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Ways to squeeze out more smartness from a smart home

(TECH NEWS) Smart devices are a godsend for the busy, those that can’t be bothered, and the curious, but it’s important to be smart about what you’re signing up for.



internet of things

Getting things under control

Smart Homes and Wi-Fi-connected devices have brought us a number of benefits. A fully connected house can be controlled from a smart phone, and personally, I love the ambiance of my Philips Hue lights. As homeowners, renters, or landlords, controlling energy costs is a big focus.

Does having a lot of connected devices draw more energy? Are we making our carbon foot print worse? Perhaps surprisingly, a lot of research suggest that smart homes and connected devices can do a lot to make us MORE efficient.

Almost everything can be “Smart” nowadays – thermostats, water heaters, meters, plugs, lighting, irrigation, ovens, even crock pots (for us geeky lazy chefs). The “Internet of Things” that we create in our home is constantly growing. There are a couple of cool ways that smart devices can impact our power bill:

You hold all of the power

Smart thermostats, for one, (like Nest) are helpful for a number of reasons.

Routines are one way – by automating a routine where we aren’t cooling a house that we aren’t even in. You can also change the temperature if you forget to set it before you leave for work (just pull over if you do – no home automation and driving). Lastly, you can learn a lot from analytics that show you your usage and how often your system kicks on.

Although it should be noted that a house without good airflow and ventilation won’t benefit too much, using those sweet analytics is the best way to maximize savings.

Heating and cooling costs account for 48% of the typical energy costs for a home.

I’m from Texas. So I know how important it is to stay cool.

Convenience makes a huge deal

Smart lighting is often brighter and more efficient (the joy of LED!), and has the ability to set lighting preferences (dim, have it adjust based on natural light, or set to schedules)which can lead to energy savings. And if you are running late (as we often are), and you happen to leave all your lights on – turning them off remotely can save energy costs.

Smart meters can tell you what in your home is using a lot energy – indicating potential issues and showing you ways to save.

Irrigation options like Cyber-Rain exist as well – with reducing the usage and waste of water by anticipating weather conditions. Although not directly related to your carbon footprint, saving water and reducing water loss is a big deal (particularly in California!).

Do your homework

That’s not to make things too rosy. A lot of smart appliances are more sugar than sustainability, but can help with other aspects of sustainability. Smart fridges for example, with remote cameras, can help reduce food waste and can ensure you don’t buy too much or forget the milk has expired.

Smart home devices can really impact our energy usage if we embrace automation and utilize analytics.

Otherwise, things like constantly playing with your lights (they change color!) or that fancy smart security system may end up just pulling more power from the grid. Like any tool in our life, there is an opportunity for the opposite effect (higher electric bills) if we don’t use the tools correctly.

Smart homes require making smart decisions. If you’re committed to reducing your carbon footprint, use smart devices to correct the human error (leaving your lights on) or help you make a better decision (cooling your home when you’re actually there, etc).

Mo’ devices can mean mo’ money – but only if put yourself in the know.


Kam has a Master's degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, and is an HR professional. Obsessed with food, but writing about virtually anything, he has a passion for LGBT issues, business, technology, and cats.

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Real Estate Technology

Smart homes spy on you, here’s how to spy back

(TECHNOLOGY) Wow surprise, smart homes spy on you constantly. Here’s why it matters, and how to spy back.



smart homes

We’ve long talked about the risks and rewards of technology, especially IoT devices in the home. For every cool gadget, there’s a chance your information will get hacked or tracked.

Last year, Congress thought it would be fun to give Internet Service Providers (ISPs) power to spy on customer internet usage data and sell it. Which means your ISP can see all the data from your smart devices and profit from selling you out to third parties.

Some folks at Gizmodo decided to conduct an experiment to see how much data can be tracked from smart homes.

Back in December, Gizmodo senior reporter Kashmir Hill set up just about every smart device imaginable in her apartment including an Amazon Echo, smart TV, smart lights, toothbrushes, baby monitor, and even a mattress.

Hill’s colleague Surya Mattu, Gizmodo data reporter, configured a router to track the device’s network activity and give the duo the same view as Hill’s ISP.

They found that since the router’s installation in early December 2017, there was not a single day without activity from the router.

At least once a day, at least one of the smart devices sent data packets to the ISP, manufacturer, or third parties. If Hill told the living room to turn on the lights, Phillips got alerted. If the family watched something on Hulu, the smart TV sent information to data brokers.

Every action could be (and in most cases was) tracked and recorded, creating a vast data set about Hill’s daily routines and schedules.

Routine tracking may seem mundane since right now most of the data isn’t being used, just monitored and recorded. However, this data may have more impact in the future.

We already have car insurance companies that offer discounts for safe driving if you use their driving monitors. Cybersecurity expert David Choffnes points out we’re not too far from a world where smart toothbrushes may connect to dental insurance rates and discounts. We’ve explored how smart watches and even browser history could impact your health insurance rates and insurability. Right now it’s all theoretical, but the bones are there to create a tech-inspired Frankenstein.

Plus, it’s inherently creepy to think that an ISP could deduce your family’s schedule based on use of smart devices.

So how can you spy back to see what kind of data is being reported?

Well, for starters you’ll need to have some computer knowledge. Or a pal who is willing to help you out in your endeavor to be a smart home spy.

For the Gizmodo experiment, Mattu built a customized router using a Raspberry Pi 3, which is a tiny computer you can custom program. If you want to replicate their test, these run around $35 for a single board.

Fortunately, the Raspberry Pi 3 comes with built in wifi hardware so it should be fairly easy to configure it as a router if you already know how to use one.

Once connected to the internet and set up as a wifi router, you’ll add the script to monitor network traffic. For this part, you need an understanding of Git and Github.

Next, set up a server so you can store traffic. Mattu and Hill used Amazon Web Services, but you can use your own server if you want. They also crafted a front-end interface to analyze the data.

Note the times when you connect and use the devices for easier analysis. If you want more details about setting up your very own smart home data traffic monitoring router, check out their article.

Some of the information collected from the devices may seem trivial. After all, what does it really matter if Philips knows what time you get up in the morning? Hill noted the data being sent is “basic, boring, information, but revealing information about how we live our life.”

This data could start to matter if companies and ISPs use your information control how you use their devices and how products are sold to you.

TV watching data is already being sold to data brokers. It’s just a matter of time before your sleep score from a smart mattress gets reported to your health insurance to determine coverage or something equally Big Brother-like.

Smart homes are predicted to be a $27 billion market by 2021, with an unprecedented number of new devices in our homes. Before rushing out to get the latest smart device, make sure you’re fully aware of what data you may be inadvertently sharing with companies.

Check out different products’ privacy policies before buying to make sure you’re cool with what information the device will be sending. And if you don’t want your ISP to know how often you make lattes, maybe opt for a coffee maker that isn’t wifi-enabled.

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Real Estate Technology

New startup makes rent count toward tenants’ credit

(REAL ESTATE TECH) This startup gives property owners an advantage while improving the renter economy and making rent count toward credit.



keyo tenant credit

Although property management tools for landlords are well established (think Yardi or RealPage), a new startup is taking a residential approach to property management. Keyo offers renters a seamless way to engage with tenants to provide rent payments, maintenance requests, and building announcements. Before the lease is signed, Keyo can handle tenant applications, free background checks, and digital contract management.

Keyo is renter focused, from the marketing (encouraging tenants to push for it) to the focus on appealing to the new modern renter. From the ability to set up “Scouts” who show units for you (and make money on the side to show the unit and expedite the process), to the fact that renters could apply for an apartment and never pay a single application fee for multiple units – which is also a cost that you the landlord doesn’t have to pass onto them.

The vision is to make the renting economy more accessible, friendlier, and less complicated for tenants.

The best feature by far?

Rent payments made through Keyo are reported to credit bureaus Equifax and TransUnion– which rewards tenants by improving their credit.

(FYI: Renters have less opportunity to improve their credit unlike many mortgage holders.)

Keyo also allows ACH payments for rent – (and as a millennial who resents checks, this is AWESOME), helping individuals pay their rent on time. Maintenance requests are easy and transparent as well.

Keyo makes its money from landlords who pay it to help them fill units, and it provides some key marketing features, including search optimization, analytics on marketing, and all those paperwork management (which means you don’t’ have to pass that cost along to the tenant, which can make investment property owners more competitive). The pricing works out to $5.00 monthly per unit, and each new tenant that is delivered by Keyo costs the landlord one month’s rent. This could be less expensive than the cost of a broker’s standard charge in your region.

Keyo is focused primarily on Brooklyn, but is looking to expand to larger markets. The true test of its quality will be how it translates outside of the wild west of NYC. While being feature-packed, compared to some property management systems like Yardi, this seems a fair bit sparse, but likely is lower overhead.

This is a modern, simple, resident driven platform that could help investment property owners to be more competitive and improve the renter economy.

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Real Estate Technology

No tech skills needed to build lead gen chatbots in under 5 minutes

(TECH NEWS) Create your very own AI chatbots with this awesome new free to start service, no tech knowledge required. Warning: It’s kind of fun and can lead to shenanigans.



landbot chatbot

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is on the rise and innovating quickly. Chatbots featuring AI are becoming increasingly prominent on company websites for more cost-effective, 24/7 customer support and lead generation.

You don’t need to be tech savvy to set up Landbot’s new easy-to-use AI chatbot builder. As long as you have a basic grasp of how to use a computer and the internet, Landbot has you covered.

Landbot offers users a platform to create customized chatbots for customer support, lead generation, and analytics tracking. It launched eight months ago on Product Hunt, earning over 1,700 upvotes and ranked in the Top 200 Products of all time.

Their homepage features a friendly chatbot happy to answer all of your questions. The chatbot also serves as an example of what your very own chatbot could look like if you sign up.

Signing up is as easy as briefly chatting with the bot, providing your name, company or project title, and email address. Lucky you, the sandbox version is not only super user-friendly, but also free to use.

And trust me, the two hours I spent playing around with it are testament to how fun and easy it is to build a chatbot.

No AI, coding, or chatbot knowledge are required to use Landbot 1.0. Simply follow along with the tutorial, learning how to drag, drop, and connect blocks to create conversational interfaces.

Begin with the start message, which is the first thing customers will see. From here, you can create new blocks to build flows. Each block functions as either a question or a message.

Question blocks can have any number of answer types, including pre-set buttons, free text fields, or specific information like asking for contact info.

In the simple message blocks, you can add links, photos, YouTube videos, or custom HTML. Everything is laid out on a grid and connected by dragging an arrow from one block to the next.

Blocks can loop back to previous ones, creating a customizable loop. For bonus fun, you can test out a preview version of your bot to make sure you connected everything correctly.

Once you’ve got your basic conversation flow laid out, customize your bot’s appearance by editing a template or creating a design scheme from scratch. Background, fonts, and color can all be edited to personalize your bot.

Special features include app integration, where you can get Slack notifications when someone using the bot needs help. Automated emails can be sent to qualified leads, ensuring a human on your team follows up with the customer.

Manage leads with access to a table of details, exportable as a .CSV file for record keeping. Analytics are available showing user metrics, flow analytics, and if you incorporated surveys, then collected results.

While Sandbox is free to use, some of the more advanced features are only available if you throw down for a monthly subscription. Landbot offers three pay-to-play options, starting at €20 /month (around $25 USD) for the Starter plan.

Play around with Landbot’s platform and craft yourself a neat new chatbot pal, pal!

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