Connected Homes

The internet of things has arrived. Connected devices get smarter every day. They learn our preferences for music, temperature, what time we like to wake up, and seemingly more and more about our daily routine. Home-based devices offer many personal benefits and conveniences. Heavy traffic between home and the office? Alexa will warn you to leave early. Need to take out the garbage cans tonight before bed? Google Home will remind you. Smart thermostats, such as those offered by Nest and ecobee, are also providing conveniences for utility companies to address peak power events. Residents who sign up with their utility provider can authorize their smart thermostat to self-adjust, either up or down depending on weather, so that their home consumes less energy during peak hours. If the automatic setting is not comfortable, users can make their own adjustment and reset the temperature as needed. Big Picture Benefits “Being able to do things like shut off the AC from a smartphone when you accidently left it on is an innovative way to improve our lives. But, as connected thermostats become more common, there are bigger benefits possible,” said Matt Eggers, vice president of energy for Yardi. One example is how clean energy sources become more viable as consumers participate in these programs. “Energy created by solar and wind can be intermittent because sunshine and wind speeds are constantly variable. Giving utilities a strategy to manage demand, for example by having temporary control over consumers’ thermostats, water heaters or electric vehicle chargers, allows them to bring on even more solar and wind sources,” said Eggers. Smart thermostats also save money for utilities by using less power when it is most expensive. Power costs can vary throughout the day based on time of use pricing structures....

For App Addicts

Your smartphone is the one thing you carry on you at all times. It has become an omnipresent device, with very few places where one’s not allowed to have it. It helps a great deal, but it’s ever more damaging as well. Today we face something that’s called ‘app addiction’ and there are more and more studies showing the damaging effects apps have on our brains. Analytics company Flurry released some data that shows that people in the U.S. use their mobile devices for five hours a day. More so, the tech-support firm Asurion found that Americans check their phones 80 times a day on average. Even more so, you’ve surely heard that Silicon Valley parents (from the ranks of those who built these apps and devices) are raising their kids to be tech-free. One Brooklyn-based company has proposed an alternative to the tech monopolies back in 2015 and now they’ve returned with a second model—Light Phone 2 is everything a smartphone isn’t, an intentionally limited gadget. The device is a 4G LTE phone with a black and white matte E-ink display and only a few features extra compared to an old school landline: it can send and receive messages, set up an alarm clock, and maybe it will be able to calculate a ride home and perhaps even listen to your favorite playlist. It can also store a decent contact list, too. That’s it—no social network tools, ads, email, games, or whatever else to distract you from the reality of life. Joe Hollier and Kai Tang, the company’s founders, came up with the idea while at a Google incubator where they were asked to design smartphone apps. They did… the opposite. The world already had too many addicting apps, it was time to...

Virtual Training

Yardi eLearning clients have an exciting new way to train property management staff using virtual reality (VR) technology. On March 6, 2018, Yardi released its first VR module titled Managing Make-Ready Work Orders in 7S. The first-of-its-kind course uses scenario-based training for a fully immersive learning experience. Learners are asked to step into the role of a property manager and go through the make-ready process for a vacant housing unit. Steps include inspecting the apartment, creating make-ready work orders, marking work orders complete and updating the status of the unit within Yardi Voyager. The software guides learners as they interact with a virtual apartment space, computer and maintenance worker. “Simulating this experience in VR is a great way to prepare staff for situations likely to occur throughout the workday. The easy-to-navigate VR interface and gamified story allows learners to step into the world of a property manager and gain firsthand experience. It’s a stimulating learning environment not possible before VR technology,” said Patty Evans, director of Yardi eLearning for Yardi. Benefits of VR Virtual reality has proven benefits for higher learning retention rates. Research shows that whether used for initial training or a refresher, VR training can improve player learning by 30% over traditional training applications. Evans agrees. “360-degree environments will give learners an immersive ‘real world’ training style that skillfully prepares them for their specialized property management career.” The VR simulation will guide learners through the process, familiarize them in knowing what to look for and set realistic expectations for the future. Attainable VR Technology Yardi eLearning’s virtual reality module does not require any additional hardware for the learner. It can be hosted on any desktop, laptop or mobile device. The learner interacts within the environment using a mouse to look around each...

Intel’s Vaunt Glasses...

If you lived through the Google Glass launch and decided that smartglasses are not a device you would use every day, you might consider changing your mind. Intel’s development team has been busy and has something new to share. In an exclusive arrangement with The Verge, Intel showcased the new Vaunt gadget, a piece of tech that doesn’t scream at you ‘tech.’ They’re probably the closest thing to regular pair of eyeglasses and come in several styles, work with prescriptions and can be worn all day long without having your nose or ears get numb. Intel’s New Design Group (NDG) boast a simple interface, minimal design and a non-intrusive notification system, just the features to make the world have a second look and maybe bring the smart eyewear to the mainstream. Weighing almost 1.8 ounces (50 grams), the Vaunt glasses have plastic frames, which make lighter than most of the smart glasses and AR headsets out there, and most importantly, they feel like a regular pair of specs. At a first glance, nothing ‘smart’ really stands out—there are no visible camera, buttons or touch controls—which is ironically a plus. Intel learned from its predecessor (Google) that these elements are driving people away. The Vaunt’s technology is made by Intel, as are the chips and application processor. At the moment, the smartglasses are designed only to display notifications and basic information directly into the user’s eyes. Think text messages, recipes and directions, but following the launch, developers will come up with new apps serving various purposes. Let’s get back to the ‘directly into the user’s eyes’ part—Vaunt works by the means of a Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser (VSCEL) to project information onto a reflector onto a reflector on the right lens, which in turn...

Building Dimensions

Leasing agents often have to be part lawyer, part CPA and part tour guide when handling such details as monitoring existing tenant lease options, notifications and expiration dates, tracking prospective tenants, crafting letters of intent and arranging showings. Customer relationship management technology that manages these operations has come a long way over the past few years. A key development was stacking plans and floor plans that provide a two-dimensional visual representation of a building showing space availability, tenants on each floor, expiration dates and current rental rates.  Color coding helps managers, leasing teams and others identify opportunities and expose risk.  And mobile technology has taken lease execution out of the office and into the field, further shortening the leasing cycle. What’s the next step for CRM technology?  The Balance Sheet asked Tom Dragmen, Yardi’s manager of global solutions, for a deeper dive into the emerging generation of stacking plan and floor plan technology. Q: What does “interactive stacking and floor plans” mean? A: This refers to a rich visual representation of lease expirations and related space details. They can overlay configurable performance measures and metrics on floor plans.  They also provide a visual dimension for efficiently analyzing expirations, options, unit types and rent-per-area trends in buildings. Q: What’s the user perspective? A: Leasing agents and others get a full graphical display of vital information including lease statistics that determine rental rate trends.  They can see stacking and floor plans based on expirations occurring in specific years, rents per area, encumbrances, options, proposals, unit types, and tenant performance measures such as sales per area, sales variances year over year and foot traffic. Q: How can this information be used? A: When integrated with CRM and accounting systems, the new generation of interactive stacking and floor...

Efficiency Unlocked

Linda Greenwaldt, an IT specialist with CommonBond Communities, has a well-rounded understanding of the affordable housing industry. She has turned units and worked her way up to help manage properties. Her career path has given her a unique perspective to her current role in IT. She asked, “What can we do to make the process more efficient, for prospects, residents, and staff?” Yardi RENTCafé for subsidized housing is a robust multifamily marketing and leasing platform. It simplifies marketing, SEO, SEM, online leasing, and resident engagement. Greenwaldt and the CommonBond team saw the potential for RENTCafé to simplify operations for prospects, residents, and staff. CommonBond recently implemented RENTCafé. The nonprofit organization is rolling out the software to its 11,000 residents at a pace of about five properties every two weeks, beginning with property websites and resident-facing services. “It’s a lot easier in RENTCafé,” says Greenwaldt. “We’re to the point now where the websites are awesome.” CommonBond’s new property websites include modern layouts, user-friendly navigation, easy access to floor plans and pricing information. When prospects are ready to make a decision, online leasing is available. “I really like the way it all works in RENTCafé. It’s so much easier to manage RENTCafé marketing than lots of separate components. I’m not a web designer, but I can throw myself in RENTCafé and achieve consistency between sites,” says Greenwaldt. RENTCafé goes beyond prospects’ first steps to improve the resident experience. In the RENTCafé resident portal, renters can file and track maintenance requests, receive updates on community message boards, and access a variety of ways to pay their rent. “I’m loving the resident experience in RENTCafé. Residents have so many options in how to pay,” says Greenwaldt. “Credit card payments, ACH payments, reoccurring payments, Walk In Payments (WIPS). We...

2018 Wearable Tech

At the beginning there were fitness wearables. They slowly transgressed into fashionable wearables and now can be seen in many industries. These days, the tiny devices, once strapped around the wrist, can be found all over one’s body, including on your fingernails. “We’re seeing lots of not obvious usage scenarios, but once you start to really think about it, it makes perfect sense,” Brian Blau, research vice president for personal technologies at market research firm Gartner, said in an interview from CES. Here’s a list with some of the most interesting ones out there: L’Oréal UV Sense Among the smallest wearables out there, L’Oréal’s UV Sense is a UV sensor that sticks to your fingernail. It comes with replaceable adhesives, but one can easily stick it to other items, like your watch or sunglasses. Thanks to its NFC feature, in order to access the data it collects, scanning it with the phone is all that’s needed. As you probably guessed, it helps people track how much time people spend in the sun without being overbearing. UV Sense will determine how long you’ve been out in the sun and once synced with your app, displays a score that shows if you’ve spent too much time under the sun’s powerful rays. Because everyone can handle different amounts of sun, the app will ask some initial questions about your skintone to set a baseline. In addition, it can also recommend products based off your skin score. LIZN Hearpieces Another medical aid presented at CES comes from Danish company LIZN. By mixing advanced hearing aid technology and cell phone components, the company built a product worthy to be named a CES Innovation Awards Honoree this year in Las Vegas. The earbuds, equipped with Bluetooth compatibility (great for listening...

HercuWall

Want to lower project costs and enjoy a faster build cycle all while improving the quality of the finished product? Of course you do. HercuTech’s HercuWall, the poster child of reNEWable Living Home 2018, makes it possible. The Product HercuWall offers the durability of composite concrete construction without the need for steel rebar. The product comes with a water and vapor barrier, and it is dust free, impervious to mold, and unappealing to termites. Each HercuWall kit is computer generated and precision cut to meet product specifications, including casings for windows and doors. Upon delivery, block masons and framers can quickly and easily assemble the prefabricated panels—each weighing 40 pounds or fewer–without any modifications on the site. Builders can enjoy less mess, no wasted materials, and reduced worksite clutter. Completed HercuWall products came in a range of insulation value ratings, including R-20, R-29 and R-33. When supported with energy efficient windows and adequate HVAC units, HercuWall can reduce energy costs by 40-60 percent. The performance of the product does not diminish over time, resulting in long lasting durability and comfort. Now for the information that you’ve been waiting for: HercuWall is competitively priced with block and wood framing. The prefabricated kits make it quick and easy to assemble, reducing the labor and time needed. HercuTech cites that a 2,400 square-foot production house can be installed in 2.5 hours and concrete placed in two more hours with a crew of five. According to the HercuTech website: “Experts predict that this type of construction will have higher resale value than conventionally built structures.” Live Applications There are several completed residences in Arizona as well as the Meritage Homes reNEWable Living Home, a partnership with BUILDER Magazine. The reNEWable Living Home showcases groundbreaking products in sustainable building....

Aiding the Blind

More than 250 million people lack the gift of sight. While for the most of us even imagining what it is like to live in complete darkness is impossible, some have found a way to make a commitment that’s truly amazing—to end vision loss by 2020. Luckily, we live in the era of wearable technology. eSight originates in Toronto, Canada, where one successful engineer—Conrad Lewis— with two legally blind sisters, wanted to use his skills to come up with a solution to their blindness. It took him seven years and investments of tens of millions of dollars to develop the technology and in 2013, managed to release two beta versions of the glasses that would revolutionize the world of the legally blind. In 2017, the company launched eSight 3, a much sleeker and lighter version of the headset, which also has improved battery life and image quality. How does it work? The gadget is equipped with two depth sensors and a high speed, high resolution camera positioned in the middle of the eSight glasses that captures whatever it is that the user is looking at in real time. It also has a powerful computer, which instantly processes the high definition video and displays it on two OLED screens in front of the user’s eyes, using specific optics. The gizmo’s proprietary algorithms enhance the video feed, which offers clarity without perceptible latency or delay. This allows the user to auto-focus between short-range vision to long-range vision. A special feature—the patented Bioptic Tilt capability—enables users to adjust the eyewear to the precise position they choose and also maximize the outer peripheral vision, which people with low vision still have functional. The feature, combined with imperceptible short latency, keeps the user’s balance in check, thus no nausea...

Alien Ale

Start with a little volcanic ash, add a dash of vermiculite and some coffee grounds, and what you end up with is not just a reasonable facsimile of Martian soil, but also the perfect environment for the cultivation of hops. While on its own, Martian soil’s density and aridness make it inhospitable to most crops, the addition of a few crew ingredients can change barren earth into the perfect host for potatoes, herbs and, apparently, the types of grains that make beer possible. Soil analysis reveals hops could thrive on Mars, opening the door for a truly out-of-this-world brew. That’s the discovery presented by a group of students from Villanova University to a recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington D.C. Working with astronomy and astrophysicist Professor Edward F. Guinan, 25 budding Martian farmers initiated a series of experiments to see which types of crops might thrive on the red planet. While most of the participants chose practical plants, like soybeans and kale, on group decided to see if the essential ingredient for beer might also be viable. “Because they’re students,” Dr. Guinan said of the decision, it makes sense they’d lean toward ‘Martian beer.’” A Handful of Mars The Martian agricultural experiment began as a way for Guinan and his class to explore how a typical Martian colony could sustain its residents. Though real Martian soil isn’t actually available, The Martian Garden sells a unique blend of crushed basalt from the Mojave Desert based on NASA and JPL research to produce soil “as close as you can get to Mars without leaving Earth.” While the soil is available for purchase, beginning with the MMS-1 Mojave Mars Simulant at $5 a pound, students, researchers and “space enthusiasts” can receive a free sample...

Digital Definition

What does “digital transformation” mean to commercial property management beyond a catchphrase? Six thought leaders including Alex Stanton, Yardi’s commercial industry principal, provided clarity on the subject in a recent Realcomm-hosted webinar. Digital transformation extends technology beyond acquiring and managing property.  It’s driven by business factors such as profitability, occupant satisfaction and productivity along with new technologies including the cloud, data analytics and the Internet of Things. Digital transformation is “a strategy lever to achieve broader business agendas and create new levels of value,” according to panelist Marc Petock, chief communications officer and vice president of marketing for IoT technology builder Lynxspring. Digital transformation aggregates business, operations and IT practices into a common platform for people, processes, best practices and services, Petock said, with new technology embraced not for its own sake but to change thought and organizational culture. Executed properly, digital transformation can foster better resource planning, empowerment, technology collaboration and risk mitigation. With heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment comprising a major expense, for example, commercial building owners and operators are incentivized to adopt intelligent building technology that provides new insight into operations and equipment performance. Commercial real estate has traditionally been slow to adopt transformative technology; when the panelists were asked how much of the industry understands digital transformation, no estimate exceeded 30 percent. But that’s changing in the face of pressures for profits, high sustainability expectations and consumers’ technology sophistication. “Technology used to mean ‘support’; now it’s at the forefront of driving revenue and services,” said Sandy Jacolow, chief information officer for real estate developer, investor and manager Silverstein Properties. “It has shifted how we do business.  For example, mobile capability is no longer a luxury; tenants say ‘Is there an app for that?’  A poor interface or customer experience...

A New Look

Just before CES 2018, Dell unveiled its new XPS 13 laptop. The device, favorited by many thanks to its compact design, bright display, comfortable keyboard and decent battery life, has been completely overhauled, boasting narrower bezels, a new cooling system and a white option with a stain-resistant coating. The device had been revealed at CES 2012 and counts now seven versions, the very last one featuring a new white-and-gold finish, a slimmer frame, eighth generation Intel CPUs and other upgrades. Design wise, the latest version marks the first tangible design changes since its original launch. Dell slimmed down the XPS 13 chassis to be 30 percent thinner at just 0.3 inches (3.4mm) at its narrowest point, but also lighter at nearly 2.7 pounds (1.2kg). Obviously, the color change is the most notable modification, even though the original black and silver configuration is still available. The white and rose model features a woven glass palm rest that has a slight texture to it, unlike the black model’s smooth palm rest. According to the company, it is finished with a titanium oxide coating for shine, and the anti-stain coating that should protect the palm rest from turning yellow. There are three USB-C ports (two of which are Thunderbolt 3), a microSD card reader and a 3.5mm audio jack. One strange thing about the XPS 13 is the webcam placement—at the bottom of the screen instead of above it—but this is not something new. The camera can be used to log into the computer using face recognition if the fingerprint scanner feels ancient. The device will be available with an FHD non-touch or 4K touch display, while inside it comes equipped with 8th generation quad-core Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs, Intel Graphics 620, support for up...

2018 Tech Trends

With 2017 drawing to a close, we’ve been thinking about the future. The current year’s tech trends have been big and impactful, with artificial intelligence topping the charts. How about 2018? Most likely, technology is set to focus on the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence and machine learning. The Internet of Things Pretty much everyone has heard about IoT as it can be found in almost any industry now. You must have noticed that everything is becoming ‘smart’. In your car, at home, in the office, or shopping—there’s smart technology everywhere, ready to collect data and connect to other devices in order to assist you with your tasks. Gartner states that by 2020, a quarter of a billion cars will be hooked up to the internet. No doubt the trend will continue to progress in 2018 and even expand to areas outside of those mentioned above. Artificial Intelligence Pretty much anywhere you look—tech conferences, development and discussions, AI is at the forefront. And rightly so as it’s no easy thing to have computers able to learn in much the same way as humans do. Behind its extraordinary advancement is the incredible explosion in data—the more data an AI system has, the faster it can learn and the more accurate it becomes. It seems like humanity is on a path without a return alley. Machine Learning This technology has already swept every platform into its net. All developers want to make life and software more intelligent and advanced. It will replace all those mindless, repetitive and time-consuming tasks, precisely what technology should do. We already have some automated processes, decisions, functions and systems, carried out by algorithms or robots. Machine learning is the next step and ever more industries will be impacted by it—truck...

Pluses of Plugins

Just what is a plugin anyway? How is it different from a patch? Or a full version update? The somewhat frustrating truth for most of us is that software is one of the few products we use that doesn’t seem ever be ‘done’. With all of the different types of software we depend on every day, it’s common for users to experience confusion, frustration and fatigue when it comes to software updates. Operating systems for smartphones, tablets and computers are constantly updating themselves with security fixes and new features. Every day it seems we get notices on our phones that app updates are ready to be downloaded and installed. Software that supports a team of professionals, such as Yardi property management software, is a good example of why updates are extremely valuable for users. Software updates address security risks, solve coding bugs and prevent unplanned downtime. Think of it this way: if your organization has developed an internal workaround to address a problem, and you haven’t updated your plugins lately, then it’s likely that problem (and perhaps others) has an official fix from Yardi ready to download and install. Laurie Swertfager from AJB Consulting talked about software updates at the Yardi Affordable Housing and PHA Forum in Atlanta. Laurie is an affordable housing consultant with extensive expertise in compliance, finance and technology. “My clients sometimes lament that little things they are looking for aren’t available in Voyager. In those cases, my first step is to see if they are up to date on their plugins. Chances are they have not, and often the uninstalled plugins have exactly what they are looking for.” says Swertfager. “Some clients work under the guise of ‘if it isn’t broke, then don’t fix it,” says Dave Kessler, vice president...

Mobile Management

The new RENTCafé Senior Living Resident App makes lets residents and families manage payments, maintenance requests and more on the go! While we are all used to seeing young adults glued to their smart phone screens, increasingly senior citizens are logging on to mobile devices and taking advantage of everything mobile apps have to offer. According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center, since 2013 the number of seniors who own smart phones has nearly doubled to roughly 40% of adults over 65. Smart Phone Freedom Smart phones have a lot to offer older adults, not the least of which is the ease with which they can connect with loved ones. With advent of online banking and one-click purchasing, seniors have begun to adapt to an era of convenience and (almost) instant gratification. In fact, the Pew Research Center found that “for Americans ages 65 and older who own a smartphone, having one in their pocket is a liberating experience.” Communities Go Mobile For senior living communities, the ubiquity of mobile devices amongst residents presents an opportunity to enhance communication and improve comfort and care. In the past, many senior living providers depended on paper forms to handle all manner of resident interactions, from account management to maintenance requests. Going digital has changed that dynamic, and with the advent of mobile apps, communities can now empower residents to take charge. RENTCafé App makes it Easy Earlier this year, Yardi unveiled the latest update to its innovative Yardi Senior Living Suite with the introduction of the RENTCafé Senior Living Resident app. Offering the convenience of mobile payments and maintenance requests, the RENTCafé Senior Living Resident app provides residents and their families with easy, secure access to account information via iOS and Android devices....

Build to Rent

LONDON – Technology has changed all our lives so fundamentally in recent years that it is sometimes difficult to look back to an era when things were done differently. Today’s normality was, just a short time ago, unthinkable. Banking is a good example. Today, we take it for granted that we can access our accounts at any time and transfer money and pay bills quickly and cheaply. The chequebook is still available for those who need it, but it won’t be long before they too are consigned to history. Then take taxis. While in London at least, using a cab was once the preserve of those with substantial salaries – or travelling at somebody else’s expense – now the rise of Uber and others means that getting a ride home is a real option for many people. Property has, of course, been slow to embrace the benefits that digital technology can bring – one estimate is that the industry is around 20 years behind financial services – but that is starting to change and at pace. Just a few years ago, if the property press mentioned technology at all, it was to reference the influence of the likes of Rightmove or Zoopla. Today the phenomenon has its own name: proptech. A lot of attention has been paid to how proptech is disrupting the industry, most notably through big data potentially making the role played by many agents redundant. That is obviously a cause for concern and the introduction of new ways of working will obviously have to be done with care and compassion. But proptech also has the potential to bring huge benefits to both property companies and their consumers – and without the need for anyone to lose their jobs. In no sector...

Lamborghini’s Phone...

These days, most of us own a smartphone or even several. Smartphone manufacturers have also worked their best to bring near premium design and specs to budget devices. Yet, every now and then, the industry surfaces some device with a ridiculous price boasting marketing names such as “the most luxurious technology” and you’re just wondering who on this planet would buy it and most importantly, why. The latest—Lamborghini Alpha One—can be yours for $2,450. It’s sort of obvious that a smartphone delivered by a luxury carmaker like Lamborghini will undoubtedly come with a premium price, but is it really worth the money? The Android device features a “liquid metal” frame, “Italian handmade black leather” and the company’s ‘Raging Bull’ logo, the symbol of “strength, courage, determination and boldness.” The liquid metal is used in the device’s side frame and it’s basically an alloy often used in supercars, premium golf clubs and surgery tools thanks to its high strength, corrosion resistance, light weight (still, the device weighs 200 grams, above the 188 grams of the iPhone 7 Plus) and malleability. But this is where the premium features stop. The ‘supersmartphone’s feature set is not as impressive as its luxurious exterior: a 5.5-inch WQHD, 2560×1440 display with Gorilla protection, powered by a two-year old Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of RAM with 64GB of storage, expandable up to 128GB. (Note: there are already on the market devices with 256GB capacity.) The Alpha One runs on Android Nougat and sees through a 20-megapixel rear-facing camera with f/1.8 aperture and an 8-megapixel front-facing camera with f/2.2 aperture, 4K video recording, optical image stabilizer and electronic image stabilization. It also offers dual SIM support. The Italian device features a DOLBY ATMOS dual-speaker 3D acoustics system optimized for mobile...

Alexa and AI

As the popularity of Artificial Intelligence is on the rise and corporate giants such as Google, Microsoft, and Apple are racing to develop the best commercial AI product, the focus has shifted from humans being more intelligent like machines, to developing machines to act more like humans. This past July, Amazon acquired a Santa Barbara startup called Graphiq, previously known as FindTheBest, for an estimated 50 million dollars in hopes of using the company’s data analysis and search engine technology to make their digital AI assistant, named Alexa, even smarter. Alexa was first implemented in 2014 with the introduction of Amazon’s Echo, but has come a long way since then by developing complexity that far surpasses its competitors such as Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant. The reason why Alexa has become such an advanced AI is due to the integrations that were built into the voice-controlled platform. For example, users can apply a skill to Alexa, which allows the AI to do various actions such as setting the oven temperature or turn on lights in your home with a simple command. There are currently about 250 or more products offered on Amazon.com that can be integrated with Alexa skills, but there are over 4,000 other products from other manufacturers that can also include the function. Smart Cars get Smarter In addition, Alexa’s API, or application program interface, allows it to integrate seamlessly into the automotive industry. Just recently, Amazon has already created partnerships with automotive manufacturers such as BMW, Hyundai, and Ford. While each car manufacturer will vary in how they will integrate Alexa into their product designs, the voice controlled command system that Alexa offers would remain the same across all manufacturers. For example, simple commands such as opening the car trunk, or...

Watch Out Fido

Just in time for the holidays, Sony has resurrected the robot pet it removed from shelves in 2006. This new model is called aibo, which stands for Artificial Intelligence robot. Aibo is also the Japanese word for “companion” or “friend.” The new model (no. ERS-1000) develops from a newborn puppy to an adult with personality shaped by the interaction with its owners and surroundings, thanks to the latest AI technology. This ability to form an emotional bond with members of the family makes each aibo unique, so no two will be the same. The new puppy’s rounded appearance makes it pretty irresistible. Sony has spent quite a bit on animation. That being said, I am personally a bit skeptical about how it feels to pet a piece of plastic, even though it’s premium plastic. The pup has the capacity of expressing its love for its owners through lifelike expressions and a dynamic array of movements, but it does make one wonder—is this the future of pets? The robot pet has a behavioral repertoire more limited than that of the least bright dog, but an aibo doesn’t need you to feed it (technically, it does when you charge it), doesn’t wake you up at 5am to take it out in the pouring rain and will never make a mess inside your home. Aibo’s ‘fur’ is ivory-white, and it has cute flapping black ears and a wagging tail. It’s about 30-centimeters long and comes with a package of sensors on the head, chin and back for pet detection, two cameras, four microphones for voice commands and internet connectivity, as well as the earlier mentioned upgraded AI backed by cloud computing to develop the dog’s personality. The advantages of deep learning and AI tricks help it to...

Largest EV Station

Automakers have been hard at work, developing ideas for the cars of the future, but in order for the new vehicles to have a future, a proper infrastructure needs to be designed and put into place. The battery industry is in full swing with more and more scientists getting involved into the development of bigger and better ones, but regardless of their capacity, they all need to be recharged. This means that charging stations need to spring in at least as many locations as the conventional gas stations. Sortimo, a German company headquartered in Berlin, unveiled plans of what’s to become the largest electric vehicle fast-charging station in the world—the Sortimo Innovationspark Zusmarshausen. The project will be located along Germany’s six-lane A8 highway, in the industrial area in Bavarian-Swabia, between Ulm and Augsburg, in close proximity to Tesla’s Supercharger in Jettingen-Scheppach. The electric vehicle (EV) fast-charging station will consist of 144 charging ports, which will allow for more than 4,000 cars to be refilled with energy on a daily basis. Of the planned charging columns, 24 are to be superfast chargers, with a charging capacity of record-breaking 350 kilowatts, meaning that a vehicle battery can be replenished in only a few minutes. Tesla’s ‘Superchargers’ currently stop at about 150 kilowatts, but even though this is more than what today’s car batteries can handle, the company is convinced that both battery capacities and the need for charging infrastructure are growing at a significant pace. Moreover, the Innovationspark will feature offices, shopping and dining areas, serving those who stop to recharge their vehicles. The images accompanying the announcement reveal that the planned station will be topped with green roofs, emphasizing on the development’s care for nature and awareness for the environment. The massive charging station will...