Current and Future Trends Archive

British users can benefit from Google Home Voice Calling

Article

Google Home voice calling now works in the UK

Google brings voice calling to Home speakers in the UK | Engadget

My Comments

Last August, Google launched in to the USA and Canada a VoIP-based voice calling feature for their Home smart-speaker platform. This service allowed you to use your voice to call landline and mobile telephones in the USA and Canada and speak to these callers through your Home smart speaker. A limitation that it had was that it was only for outgoing calls and your caller couldn’t identify you through the Caller-ID framework.

It was an attempt by Google to answer Amazon’s “in-network” calling and messaging service that they were delivering to the Alexa platform. Subsequently Amazon answered Google by providing a similar service with an analogue telephony adaptor that connects to your phone line to provide the full gamut of phone functionality through your Echo speakers.

UK FlagNow Google have taken this feature and launched it in the UK so that people who live there have the ability to call landline and mobile numbers based in that territory. How I see this is Google being the first off the mark to offer a VoIP telephony service based around their voice-driven home assistant within the UK.

There, the idea of a household landline telephone is still being kept alive thanks to most of the popular telcos and ISPs running desirable multiple-play TV/telephony/Internet packages at very attractive prices, a similar practice being offered in some European countries especially France. As w

They are also launching this feature in time for Mother’s Day (Mothering Sunday) which is celebrated in March in the UK. Here, they are running a spot special on their coral-coloured Google Home Mini speaker by dropping the price by GBP£10 to GBP£39 until March 12. This is with it being available through most of the UK’s main electrical-store chains like Currys PC World or John Lewis.

The UK as being the first country beyond the USA and Canada to head towards a VoIP platform based around a voice-driven home assistant could be the first “stage” in a race between Google and Amazon to push this feature across the world.

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The trends affecting personal-computer graphics infrastructure

Article

AMD Ryzen CPUs with integrated Vega graphics are great for budget-friendly PC gaming | Windows Central

My Comments

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel

Highly-portable computers of the same ilk as the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 will end up with highly-capable graphics infrastructure

A major change that will affect personal-computer graphics subsystems is that those subsystems that have a highly-capable graphics processor “wired-in” on the motherboard will be offering affordable graphics performance for games and multimedia.

One of the reasons is that graphics subsystems that are delivered as an expansion card are becoming very pricey, even ethereally expensive, thanks to the Bitcoin gold rush. This is because the GPUs (graphics processors) on the expansion cards are being used simply as dedicated computational processors that are for mining Bitcoin. This situation is placing higher-performance graphics out of the reach of most home and business computer users who want to benefit from this feature for work or play.

But the reality is that we will be asking our computers’ graphics infrastructure to realise images that have a resolution of 4K or more with high colour depths and dynamic range on at least one screen. There will even be the reality that everyone will be dabbling in games or advanced graphics work at some point in their computing lives and even expecting a highly-portable or highly-compact computer to perform this job.

Integrated graphics processors as powerful as economy discrete graphics infrastructure

One of the directions Intel is taking is to design their own integrated graphics processors that use the host computer’s main RAM memory but have these able to serve with the equivalent performance of a baseline dedicated graphics processor that uses its own memory. It is also taking advantage of the fact that most recent computers are being loaded with at least 4Gb system RAM, if not 8Gb or 16Gb. This is to support power economy when a laptop is powered by its own battery, but these processors can even support some casual gaming or graphics tasks.

Discrete graphics processors on the same chip die as the computer’s main processor

Intel Corporation is introducing the 8th Gen Intel Core processor with Radeon RX Vega M Graphics in January 2018. It is packed with features and performance crafted for gamers, content creators and fans of virtual and mixed reality. (Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)

This Intel CPU+GPU chipset will be the kind of graphics infrastructure for portable or compact enthusiast-grade or multimedia-grade computers

Another direction that Intel and AMD are taking is to integrate a discrete graphics subsystem on the same chip die (piece of silicon) as the CPU i.e. the computer’s central “brain” to provide “enthusiast-class” or “multimedia-class” graphics in a relatively compact form factor. It is also about not yielding extra heat nor about drawing on too much power. These features are making it appeal towards laptops, all-in-one computers and low-profile desktops such as the ultra-small “Next Unit of Computing” or consumer / small-business desktop computers, where it is desirable to have silent operation and highly-compact housings.

Both CPU vendors are implementing AMD’s Radeon Vega graphics technology on the same die as some of their CPU designs.

Interest in separate-chip discrete graphics infrastructure

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop – the kind of computer that will maintain traditional soldered-on discrete graphics infrastructure

There is still an interest in discrete graphics infrastructure that uses its own silicon but soldered to the motherboard. NVIDIA and AMD, especially the former, are offering this kind of infrastructure as a high-performance option for gaming laptops and compact high-performance desktop systems; along with high-performance motherboards for own-build high-performance computer projects such as “gaming rigs”. The latter case would typify a situation where one would build the computer with one of these motherboards but install a newer better-performing graphics card at a later date.

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module press picture courtesy of Sonnet Systems

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module – the way to go for ultraportables

This same option is also being offered as part of the external graphics modules that are being facilitated thanks to the Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C interface. The appeal of these modules is that a highly-portable or highly-compact computer can benefit from better graphics at a later date thanks to one plugging in one of these modules. Portable-computer users can benefit from the idea of working with high-performance graphics where they use it most but keep the computer lightweight when on the road.

Graphics processor selection in the operating system

For those computers that implement multiple graphics processors, Microsoft making it easier to determine which graphics processor an application is to use with the view of allowing the user to select whether the application should work in a performance or power-economy mode. This feature is destined for the next major iteration of Windows 10.

Here, it avoids the issues associated with NVIDIA Optimus and similar multi-GPU-management technologies where this feature is managed with an awkward user interface. They are even making sure that a user who runs external graphics modules has that same level of control as one who is running a system with two graphics processors on the motherboard.

What I see now is an effort by the computer-hardware industry to make graphics infrastructure for highly-compact or highly-portable computers offer similar levels of performance to baseline or mid-tier graphics infrastructure available to traditional desktop computer setups.

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Blockchain, NFC and QR codes work together as a tamper-evident seal for food

Article

Blockchain ensures that your online baby food order is legit | CNet

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

On this Website, I have previously covered how certain technologies that work with our smartphones are being used to verify the authenticity and provenance of various foodstuffs and premium drinks.

It has been in the form of NFC-enabled bottle tops used on some premium liquor along with smartphone apps to determine if the drink was substituted along with the supplier being able to provide more information to the customer. In France, the QR code has been used as a way to allow consumers to identify the provenance of processed meat sold at the supermarket in response to the 2013 horsemeat scandal that affected the supply of processed beef and beef-based “heat-and-eat” foods in Europe.

The problem of food and beverage adulteration and contamination is rife in China and other parts of Asia but has happened around other parts of the world such as the abovementioned horsemeat crisis and there is a perpetual question for the US market regarding whether extra-virgin olive oil is really extra-virgin. It can extend to things like whether the produce is organic or, in the case of eggs or meat, whether these were free-range or not. This has led various technologists to explore the use of IT technologies to track the authenticity and provenance of what ends up in our fridges, pantries or liquor cabinets.

The latest effort is to use blockchain which is the “distributed ledger” technology that makes bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies tick. This time, it is used in conjunction with NFC, QR codes and mobile-platform native apps to create an electronic “passport” for each packaged unit of food or drink. This was put together by a Chinese-based startup who created this technology in response to a cat belonging to one of the founders needing to go to the vet after eating contaminated food that the founder had bought from an eBay-like online market based in China.

The initial setup has a tamper-evident seal wrapped around the tin or other packaging with this seal having an NFC element and a QR code printed on it. A smartphone app is used to scan the QR code and it uses the NFC element which fails once the seal is broken to verify that the seal is still intact. Once this data is read on the mobile device, the food item’s electronic “passport” then appears showing what was handled where in the production chain.

At the moment, the seal is like a hospital bracelet which is sturdy enough to be handled through the typical logistics processes but is fragile enough to break if the food container is opened. This could work with most packaged foodstuffs but food suppliers could then design this technology to work tightly with their particular kind of packaging.

The blockchain-driven “passport” could be used to identify which farm was used as the source of the produce concerned, with a human-readable reference regarding the agricultural techniques used i.e. organic or free-range techniques being used. In the case of processed meat and meat-based foods, the technology can be used to verify the kind and source of the meat used. This is important for religious or national cultures where certain meats are considered taboo like the Muslim and Jewish faiths with pig-based meats, British and Irish people with horsemeat or Australians with kangaroo meat.

Once the various packaging-technology firms improve and implement these technologies, it could facilitate how we can be sure that we aren’t being sold a “pig in a poke” when we buy food for ourselves or our pets.

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The first Cortana-driven smart appliance is a room thermostat

Articles

GLAS thermostat powered by Windows 10 IoT Core operating system launched | WinCentral

Microsoft’s Glas thermostat knocks Nest with Cortana and air quality monitoring | Digital Trends

From the horse’s mouth

Johnson Controls

GLAS room thermostat

Product Page

Spec Sheet (PDF)

Video – Click or tap to play

Microsoft

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

Google’s Nest smart thermostat is facing competition with a unit that is driven by Microsoft technologies. Here, the Johnson Controls GLAS smart thermostat, which works with most central heating and air-conditioning setups that implement standard 24-volt wiring setups, connects to your home network via Wi-Fi and is built on a Windows 10 IoT Core operating system and the Universal Windows Platform.

Here, this means that it works tightly with Bing as its external data source for air-quality and current-local-weather metrics. As well, it works as a Cortana terminal so you can control the heating using your voice, but have access to other information resources you would be able to have access to if you used Cortana from your Windows 10 computer. At the moment, judging from the various YouTube videos I have seen of this device in action, this user experience will be audio-only but future firmware updates could provide visual support for Cortana’s replies.

The GLAS room thermostat implements the usual scheduling abilities that the typical programmable room thermostat offers but allows for preemptive operating for when you arrive or wake up so your home is nice and comfortable for you. There is the ability to know what the indoor and outdoor air quality is to be like as well as letting the current weather forecast be used to affect the system’s setpoint (comfort level). It could provide the answer about whether it is important to take that Ventolin inhaler with you if you are suffering from asthma that is aggravated by pollen or similar allergens.

The user interface is based on a colour OLED touchscreen which is actually a piece of translucent glass so you can effectively see the wall behind the thermostat. This means you are engaging with a user experience similar to that of a smartphone or tablet. As well, it would please those of us who place emphasis on devices that complement our room aesthetics. Let’s not forget that you could manage it from a Web page or your iOS / Android smartphone through a native app.

At the time of publication, the expected retail price for the GLAS Smart Room Thermostat will be US$319 with it expected to be released to the US market in March. Here, it will be available through the Microsoft Store or through Johnson Controls Website and dealers.

But what do I see of this thermostat? I see the possibility of it being one of many “smart devices” that will become a control surface for your smart home. In an increasing number of cases, it could also be a point of interaction for a voice-driven home-assistant platform like Alexa, Cortana or Google Assistant with the integrated display earning its keep for visual-support functionality. This is where you could use this thermostat’s touchscreen or Cortana interaction to manage something like lighting or music, or “call up” information at a glance with the information appearing on that display.

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Seattle starts attempts to regulate online political advertising

Article Seattle Space Needle photo by Chris Noland (Wikimedia Commons)

Seattle demands Facebook disclose campaign ad information | Engadget

Seattle says Facebook violated a political advertising law | FastCompany

My Comments

In most of the Western democracies, the election process is subjected to oversight by various local, regional or federal government election-oversight departments. These departments oversee the campaign activities that the political parties or candidates engage in during the election cycle; and this includes oversight of the kind of advertising that is being shown to the populace as part of a campaign.

As well, traditional radio and TV broadcasters, whether they are public or private, free-to-air or subscription-driven, are subject to oversight by federal or regional broadcast authorities. These authorities also work with the election-oversight authorities to oversee radio or TV election-campaign advertising in the context of the election process’s integrity.

All this oversight is to achieve a level playing field for the candidates and issues along with identifying and working against sources of undue influence upon the voters. This oversight also enforces various rules and practices regarding pre-poll campaign blackouts, mandatory sponsor identification for campaign messages and reporting of when and where the advertising appears.

But the online advertising platforms including the Social Web have, for a long time, escaped the stringent oversight of the various governments’ election-oversight and broadcasting-oversight authorities and this has recently raised questions in relationship to the integrity of a number of recent polls around the Western world such as the US Presidential Election.

Here, questions have been raised about the presence of troll ads sponsored by the Russian Government appearing on Facebook concurrent with the UK Brexit poll, the US Presidential Election and recent national elections that took place in France and Germany. Now the Seattle local government are raising issues with Facebook regarding advertising that was booked through that platform regarding their council elections. This was about Facebook violating a city bylaw that required advertising platforms like newspapers, radio or TV broadcasters to disclose who is buying political advertising targeted at that election.

One of the issues that are being raised include the ability with online advertising platforms for an individual or organisation no matter where they are located to target particular geographic areas down to the size of a suburb or town; or other particular user classes based on one or more particular attributes with a particular message.

It can become more disconcerting whenever firms in the TV and video industry implement directly-addressable advertising as part of their TV-advertising product mix, which allows for advertising campaigns to be directed at particular households or neighbourhoods like what happens with online advertising. This is because households seem to give a significant amount of trust to what is shown on the big screen in the living room when it comes to advertising.

Another is for the advertising to be presented as though it is part of legitimate editorial content in order to lower one’s “advertising-awareness” radar. This can be through comments that appear in a social-network’s main user feed or spam comments inserted in a comment trail or discussion forum. Similarly bloggers, podcasters and other influencers could also be paid to post political content supporting a particular candidate by a sponsoring entity.

This could breed situations where misinformation could be targeted at a “suburb of disadvantage” or an ethnically-focused community in order for them not to show up to vote or to vote against a candidate they are normally sure about and who represents their interests. This situation is considered of high risk in the USA where the election process supports voluntary attendance along with a significant number of citizens there not being “politically literate” and able to cast their votes astutely.

If Seattle tests this issue before the USA’s judiciary, other jurisdictions within and beyond the USA could watch these cases to observe how they can regulate online content and advertising in relation to the integrity of civic life.

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Windows to fully manage multiple graphics processor setups

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop – the process of selecting which graphics processor  an app or game should use in this Optimus-equipped laptop will soon be managed by Windows 10

Microsoft

Announcing Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 17093 for PC (Windows Experience Blog)

Previous Coverage

What is a GPU all about?

My Comments

Over the last few years, an increasing number of laptop-computer manufacturers worked with graphics-card vendors to implement dual-graphics-processor setups in their portable computing products.

This offered a function that works in a similar manner to the “performance / economy” or “sports mode” switch present in an increasing number of cars. Here, the transmission can be set to give the car sports-like performance or to allow it work more efficiently, typically by determining when the transmission changes gear in relation to the engine’s RPM. NVIDIA markets this function as Optimus while AMD markets it as Dynamic Switchable Graphics.

Sony VAIO S Series ultraportable STAMINA-SPEED switch

Sony VAIO S Series – equipped with dual graphics with an easy-to-use operating-mode switch

Initially Sony implemented a hardware switch to select the graphics processor on their VAIO S Series that I previously reviewed but you manage this function through a control app offered by NVIDIA or AMD depending on the discrete graphics chipset installed. From my experience, these programs can be very confusing to operating especially if you want to allow particular software to run in high-performance or economy mode, or simply override these settings.

Intel Corporation is introducing the 8th Gen Intel Core processor with Radeon RX Vega M Graphics in January 2018. It is packed with features and performance crafted for gamers, content creators and fans of virtual and mixed reality. (Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)

This Intel CPU+GPU chipset will be the reason Microsoft will be providing operating-system management of multiple graphics processors

Microsoft have now integrated in to a preview build of the next iteration of Windows 10 the ability to manage these settings using the operating system’s interface. This setup also applies to desktop systems equipped with two discrete GPUs such as a baseline graphics card and a performance-focused graphics card; or systems connected to an external graphics module. It can cater towards a situation where a computer is equipped with two built-in graphics processors and an external graphics module, a situation that can be made real with Intel’s new CPU+discrete GPU system-on-chip or a gaming laptop with a regular games-grade GPU, when computers with this kind of hardware also have Thunderbolt 3 ports.

Akitio Node Thunderbolt 3 "card cage" external graphics module - press image courtesy of Akitio

.. as will external graphics modules like this Akitio Node Thunderbolt 3 “card cage” external graphics module

The user experience requires you to select a program, be it a Classic (traditional Windows desktop) app or a Universal (Windows Store) app, then choose whether to let the system choose the GPU to use, or to use the GPU offering the highest performance, or the GPU that is the most economical. Here, it could cater for the external graphics modules or systems with three graphics processors by choosing the one with the most horsepower, typically the graphics processor in an external graphics module.

There is the ability for an application or game to choose the graphics processor to work with and this management ability won’t override that choice.  The ability to choose the graphics processor for a program to work with on the basis of whether it is power-saving or higher-performance makes it feasible to work with setups where you may connect or disconnect GPUs on a whim such as when you use external graphics modules.

What users may eventually want is to allow Windows to select the graphics processor for an application based on the kind of power source the host computer is using. Here, such an option could allow an app to use high-performance graphics like a discrete graphics chipset while the computer is running from AC power, but use a power-conserving graphics setup while running on batteries.

Other goals that may be seen would include the ability for Windows to manipulate multiple graphics processors to optimise for higher graphics and system performance for particular situations. This could range from using an integrated graphics processor in a setup using a discrete or external graphics processor for its graphics needs to improve performance for supplementary tasks to allocating GPUs to particular display clusters.

At least Microsoft has started on the idea of “baking in” multiple-graphics-processor management into Windows 10 rather than relying on software supplied by graphics-processor vendors to do the job.

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You can have Alexa print documents on your HP printer

Articles

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

You can ask Amazon Alexa to print documents through your HP printer

HP Voice Printing Now Supports Alexa, Google Assistant & Cortana | Android Headlines

Alexa can now control your HP printer | Engadget

No, you don’t need a voice-controlled printer in your life | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

HP Printing And PCs

Support Page (Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Microsoft Cortana)

Press Release

My Comments

You can now ask Amazon Alexa to print “download-to-print” resources or other material through your ePrint-capable HP network printer. This was a feature initially and quietly offered for Google Home and Microsoft Cortana but HP have given it a lot of space on Amazon’s voice-assistant platform due to it becoming the most popular of these platforms.

… as you could with Google Home

With all of these platforms, the printing function has to be added on as a Skill through the respective platform’s app store. As well, the printer must be able to support HP ePrint or Web Services printing, which enables printing of various printable resources from various content providers as well as supporting “email-to-print” where you can send a document to a machine-specific email address for it to be printed at that machine.

Infact I have given some space to the HP ePrint ecosystem through reviewing a number of HP printers that have this functionality as well as writing some articles on this subsystem such as implementing it in a public-printing concept.

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one printer

… and your HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one inkjet printer could turn them out at your call

For this functionality to work with your printer, you have to supply its ePrint email address to the Skill as part of configuring it. Another limitation is that you can only bind one printer to that Skill which can be a limitation with multiple-printer households, especially where you may choose to run an HP Envy 100, Envy 120 or similar machine as a secondary machine kept in the kitchen.

Once this is set up, you could ask Alexa to print out something like an art-therapy colouring page or some ruled paper and your network-capable HP printer will turn these out.

What is still happening is that HP is still showing strong committment to the idea of the home or small-office printer being a highly-capable appliance rather than just a peripheral for a regular computer running a full-blown operating system. This means that the host device shouldn’t need to be dependent on a print driver to suit that particular machine. This committment was demonstrated through HP’s network-capable home printers and MFCs having UPnP Printing, then establishing the ePrint ecosystem with its email-to-print and print-from-the-control-panel functions, and now using your smart speaker to order documents to be printed.

What needs to happen is that other printer manufacturers show a strong committment towards home and small-business printers being able to work as a “printing appliance” rather than just as a computer peripheral.

This includes:

  • printing “download-to-print” resource collections hosted by content providers and other organisations or in storage locations on local, network or online storage locations using the printer’s control panel;
  • supporting voice-driven home assistant platforms and other control surfaces;
  • and running a polished “scan-to-email” and “enail-to-print” ecosystem.

Similarly, having other dedicated-purpose devices like Smart TVs, games consoles and the new crop of smart appliances being able to print to these devices without the need for particular software drivers.

Then it could see these devices become highly capable and as part of the smart-home ecosystem.

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Symmetrical data transfer speeds to arrive at the cable modem

Article

Your Crappy Cable Upstream Speeds Could Soon Improve | Broadband News And DSL Reports

My Comments

There is a significant number of broadband Internet services around the world that still implement cable-modem technology that uses the coaxial cable rather than Ethernet or xDSL technology for the copper run.

But most of these setups are limited to an asymmetrical download-upload bandwidth even though newer DOCSIS 3.0 standards open up download speeds of 1Gbps. This has effectively ruled out cable-modem services for business applications including those of us who work from home.

CableLabs have cemented a new standard called Full Duplex DOCSIS 3.1 which allows for symmetrical bandwidths of up to 10Gbps. This can allow cable-TV companies and the like who implement coaxial-cable technology to sell business-grade cable-modem Internet using that technology. The idea will be to bake it in to the DOCSIS 3.1 specification suite which will be used to assess cable-modem endpoint equipment and cable-Internet services.

I would also see this benefit fibre-coaxial next-generation broadband setups by allowing for up to 10Gbps symmetrically and making them legitimate with a wide range of users. The main problem that will affect its deployment in the US cable marketplace is the notorious reticence for the cable companies to implement this technology or make it available for a price that is reasonable for residential and small-business users. This is a symptom of the poor level of competition that is existing in that marketplace.

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Delivery-consignment storage to be part of the floorplan

House in Toorak

How is online delivery going to be handled securely when no-one’s at home?

Most of us who buy goods on the Internet are likely to run in to situations where they miss a parcel delivery due to, for example, no-one being at home. This includes situations with families that have teenagers that arrive home earlier than the parents and it is desirable that adults sign for packages that have been delivered.

This can also extend to situations where you need to have a courier collect goods from your place, something I have had to do every time I have finished with review-sample products where I return them to the distributor or PR agency. But it would also apply when you have to return unwanted merchandise to an online retailer or send faulty equipment to a workshop to be repaired, or simply to use a messenger service to run printed documents from your home office to a business partner. Here, you have to make sure someone you trust is at home looking after the consignment until the courier arrives to collect it.

Intercom panel with codepad

These systems may need to be modified to support secure unattended parcel delivery

There has been recent Internet discussion about the Amazon Key product which is a smart-lock ecosystem that allows Amazon couriers to drop off your orders inside your home after you confirm with them that they have your order. The constant issue that was raised was the fact that courier could wander around your home unsupervised after they drop off the order, thus being a threat to your privacy and home security.

But this may raise certain architectural requirements and possibilities to cater for the rise of online deliveries. These requirements and possibilities are about creating secure on-premises storage for these consignments that have been delivered or are to be collected by a courier while you are absent. It is also about making sure that the courier cannot enter your home unsupervised under the guise of dropping off or picking up a consignment.

They will affect how homes are designed whether as a new-build development or as a renovation effort and will affect how apartment blocks and similar developments are designed. It is very similar to the use of specially-installed lock-boxes to keep front-gate or meter-box keys that are only opened by the utility’s meter reader with a special master key when they read your utility-service meter.

Architectural requirements

One of these could be a cabinet or small storeroom located towards the front of your home and used primarily for storage of delivered goods. Of course, you may use these spaces to store items like clean-up tools or solid fuel. Some householders may see a garage or a shed also serve this same purpose.

An alternative would be to implement a small vestibule or porch enclosure with an inner front door and outer front door, Here, these spaces would be secured with a smart lock or access-control system that ties in with secure consignment-drop-off arrangements like what Amazon proposes.

In the case of a vestibule, the inner entry door that leads to the rest of the house would be secured under the control of the household and not be part of these arrangements. This also applies to arrangements where the vestibule opens to other rooms like a home office.

Apartment block in Elwood

Multi-dwelling units like apartment blocks may have to have luggage-locker storage facilities for unattended parcels

For multi-dwelling developments, this could be achieved through the use of a storage facility similar to a cluster of luggage lockers. Here, one or more lockers are shared amongst different apartments on an as-needed basis. In these buildings, they would be located close to or within the mail-room or as a separate storeroom. For those buildings that have multiple entry vestibules for different apartment clusters, it may be plausible to have a group of parcel-delivery lockers in each vestibule.

If your property has a front gate that is normally locked, you may have to use a smart lock or access-control system compliant with the abovementioned secure consignment drop-off arrangements on that gate.

Security requirements for these spaces

All these arrangements would be dependent on a smart lock or access-control system that ties in with the couriers’ or online-delivery platforms’ ecosystems and would be used when you aren’t at home. Such systems would be dependent on consignment numbers that are part of consignment notes or delivery dockets, along with the recipient being notified by the courier of the pending delivery.

But you would be able to have access to these spaces using your own code, card or access token held on your smartphone as expected for all smart-lock setups.

Integration with the courier’s workflow

Such setups would require the household to register them with an online-shopping platform or a courier / messenger platform operated by the incumbent post-office or an industry association. Here, the household would notify whereabouts the secure storage space is on their property

Product delivery

Typically, when you receive a delivery, the courier would ring the doorbell and find that no-one is at home. Or the door is answered by a child and the standing arrangement regarding the chain of custody for deliveries is for the parcel to be received and signed for by a responsible adult.

In this situation, the courier would have to enter details on their handheld terminal about no-one being home. You would then be contacted by email, text messaging or a similar platform regarding the pending delivery and then you use the platform’s companion mobile app or Website to authorise the drop-off of your consignment in the safe storage space.

Then the courier would receive a one-shot authority code which they use to unlock the storage space so they can lodge your parcel there. Once they have delivered the parcel, you would be notified that the parcel is waiting for collection. You would then use your keycode to open up that space to collect your goods when you arrive.

Product collection

There are also times where we require a courier to collect goods from us. This can be situations ranging from returned merchandise, through equipment being collected for repairs, to sending goods out as gifts. In these situations, a responsible adult may not be home to hand over the item and you don’t want to wait around at home or co-ordinate a pickup time for the consignment.

Here, you would organise the consignment paperwork with the courier or the recipient organisation if they are organising the pickup. As part of this, you would receive a consignment number as part of the consignment note, returned-merchandise authorisation or similar document.

Then you would place the goods in the storage space and make sure this is locked. Subsequently you would enter the consignment number in to the smart lock or platform app on your phone or computer. This consignment number works as a one-shot authority code for the courier to open the secure storage space.

When the courier arrives to collect the consignment, they would enter the consignment number in the smart lock to open the storage space in order to collect the goods. Once they have collected the goods, they then lock up the storage space before heading onwards with the consignment. You would then be notified that they have collected the consignment, with the ability to track that parcel as it is on its way.

Issues that need to be raised

Access to a competitive online-retail or parcel-delivery marketplace

It can be easy to bind an unattended-delivery secure-storage platform to an incumbent postal service (including a courier service owned by or a partner with one of these services), or a dominant online retailer like Amazon.

This ends up as a way for the incumbent postal service or dominant online retailer to effectively “own” the online-retail or parcel-delivery marketplace by providing more infrastructure exclusive to their platform. It can also expose antitrust / competitive-access issues where other courier firms or online retailers can’t gain access to self-service unattended-delivery arrangements.

This issue can be answered either through an app-based approach that works with the smart-home / Internet-of-Things ecosystem to interlink with IT systems associated with the goods-delivery industry; or a common platform adopted by the courier / messenger and online-retail industry that integrates unattended-delivery storage as part of the workflow.

Similarly, these systems need to have a level of flexibility such as being able to work with multiple smart locks on the one property. This would be to facilitate a locked gate and / or two or more storage spaces such as a trunk-style cabinet for small items and a larger storeroom for larger consignments; or to provide a private storage space for each dwelling on that property such as a house converted to apartments.

Conclusion

The online retail marketplace has brought about a discussion regarding management and secure storage of consignments that are delivered to unattended addresses.

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Steps are taking place to make Amazon Echo Show become a kitchen TV

Articles (German language / Deutsche Sprache)

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

A German software developer is taking steps to make the Amazon Echo Show become that small kitchen TV

Amazon: Neuer Alexa-Skill verwandelt Echo Show in einen Fernseher | Netzwelt.de (Germany / Deutschland)

Amazon Skill link

Fernseher für Alexa | Live-Streams hören und sehen

My Comments

There has been a practice amongst a significant number of households to keep a small television in the kitchen. This started off with the arrival of the small portable TVs but is now facilitated through the availability of small flatscreen TVs including computer monitors equipped with an integrated TV tuner. Here, it has been seen as a way to watch those news and lifestyle shows that are run during breakfast time by the TV stations while you are eating breakfast, or to watch daytime TV shows like “Days Of Our Lives” while ironing in the kitchen.

Similarly using a tablet that runs the appropriate client apps could yield the same goal, whether you are dealing with a “broadcast-LAN” tuner, a free-to-air TV platform that has member stations stream their content, a TV-Everywhere platform ran by a pay-TV service or something similar.

Now, with Amazon Echo Show and Spot on the scene along with the imminent arrival of smart displays based on the Google Assistant platform thanks to Lenovo and JBL, a software need has been identified. This need is to bring regular TV stations to these devices so they can become like that small TV.

One effort has taken place in Germany to bring the Internet streams provided by the German public TV stations and most of the cable channels to the Echo Show at your voice command. Hear, you can ask this “Stream Player” to show a station by name or by “channel number” and it will show up on the Echo Show.

What I see of this Alexa Skill that is being premiered in Germany is something that can appeal to a “free-to-air TV” consortium of the Freeview kind, a voice-driven interface for a broadcast-LAN tuner including the SAT-IP platform or a cable-TV provider’s “TV Everywhere” platform. Here, these Alexa Skills or platform-equivalent apps could then enable smart displays to work as the traditional TV. But it may be considered “heretical” by the Millennial generation who are used to watching content on their own terms.

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