Best Buy is slashing prices on all manner of smart home gear this Black Friday

Starting on November 27 and running through the first of December, Best Buy will offer discounts on the Nest Learning Thermostat, and Dropcam HD network-connected security camera. The two products normally retail for $250 and $149, respectively, but will go for $200 and $100 during the Black Friday deal.
 
Also included in the deals is the Philips Hue Starter Kit ($200), which includes a set of three Wi-Fi connected, app-controlled, color-variable LED light bulbs and an accompanying network hub. Best Buy won’t be selling the kits at a discount, but if you’re willing to dish out 200 bucks on one, they’ll throw in a Philips Hue Bloom Accent Light ($80) for free.
 
And the best part? You won’t be forced to wade through crazed crowds of Black Friday deal hunters to get your hands on these gizmos. In addition to offering these deals at brick-and-mortar locations, Best Buy will also offer them to customers who visit its website.

 

LittleBits' New Kit Connects Old Appliances to the Internet

LittleBits, which makes brightly colored modules that snap together to create electronic circuits, is now selling a $249 DIY kit for those who want to turn their analog abodes into WiFi-enabled smart homes. The set extends the use of the recently launched cloudBit, giving users a menu of projects that include a remote pet feeder, a smart air-conditioner, and a garage door monitor. It essentially allows people to build their own IoT hardware without having to wait for companies like Nest, GE, or Apple to roll out another product.

“The electronics industry pretty much remains a very top-down industry that is very much controlled by large companies, by experts, by engineers,” says LittleBits CEO Ayah Bdeir. “Very few people are able to gain access and innovate in it.” Her three-year-old startup makes it as easy to customize hardware as it is to assemble Ikea furniture.
 
The Smart Home Kit comes with 14 bits, including the cloudBit as well as five new ones: an MP3 player, a temperature sensor, a number counter (which, for instance, can be attached to the temperature sensor to display Fahrenheit or Celsius values), a threshold (which can turn a sensor into a trigger module), and an infrared transmitter (which can be paired with an AC switch to turn appliances on or off). The company includes an infographic poster cataloging a host of potential projects, from a device that adds toilet paper to your digital grocery list when someone takes the last roll to an alarm that sounds when your fridge is left open too long. Makers can control the devices through the LittleBits-hosted Web app; their own API, or IFTTT (If This Then That), a service that connects to a channel like Twitter or Facebook to trigger an action such as a tweet or Facebook status update.

Start-Ups Place Bets On The Smart Home

The fledgling home-automation market is growing quickly and continuing to attract new companies. Some of the newest entrants include Ecovent, Snupi Technologies, Cielo WiGle and Droplit. iDevices, the maker of Bluetooth kitchen and outdoor-grill thermometers, also plans an entry.

The newcomers enter a market whose U.S. unit sales will grow in 2015 by 20 percent to 24.9 million units and grow at 20 percent rates in 2016 and 2017, a Parks Associates/Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) report shows.

The units include smart thermostats, networked cameras, smart door locks, water-leak detectors, smart smoke and CO detectors, smart light bulbs and switches, smart plugs and outlets, smart power strips, and the like.

Despite the gains, only 10 percent of U.S. households have at least one smart-home device, and no single device has an ownership rate exceeding 6 percent, the Parks/CEA survey found. The survey also found that 62 percent of broadband-connected households in the U.S. are unfamiliar with smart-home products, almost 70 percent don’t know where to buy them, but 20 percent intend to buy one or more smart-home devices in the next 12 months.

Busy Samsung stirs many pots, from smart home to VR to health tech

Samsung on Wednesday detailed its latest tools for developers -- including a new sensor-filled wearable reference design -- to get them excited about making apps customized for its devices.

Samsung is hosting its second annual developers conference at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco, the same venue where Apple and Google host their yearly confabs. The conference is part of Samsung's effort to work with startups and become a bigger part of Silicon Valley. The South Korean company has long been at the forefront of hardware advancements, but it has struggled with software and services.
 
Samsung hasn't said how many people have registered to attend, but last year's event, which was held at a smaller venue, had 1,300 participants. The company has more than 200 people lined up to speak over the course of three days.
 
In particular, Samsung's developers conference will be focus on digital health, smart home, virtual reality and wearables.
 
The company introduced software development kits for the sectors, including the Samsung Digital Health SDK, a beta SDK for Samsung Smart Home and an S Pen SDK. The New Look SDK allows developers to take advantage of the curved screen of the Note Edge phablet, and a Gear S SDK lets app makers create software that applies to the smartwatch's standalone features. The Gear S includes its own cellular modem, making it the first Samsung smartwatch that doesn't need to be constantly connected to a smartphone.

 

Hands On With Norm, Quirky's 'Thermostat Killer'

Quirky has been relatively quiet over the last couple of months, and on Tuesday it became clear why, when CEO Ben Kaufman announced seven new connected home devices at an event in New York City.
 
Created in conjunction with GE, the new products make it clear that Quirky is focused taking the smart home to the mainstream. Perhaps the most intriguing device is Norm, a sensor that Quirky is calling the "death of a thermostat." I got to check it out, along with Quirky's other new products, after the event.
 
Up close, Norm really doesn't look like anything particularly special. It's just a small white box—about the size of a stack of Post-it notes—that's meant to take the place of your current HVAC thermostat. Unlike traditional models, or even other connected ones like the Nest Learning Thermostat, however, Norm doesn't show you a readout of the temperature or have any visible buttons (save for one on the bottom edge). Instead, it connects to the Wink app on your mobile device, and allows you to monitor or control the temperature from there. Rest assured, you can still adjust the temperature on the box itself—one tap will turn the temperature down, while two taps turns it up.

INSTEON Connected Home Products Available at Select Walmart Stores Near You

INSTEON, creators of the world's premier home automation and control technology, announced that its connected home products and kits are now available in more than 1,500 Walmart stores across the nation, just in time for the holiday season. 

"Our presence in Walmart stores marks the arrival of mainstream adoption of connected home devices," said Joe Dada, CEO, INSTEON. "We are proud that INSTEON is leading the charge and are thrilled to see our products on Walmart shelves as we enter into the busiest shopping season of the year." 
 
In addition to their availability in select Walmart stores across the country, these and many more INSTEON products are available for online purchase at Walmart.com. 

Amazon just surprised everyone with a crazy speaker that talks to you

Well this one came out of nowhere: Amazon is building a speaker that's controlled with your voice. It's called Echo, and Amazon tells The Verge it will be "shipping in the coming weeks." Available on an invite-only basis to start, Echo is regularly priced at $199. But for a limited time, Amazon will offer Echo for $99 to Prime members who receive an invite. Amazon says the black, cylindrical speaker is always connected to the cloud and will provide information, music, news, weather, and more whenever you ask for it. It's the sort of thing you'd expect from Google — only it's an Amazon product.

The built-in voice recognition can hear users from across the room, according to Amazon, essentially acting as a Siri-like personal assistant crammed inside a speaker. It listens to user requests using seven microphones and can understand your voice even while playing music. "These sensors use beam-forming technology to hear you from any direction," reads the product's page. The speaker also produces 360-degree audio to fill an entire room. It'll play music from Amazon Prime Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn Plus. And it's fully Bluetooth compatible, making playback from Spotify, Pandora, and other audio apps possible. Companion smartphone apps on Android and Fire OS will launch upon availability to help buyers set up and get started with the speaker, but everyone else (including iOS users) will need to access it via a web app. Amazon tells The Verge that a dedicated iOS app is in the works.

Parks Associates: 62% of Consumers Unfamiliar with Smart Home Products or Services

Parks Associates reports that approximately two-thirds of U.S. broadband households are unfamiliar with smart home products or services. Further, few consumers know what smart home devices and services are, who sells them, or where to buy them. New research, IoT for Smart Home Devices and Controllers, published by Parks Associates with the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, analyzes the results of a Q2 2014 survey of 10,000 U.S. broadband households. The results include recommendations for the connected home industry, analysis of consumer demand for smart home products, and strategies to raise awareness of smart home devices and their sales channels.

“Today, smart home service providers control almost every aspect of their offerings while consumers make only one choice - the service provider,” said Tricia Parks, CEO and Founder, Parks Associates. “Deploying open solutions that give consumers a degree of control over their ecosystem represents a major competitive element and an opportunity to increase revenue and business opportunities for software, hardware, and service players. However, consumers have to know where to find these devices, so these companies also need better promotion of their sales channels.”

Sharp's new High Resolution Audio Player could spell the death of the A/V receiver

When most people think of Sharp, they likely think about really big TVs. However, in an effort to help you clean up your home theater, the company has been working on something even bigger than their TVs, and it’s finally ready for its coming-out party. Today, Sharp unveiled its new media player, which uses dual wireless technologies to transmit both high resolution audio and video without cables. Sharp calls it the Sharp High Resolution Audio Player, but the name doesn’t do the device justice — it’s way more than just a high-res audio player.
 
Sharp has been developing its futuristic new player, the model SD-WH100U, for years. In fact, we caught a glimpse of what this technology could do in early 2013 at CES, and the prototype version of today’s device thoroughly impressed, able to send crystal clear audio and video to a surround sound speaker system and TV that was virtually indistinguishable from a traditional wired setup.
 
Using the wide open spaces of the 5.2-5.8 GHz frequency band, the player is able to transmit high resolution audio at up to 24bit/96kHz from FLAC, WAV, and even DSD files over the up-and-coming WiSA (Wireless Speakers and Audio) standard. It also plays SACDs and Blu-rays, and thanks to an adapter that speaks the Wireless HD protocol, WiHD, it also sends top-notch 1080p HD video to any TV.

 

US Consumers are eager for the 'Internet of things' in the home, Savant survey reveals

Savant, the leading luxury smart home technology company, today released new survey results revealing that more than half of consumers in the United States believe that home automation will be an everyday feature in less than 10 years from now, and nearly one-fourth saying that the technology will be an everyday feature in less than five years.

The survey further reveals that control/ease of use (69 percent) and convenience (58 percent) are the most important features for consumers when purchasing a new technology. Cost savings (41 percent) and safety and security (35 percent) were cited as the two primary considerations among consumers for the adoption of smart home automation systems. 
 
"Consumers have spoken and want convenience and ease of use from their smart home technology said William J. Lynch, CEO, Savant. "For almost 10 years now, people with Savant Homes have seen how much easier automation makes their lives, and we are committed to bringing this experience to more and more homeowners." 

 

How the smart home will evolve

Right now we have some very successful point applications in the home. The Nest thermostat and the cloud recording device Dropcam, which is now owned by Nest, are two examples. But smart lighting like Philips Hue or smart door locks from a companies like Kwikset and August will pick up steam over the next few years.
 
We also have the introduction of some promising platforms from the likes of SmartThings, AlertMe, and Revolv (although Revolv’s platform doesn’t seem to have much of a future after its acquisition by Nest on Friday). These platforms, which Gigaom Research reviewed in its latest Sector Roadmap, often include hardware hubs with multiple radio protocols to enable easy communication with a multitude of smart devices, be they thermostats, lighting, energy management or security. The benefits of platforms is that they deal with device fragmentation and make visualizing the capabilities of the smart home in one governing app possible rather than having to access a different app for every piece of hardware. They also should allow developers to write code and create rules that affect multiple devices.  Cont'd..

Google Nest buys smart home automation startup Revolv

Google's Nest continues digesting enzyme-rich startups from the smart home sector, acquiring Revolv this time in a move that brings with it the talent needed to push the Works with Nest platform.
 
A Google acquisition itself, Nest's purchase of Revolv follows up its $555 million acquisition of Dropcam just a few months earlier. Revolve had already developed its own platform to connect smart products to one another, but the expertise behind that software will go into making Nest's Works with Nest code more attractive to developers of smart things.
 
"We have been inspired by Nest since our foundation, and are thrilled to be part of the Nest family," says Revolv. Together, we're going to create some amazing products and continue to unify the connected home as part of the Works with Nest program."

Avi-On Teams With Jasco In Home Automation

Home-automation startup Avi-on Labs launched a crowd-funding campaign to bring its Bluetooth mesh-network home-automation products to North America in the spring.

The devices will include multiple GE-brand products from Jasco, which is making a GE Bluetooth Smart Light Dimmer, Smart Light Switch, Smart Indoor Plug, Smart Indoor Dimmable Plug, and Smart Outdoor Plug. They will join an on-wall, battery-powered movable light switch made by Avi-on and a Bluetooth Smart Light bulb.

The products will be available in the spring.

Avi-on created a hub-less home-automation system that is controlled from Android and iOS apps, which let users turn lights on and off, dim lights, put lights on schedules, and group lights. Home systems can also be controlled from a Bluetooth light switch.

Consumers can control and manage almost an unlimited number of household products, including lamps, fans, small appliances, stereos, HVAC systems, and outside lights, the company said.

Home Automation Company Launches New Product with Crowdfunding Campaign

Authometion, the startup engaged in IoT solutions for WiFi home automation applications, has just launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise €50,000 by November 17 to kick-off preorders of their first set of products that allows homeowners to transform their homes into smart homes. 

The first product released by Authometion is IoTuino, an Arduino-compatible tiny core module (56×23 mm) incorporating a low-power WiFi module and radio transceiver. IoTuino has been completely designed and engineered in-house by Authometion after almost two years of research and development. The goal of the product is to offer all makers and developers the opportunity to work with a powerful yet miniaturized microcontroller for rapid prototyping and to leverage the Arduino open-source electronics platform to build plenty of IoT devices. "IoTuino is the perfect partner for DIY Home Automation applications," said company founder and CEO Pietro Moscetta. "It can be embedded into any object to immediately embrace the IoT revolution." IoTuino is based on an ATMega328P microcontroller and includes a built-in low-power Wi-Fi module (IEEE802.11 b/g/n), a 512Kb SPI Flash, a 2.4 GHz radio transceiver, and an integrated mini USB programming port. 

Ubi, the voice-activated control system for your home, is finally out of beta

After more than two years of closed beta testing, Ubi, the voice-controlled home computer system for your home, is finally ready for general release.
 
If you didn’t happen to catch the device during its hugely-successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2012, the device is a lot like HAL-9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Armed with a slew of different sensors and an Internet-connected brain, it’s able to detect when you’re in a given room, and can also understand spoken commands.
 
It’s certainly not the first voice-activated home control system to hit the market, but unlike products that run through Siri or Google Now, Ubi doesn’t always rely on your smartphone. It’s a standalone device that plugs directly into your wall, so you don’t need to have your phone handy to issue commands. That said, the creators did build voice control into the accompanying smartphone app as well, so it’s still possible to control stuff via voice when you’re out and about, or simply in a different room.

 

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