the end of 2020.

Now the makers of website Hello Landlord, which helps tenants give notices to their landlords, have updated their free tool to meet the CDC requirements.

At HelloLandlord.org, tenants submit their information and answer a series of questions, including their landlord’s name and how much money they owe. The site automatically generates a customized letter to the landlord that outlines the tenant’s circumstances and includes a promise to pay the back rent. Tenants also get a declaration document that follows the moratorium order.

In the declaration, tenants must swear they:

  • Earn no more than $99,000 annually (or $198,000 jointly).
  • Can’t pay their rent because of loss of work or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses;
  • Have done their best to get available housing assistance;
  • Would become homeless or have to move into a home with many people, potentially spreading the COVID-19 virus;
  • Will try to make timely partial payments.

No documentation is required, and there are no official forms.

If renters don’t qualify for protection under the new order, the site will create a letter that asks the landlord for flexibility with making rent payments.

Relationships between landlords and renters often start going south because of communication issues. That’s something Hello Landlord’s letters might head off by helping tenants communicate effectively. The letters meet the legal requirements but also sound, well, human, despite being automated. The language is informal, even conciliatory. The tenant empathizes with the landlord – acknowledging that this time is financially hard on them, too – and pledges to work together.

Some sample language: “Although the CDC’s Order may prevent my eviction, I want you to know that I am willing to work with you moving forward during this challenging time.”

Hello Landlord debuted in 2019 and was originally created by SixFifty, a software subsidiary of technology law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. They collaborated with LawX, the legal design lab at Brigham Young University’s Law School, and the Innovation for Justice (i4J) Program at University of Arizona College of Law to research causes of and solutions to the eviction crisis.

A second tool, HelloLender.org, helps homeowners create letters to their mortgage lenders asking for accommodation in payments under the CARES Act stimulus program.

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Real Estate Technology

Beef up your security against COVID with this new environmental sensor suite

(TECH NEWS) This new security sensor can help protect your company from COVID-19 and monitor the overall health of your building.

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Office setting, with spaced employees for security against COVID.

Verkada, the cloud-based physical security company, is modernizing the world of enterprise building security by enabling customers to proactively respond to COVID-19 in the office.

In June, Verkada introduced its COVID-19 Response Suite. Part of the this release included People Heatmaps. This new feature allows organizations to “identify areas that are prone to overcrowding, and find ways to disperse traffic”. In other words, it helps ensure employees are practicing social-distancing.

This week, Verkada announced the release of its new environmental sensor product line, and its product, SV11. This all-in-one environmental sensor monitors changes that are happening in your physical space. The product is made from photochemically engineered stainless steel mesh that filters out large particles. The integrated sensors measure air quality, temperature, humidity, motion, and noise. Then, all the data is reported back to users for regular monitoring and analysis.

“The SV11 sensor is a cloud-based sensor that seamlessly integrates with the Verkada ecosystem of products,” said Jeff Chase, a product marketing manager for Verkada, in a recent video. “The SV11 can be used across all indoor environments and can meet the needs for a wide range of use cases, including simple remote monitoring of facilities.”

In the security system’s web-based command platform, users can see all the sensors, and can quickly scan real-time data for each location. Live footage and current readings are easy to view. Custom thresholds can be set for each sensor so a user can receive alerts as they happen. This is helpful so you can know when a server room is getting too warm, or when the TVOC (total volatile organic compounds) level is too high.

“Our customers are responsible for the systems that keep facilities online, and our mission is to give those administrators the best possible tools to do their jobs,” said Filip Kaliszan, CEO and co-founder of Verkada. “Whether it be monitoring the status of a server room, the temperature of a patient room in a hospital, or the air quality of a school, the SV11 gives facilities and staff unprecedented visibility and control over the sites they’re responsible for keeping safe and secure.”

With more companies bringing their workforce back into the office, Verkada’s security system can give them visibility on what’s going on at work. And with the valuable information rendered by the sensors, they can gain insights into what they can do to keep their employees safe.

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