Category: Home / building automation and security

Digital key management and sharing to be part of mobile operating systems

Article

August Smart Lock press picture courtesy of August

Apple to lead the way with having smart lock and digital key management as part of a smartphone’s operating system.

Apple to add digital key sharing to iOS • NFCW

My Comments

Apple is the first mobile-operating-system developer to integrate the management of digital keys for buildings or cars within its iOS operating system. This includes the ability to share keys to others or revoke shared keys within your iPhone’s user experience.

It is because of an increasing number of security solutions for buildings, vehicles and the like that use your smartphone as a virtual keyring for digital keys.

Previously, what happened with digital keys was that they were dependent on apps specific to a vendor, hotel or similar smart-lock platform and you had to work these keys from that app’s user interface.

This could lead to confusion about apps that you need to use and can get very messy when you have multiple places to think of and you aren’t sure which platform they are associated with. It can also lead to screen clutter associated with the apps and you may find that they take up too much internal storage space especially if you are responsible for many places.

The approach now is to implement the digital wallet functionality offered by Apple Wallet and is part of iOS. As well, you use what the operating system offers to share out keys or revoke shared keys. That means you can use first-party messaging software like Apple iMessage or Apple Mail to share the keys; or you could use third-party messaging software like Signal, WhatsApp or Outlook Mail to share these keys.

Most likely this will be facilitated with the “share / take-further” function offered as part of the operating system, represented in iOS with a square and triangle symbol.

The problem with this functionality is whether there is the ability to limit the shared key’s functionality when you share it out. That is to limit the number of times one can use the key or the time period they can use it for, or even to limit the doors or cars that the particular digital key can open. In some cases, it may also be about implementing multi-factor authentication for these keys.

hen there is the question about what kind of interface that this Apple Wallet key-management ability will support. That is whether to use NFC “touch-and-go” operation, Bluetooth LE wireless-link or similar techniques to link with the door lock or car.

The other issue that will come about is whether Google will integrated this kind of digital key management within Android, whether as part of the digital wallets available as apps for that platform or simply within the operating system. Also it can be about whether regular computers that run desktop operating systems could have this kind of digital key management built in to their operating systems, which can be of benefit for people who manage buildings or vehicle fleets.

It can also include allowing apps and Websites to add or remove digital keys to the smartphone wallet. This will be seen as important for corporate, hotel and delivery use cases where interaction with smart locks is part of a transaction, such as registering the delivery / collection of goods or as part of a time and attendance requirement for home care and allied workers.

What this will be essentially about is to provide a one-stop shop for managing digital keys for locations or vehicles you are responsible for using your smartphone.

G’Day! Alexa has been taught Australian slang

Article Australian flag

Alexa partners with The Betoota Advocate (mumbrella.com.au)

Betoota Teaches Alexa Aussie Slang – (smarthouse.com.au)

Alexa Looks To Expand Her Knowledge Of Australia By Teaming Up With The Betoota Advocate – B&T (bandt.com.au)

My Comments

Australia does have its own slang and culture which has been celebrated through Australian films and television like “Crocodile Dundee” or “Neighbours”; or the 1980s Paul Hogan “Throw A Shrimp On The Barbie” ad. There was even a book called “G’Day Teach Yourself Australian” (Amazon link) which conveyed the look of a foreign-language courseware book but taught Australian slang and culture to English-speaking travellers in a humourous way. Even the current popularity of “Bluey” amongst families in other countries is putting Australian culture increasingly on the map.

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

Amazon Alexa is now learning Australian slang and culture

But the voice-driven assistants like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant weren’t taught that kind of information. This made it difficult for Australians to use these assistants in a manner that is comfortable to them.

A previous approach to supporting dialects within a language including regional dialects was the BBC’s effort at a voice assistant. This responded to British English and even supported the various regional accents and dialects used within various parts of the UK. But it has been focused towards access to its own content and currently isn’t able to work with other voice-assistant platforms as a linguistic “module”.

Now Amazon have worked with the Betoota Advocate to “teach” Alexa about Aussie slang and culture. It is not just the slang and colloquial speech that she had to understand but items relating to Australian life and culture. For example, being able to answer which AFL or NRL club won their respective code’s Grand Final or to summon up the latest Triple J Hottest 100 as a playlist.

In the case of the football Grand Finals, there may be an issue about which football code is referred to by default when you ask about the winner of one of these penultimate matches and don’t identify a particular code. This is because of New South Wales and Queensland “thinking of” the NRL rugby-league code while the other States think of the AFL Australian-Rules code.

It could be even something like “How do I pay the rego on the ute” which could lead you to your State government’s motor registration office or, if they support it, instigate the workflow for paying that vehicle registration.

Australians and foreigners can even ask Alexa the meaning of a particular slang term or colloquialism so they can become familiar with the Australian vernacular. This would be required of Alexa anywhere in the world especially if you are talking with Australian expats or finding that a neighbourhood is becoming a “Little Australia”. Or if you are from overseas and show interest in Australian popular culture, you may find this resource useful.

A feature that may have to come forward for this Australian-culture addition to Amazon Alexa is to support translation of Australian idioms to and from languages other than English. This is more so where Australian culture is being exposed in to countries that don’t use English as their primary language or where these countries acquire a significant Australian diaspora. An example of the first situation is the popularity of MasterChef Australia within the Indian subcontinent and the existence of Australians within Asian and European countries.

This addition of Australian slang and culture to Alexa is available to all devices that support the Amazon Alexa voice-driven assistant. This ranges from Amazon-designed equipment like the Amazon Echo smart speakers to third-party devices that implement Amazon Alexa technology.

At least this is an example of how a voice-driven assistant provider can work towards courting countries and diasporas that are being seen as viable. It may have to be about encouraging the use of modular extensions to enable voice-driven assistants to work with multiple languages, dialects and cultures.

Wi-Fi HaLow being pushed as the Wi-Fi network for the Internet of Everything

Articles

Wi-Fi HaLow waveband diagram courtesy of Wi-Fi Alliance

Where Wi-Fi HaLow fits in with other Wi-Fi technologies

This new Wi-Fi technology with a 1km range is the future of long range IoT applications | Business Insider India

‘The Wi-Fi portfolio is unmatched’: Wi-Fi Alliance on Wi-Fi Certified HaLow (rcrwireless.com)

Wi-Fi HaLow could be the next IoT enabler – TechRepublic

From the horse’s mouth

Wi-Fi Alliance

Wi-Fi CERTIFIED HaLow™ delivers long range, low power Wi-Fi® | Wi-Fi Alliance

Wi-Fi CERTIFIED HaLow (Product Page)

My Comments

A Wi-Fi network technology that is being put on the map at the moment is Wi-Fi CERTIFIED HaLow a.k.a Wi-Fi Halow.

This network technology is based on IEEE 802.11ah wireless network technology and works on the 900MHz waveband. It is about long-range operation of approximately 1 kilometre from the access point and very low power operation that allows devices to run for a year on commodity batteries like a single 3V coin-size cell or a pair of AA-size Duracells.

The power requirement may be a non-issue for devices like HVAC thermostats that are wired to the heating system they control. But they may be an issue with devices like movement sensors or smart locks that are dependent on their own battery power. As well, the low power requirements that Wi-Fi HaLow offer could be of benefit towards devices that implement energy-harvesting technology like solar power or kinetic energy.

Wi-Fi HaLow feature list courtesy of Wi-Fi Alliance

This low-bandwidth Wi-Fi specification is intended to complement the other Wi-Fi specifications used with your home or business network. But it is focused towards the Internet of Everything especially where the devices are to be operated across a wide radius like a farm or campus.

The network topography for a Wi-Fi HaLow network segment will be very similar to the standard Wi-Fi network. That is where multiple client devices link to an access point, but there should be the ability for a mobile device to roam between access points associated with the same Wi-Fi network.

Compared to the likes of 802.15 Zigbee, Z-Wave, DECT-ULE, Bluetooth LE and similar Internet-of-Things wireless technologies, this is meant to avoid the need for special routers when there is a desire to link them to IP-based networks.

This is because this technology effectively uses the same protocol stack as our Wi-Fi networks save for the layers associated with the radio medium. It also means that the same security, connectivity and quality-of-service protocols that are part of Wi-Fi nowadays like EasyConnect and WPA3 can be implemented in Wi-Fi HaLow devices.

At the moment, you would need to use a Wi-Fi HaLow access point to get any Internet-of-Things devices on to your network and the Internet. It may be a small device that plugs in to your existing home network router or network infrastructure. But a subsequent Wi-Fi access point or router design could have built-in support for this standard thus making it more ubiquitous.

The use cases being positioned for Wi-Fi HaLow technology would encompass the smart home, the smart building and the smart city where all sorts of “Internet-of-Things” devices are acting as controllers or sensors. It is also encompassing vertical use cases like agriculture, industry and medicine where sensors come in to play here.

At the moment, this kind of connectivity will exist as an alternative to Zigbee, Z-Wave and similar technologies especially where IP-level connectivity and functionality is wanted at the device. It may not have ready appeal in use cases where a direct connection to Internet-based technology may not be required.

On the other hand, a use case could allow for a “hub and spoke” approach to the Internet of Things where a device can connect to accessory peripheral devices using Zigbee or Bluetooth but link to the home network and Internet via WI-Fi HaLow. An example of this could be a retrofit-install smart lock which supports the use of accessory input devices like keypads, NFC card/fob readers and contact sensors.

Wi-Fi HaLow could be seen as a direction towards capable low-power long-distance wireless networking for Internet of Things, especially where direct Internet / LAN network connectivity is desired out of the application.

The Internet fridge–still considered very mythical

Samsung Family Hub Internet fridge lifestyle image courtesy of Samsung USASince the “dot-com” era of the late 1990s, there has been a very mythical home appliance often cited by Internet visionaries. This is the Internet fridge or “smart fridge” which is a regular household refrigerator equipped with Internet connectivity and a large built-in display.

It is expected to provide access to a wide range of online services like online shopping, online photo albums, email and messaging, and online music services. It is also expected to keep track of the food and drink that is held therein using a simple inventory-management program.

In the context of the smart home, the Internet fridge is expected to be a “dashboard” or “control surface” for lighting. heating and other equipment associated with the home. Often the vision for the smart home is to have as many control surfaces around the home to manage what happens therein like setting up HVAC operating temperatures or turning lighting on and off according to particular usage scenarios.

The Internet-fridge idea is based on the concept of the typical household refrigerator’s door ending up as the noticeboard for that household thanks to its role as the main food-storage location for the people and pets therein. There is the thriving trade in “fridge magnets” that people use to decorate their fridge’s door. Let’s not forget that some households have even put a radio or TV on top of the fridge that they can flick on for information or entertainment in the kitchen.

Who is making these appliances?

At the moment, Samsung and LG are making Internet-fridges in production quantities available to the market. These are typically positioned as American-style wide-format fridges that also have the integrated ice makers. Samsung offers theirs in a few different compartment configurations with the cheapest being a two-door fridge-freezer arrangement.

But most of the other white-goods manufacturers exhibit examples of these Internet fridges at trade fairs primarily as proof-of-concept or prototype designs. These are typically based on common fridge-freezer designs already on the market but are modified with Internet functionality.

But the Internet-fridge idea has not become popular with most people. Why is that so?

One issue is to do with the computer hardware associated with the Internet-fridge concept. These setups typically have a separate computer from the microcontroller circuitry associated with keeping the appliance’s compartments to the appropriate temperature or managing ice-maker or chilled-water functionality. But this computer hardware is effectively integrated in the appliance in a manner that makes it hard for users to upgrade to newer expectations.

This means that if this computer fails or gets to a point where it is “end-of-life”, the user loses the full functionality associated with the Internet fridge. The same thing can happen if, for example, the touchscreen that the user uses to interact with the Internet fridge’s online abilities fails to work.

It is underscored by the fact that a household refrigerator is in that class of appliance that is expected to serve a household for many years. As I have seen, many households will buy a new fridge when an old fridge fails to operate properly or when they are making a new house and want to upgrade their fridge. This is even though a lot of consumer IT equipment isn’t expected to provide that length of service thanks to rapidly-advancing technology.

Another factor is the software and online services associated with the Internet fridge. Typically this is engineered by the appliance manufacturer to provide the “branded experience” that the manufacturer wants to convey to the consumer.

The questions associated with the software focus around the appliance manufacturer’s continual attention to software security and quality over the lifetime of the Internet fridge. It includes protecting the end-users’ privacy as they use this appliance along with allowing the appliance to do its job properly and in a food-safe manner.

I would also add to this the competitive-trade issues associated with online services. Here, appliance manufacturers could easily create exclusive agreements with various online-service providers and not allow competing service providers access to the Internet-fridge platform. It can extend to online-shopping platforms that tie in with the inventory-management software associated with the Internet fridge platform.

Such exclusive partnerships with online service providers or online-shopping platforms will make it difficult for customers to use their preferred online-service or online-shopping platform with an Internet fridge. In the case of online-shopping platforms, it will become difficult for smaller, specialist or independent food suppliers to participate in these platforms especially if the platform has “tied up” a significant customer base. That can be achieved with excessive fees and charges or onerous terms and conditions for the merchants.

Let’s not forget that the Internet fridge ended up, like the Aeron-style office chair, being seen as a status symbol associated with the dot-com bubble.

For that matter, householders are using alternative approaches to the same goal touted by the Internet-fridge suppliers. Here, they are using smart speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home or, if they are after a display-driven solution, they will use a smart display like Amazon Echo Show or a Google-Assistant-based smart display. Let’s not forget that the iPad or Android-based tablets are offering the idea of a ubiquitous control / display surface for the smart home.

What can be done to legitimise the Internet fridge as far as consumers are concerned?

As for the hardware, I would recommend a long-tailed approach which is focused on modularity. Here, newer computer, connection or display modules can be installed in the same fridge by the user or a professional as part of an upgrade approach. It could allow the appliance manufacturer to offer a cheaper range of standard-height household fridges that can be converted to Internet fridges at a later time when the user purchases and installs an “Internet display kit” on their appliance.

Furthermore, if the hardware or connectivity is of a standard form, it could allow a third-party vendor to offer this functionality on a white-label basis to appliance manufacturers who don’t necessarily want to reinvent the wheel. It can also apply to those appliance manufacturers who offer products in a “white-label” form under a distributor’s or retailer’s brand.

One approach I would recommend for software is access to ubiquitous third-party software platforms with a lively developer ecosystem like Android. The platforms should have an app store that maintains software quality. This means that users can install the software associated with what they need for their Internet fridge.

The problem that manufacturers may see with this approach is providing a user interface for controlling how the fridge operates such as setting the fridge, freezer or other compartment temperatures. Here, this could be facilitated by an app that runs as part of the Internet fridge’s display ecosystem. It may also be preferred to provide basic and essential control for the Internet fridge’s refrigeration and allied functionality independent of the Internet display functionality and create a secure firewall between those functions to assure food safety and energy efficiency.

Using open-frame approaches for building Internet-display functionality in to fridges may help with reducing the cost of this kind of functionality in these products. It could also encourage ubiquity in a low-risk form as well as encouraging innovation in this product class.

ARD takes interactive audio content to Germany

Articles (German language / Deutsche Sprache)

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

ARD is now on to interactive audio drama for Amazon Echo and similar smart speakers — this time based on Tatort

INFODIGITAL – Der Tatort wird interaktiv: ‘Höllenfeuer’ (infosat.de)

Tatort Interaktiv (ARD Gruppe)

Previous coverage on interactive audio content

BBC introduces interactive radio drama using Alexa

My Comments

The BBC have used their world-famous radio-play craft to create an interactive audio drama that works hand-in-glove with the Amazon Alexa platform. The listeners interact with their Amazon Echo or Alexa-based smart speaker to direct how the story goes.  Here it intermingled the radio-play expertise with those “Choose Your Own Adventure” storybooks or the text-based adventure computer games.

Now the German ARD group of public-service broadcasters have taken on a similar effort but have carried their effort on the back of the “Tatort” crime-drama series that is a mainstay of German-language TV content. The effort would be very similar to the early Police Quest series of crime-themed graphic adventure games that Sierra launched through the late 1980s and early 1990s; or the LA Noire video adventure game released in 2011 and set in late-1940s post-WWII Los Angeles.

They have taken this further by making it work on both the Alexa and Google Assistant platforms including their mobile-platform assistant apps as well as the smart speakers. In addition to this, ARD even provides a Web-based interactive audio adventure so you don’t have to use Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant for this kind of game.

What is peculiar about Tatort is that this German-language crime series has different investigation teams that are each based in different cities or districts within Germany, Austria or Switzerland who solve the cases within that area. Each episode that comes on in the German-speaking countries through their public-service broadcaster on Sunday night 8:15pm local time will appear with a case from a different city.

This interactive audio play, called Höllenfeuer in German or Hellfire in English, has been prepared primarily by Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR) with the help of WestDeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) and uses the Munich-based Tatort crime-investigation team. The player controls the character of Kommissarin Mavi Fuchs who works alongside Kriminalkommissar Kalli Hammermann to solve the case. You have to use voice commands to direct these protagonists in the interactive audio play which can be replayed if you are trying to “get the grip of it” further.

But what is happening is that some broadcasters are discovering the idea of mixing radio plays with interactive elements to provide the audio equivalent of classic adventure computer games. Then they are linking these products with voice-driven assistant platforms. The approach ARD have taken with Tatort is to use this new form of delivering audio content effectively to take their existing intellectual property, especially a tentpole TV show, further.

It can be seen as a way to take am existing content franchise further and implement it in a new form, especially an interactive audio play. This is more so as the smart speakers and other voice-driven-assistant devices become more popular.

How can you use Amazon Alexa to measure room temparature

Article

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

These new Echo speakers can work as temperature sensors for a room

How to Get an Amazon Echo to Tell You a Room’s Temperature (lifehacker.com)

My Comments

Newer Amazon Echo smart speakers are being equipped with room-temperature sensors that contribute this data to the Alexa smart-home subsystem.

Here, the devices you need to use in the rooms you want to measure the temperature of are:

  • Amazon Echo 4th Generation (spherical) or newer generation
  • Amazon Echo Plus 2nd Generation (cylindrical) or newer generation

To confirm your Amazon Echo device’s room-temperature measuring ability, you need to open the Alexa app or http://alexa.amazon.com and log in to your Amazon account. Then you go to “Devices”, then “Echo & Alexa” and select the name of your Echo smart speaker that you want to verify. Here, you need to look for the “Temperature Sensor” field which will come up with the current room temperature if your Echo speaker is suitably equipped.

Each Echo device that you want to use as a temperature sensor has to be given a unique room name. Then to ask Alexa for the current room temperature of a particular room, you say “Alexa, what is the temperature for <desired room name>?”

There are limitations with this setup at the moment. You can’t ask for a house-wide indoor temperature or the indoor temperature of a room cluster like upstairs. This is because Amazon hasn’t worked out what way whether to assess the room temperature of an area covered by multiple devices as an average or what other way. Nor have they added the necessary logic to do so.

But you can create a temperature-based routine that works with this temperature for the Alexa smart home. For example, you may have a fan or heater come on if the room reaches or falls below a minimum temperature. This may be a situation where you don’t have an occasionally-used room that isn’t part of your central HVAC setup and you use portable heating or cooling equipment for this purpose.

Or you want to be alerted if a room of yours falls below a critical temperature level so you can undertake procedures to mitigate frost or pipes freezing up.

What Amazon will need to do for Alexa in relation to this is to make this more useful is to allow averaging of multiple temperature sensors so you can measure areas larger than a room. As well, it could cater to environments where you have multiple suitably-equipped Echo speakers in one room like in a large kitchen / dining area for example.

Gainsborough TriLock appears now as a smart lock

Articles –From the horse’s mouth

Gainsborough Hardware

FreeStyle TriLock smart lock

Product Page

Product Microsite

Press Release from Allegion (parent company of Gainsborough Hardware)

Video – Click or tap to play on YouTube

My Comments

During the 1990s, a type of residential door lock had come on the market which conveys the look of a mortice lock but has the simple quick installation approach associated with the “bore-through” cylindrical or tubular form factors.

One of these entrance locksets that came about was the Gainsborough TriLock entrance set. This offered double-cylinder “deadlock” security demanded in the Australian market but had the ability for users to just lock the outside handle from the inside by pressing a button.

But Gainsborough Hardware have revised this lockset to become a smart lock. This entrance set, known as the FreeStyle TriLock, has a concealable keypad for users to enter their access codes when they want to enter, no matter whether it is locked from both sides or just the outside. There is an intent behind this lock’s design to allow a householder to replace a TriLock lockset that was on their front door without needing to drill new holes or refinish the door.

As well, it used Bluetooth connectivity with manufacturer-supplied smartphone apps so you can control the lock from your smartphone, including being notified of someone arriving at your home and letting themselves in. Of course, the FreeStyle TriLock allows you to use the traditional metal key to unlock the door, with this existing as a failsafe measure as well as for those of us still comfortable with the traditional key.

This unit can support up to 20 users and has the ability to schedule individual users’ access to your premises. The optional Gainsborough Bluetooth-Wi-Fi network bridge paves the way for remote management of this lockset, something that would pleas holiday-home or short-let premises owners.

There will be the issue of whether this smart lock will “tie in” with other smart-home systems like Amazon Alexa / Google Assistant (Home), Samsung SmartThings and similar platforms. This will be more so as we expect more out of these smart locks beyond letting ourselves and others in to our premises.

A Sharp Alexa-enabled microwave could be about task-driven cooking

Article

Sharp Smart Countertop Microwave Oven press picture courtesy of Sharp USA

Sharp’s first smart countertop microwave oven features Wi-Fi connectivity and certified Works with Alexa compatibility for hands-free operation using voice commands.

Sharp’s New Alexa-Powered Microwave Is Even More Confusing Than Amazon’s | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Sharp USA

Sharp Launches its First Smart Countertop Microwave Ovens (Press Release)

My Comments

Most of us who use a microwave oven tend to specify cooking times and power intensities for each cooking job. This is even though most of today’s microwave ovens use job-specific cooking functions that are available to us. But some of us may decide to use a “popcorn” cooking function to cook most microwave popcorn.

These functions can confuse most of us due to different approaches to invoking them that exist between different makes and models of microwave oven.  As well, other differences that will crop up include how long these tasks are expected to take. It is also analagous to working from any recipes that are part of your microwave oven’s documentation, because these may not work out correctly if you end up using a different appliance.

Here, this issue will be considered important as more of us place value on the microwave as a cooking option for something like, perhaps, those green vegetables. It can also bamboozle anyone who uses traditional cooking techniques like the conventional oven but finds themselves in a situation where they have to primarily rely on the microwave oven for cooking needs like when they stay in a serviced apartment or AirBnB.

Amazon had released to the US market the AmazonBasics microwave that works with their Alexa voice-assistant ecosystem. But this is seen as an elementary appliance, answering most common cooking tasks. Sharp has now come to the fore with two of their microwaves that are released to the US market.

Here, the difference is to use Alexa as a gateway to the advanced cooking tasks that these microwaves offer. The press release talked of us saying to an Amazon Echo device “Alexa, defrost 2 pounds of meat” and the microwave will be set up to thaw out two pounds of frozen meat. The larger model of the two will have the ability for you to ask Alexa to set the microwave up for something like cooking broccoli or other veggies.

I see this as being about using voice assistant platforms to open up a common user interface for the advanced microwave-cooking tasks that your microwave would offer. But for this to work effectively, the user needs to know what the expected cooking time would be for the task and when they need to intervene during the cooking cycle.

As well, more of the voice assistant platforms need to come on board for this approach to advanced microwave cookery. Let’s not forget that the display-based voice assistants can even come in to their own in this use case such as to list ingredients and preparation steps for what you intend to cook.

Here, the voice assistants will become a way to lead users to use the microwave beyond reheating food, melting butter and chocolate or cooking microwave popcorn/

Apple, Google and Amazon create home theatre setups around their platforms




Apple Amazon Google (coming soon)
Set-top device Apple TV (tvOS 11 or newer) Fire TV Stick
Fire TV Cube (2nd Generation or newer)
Chromecast with Google TV
Audio Devices HomePod or
AirPlay-compliant audio devices
Echo (2nd Generation), Echo Dot (3rd Generation) or newer Echo smart speaker devices Nest Audio smart speakers
Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

The Apple TV set-top box – part of a HomePod / AirPlay enhanced audio setup for online video content

Apple, Amazon and Google have or are establishing audio-video platforms based around their smart speaker and set-top devices. This is in order to allow you to stream the audio content from video you are watching through their companion audio devices.

The idea with these setups is to “gang” the platform-based set-top box and the speakers together to provide improved TV sound for online services like Netflix. Some like Amazon describe this approach as home theatre but what happens is that if you have a pair of like speakers ganged with the set-top device, you have stereo sound with increased separation at least. It is based around these companies building it to their platforms the ability for users to have two like speakers in one room set up as a stereo pair for that same goal. Amazon’s setup also allows you to use their Echo Sub subwoofer module to improve the bass response of their setup.

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

These new Amazon Echo speakers can work as part of an enhanced-audio setup for the Amazon Fire TV set-top platform

It is in addition to being able to stream the sound from an online video source you are watching using these set-top devices to a smart speaker of the same platform for remote listening.

The current limitation with these setups is that they only work with online sources provided by the set-top device that is the hub of the setup. This is because neither of these devices support HDMI-ARC functionality in any way, which allows sound from the TV’s own tuner or video peripherals connected to the TV to be played via a compliant audio device.

These companies who are part of the Silicon Valley establishment see the fashionable way to watch TV content is to use online video-on-demand services facilitated by their own set-top devices. But some user classes would benefit from HDMI-ARC support in many ways.

For example, the TV’s own tuner is still relevant in UK, Europe, Oceania and some other countries due to these areas still placing value on free-to-air broadcast TV. This is centred around the ingrained experience of switching between channels using the TV’s own remote control with the attendant quick response when you change channels. It is also becoming relevant to North America as cord-cutting picks up steam amongst young people and they look towards the TV’s own tuner alongside an indoor antenna to pick up local TV services for current news or local sport.

Google to have Chromecast with Google TV work with their Nest Audio speakers at least

As well, some users maintain the use of other video-peripheral devices with their TVs. This will apply to people who play games on their TV using a computer or games console, watch content on packaged media like DVDs, use PVR devices to record TV content or subscribe to traditional pay TV that uses a set-top box.

It will be interesting to see whether this operating concept regarding set-top devices and smart speakers that is driven by Apple, Google and Amazon will be developed further. Here this could exist in the form of set-top devices and platforms that are engineered further for things like HDMI-ARC or surround sound.

There will also be the question about whether these setups will ever displace soundbars or fully-fledged home-theatre setups for improved TV sound. On the other hand, they could be placed as a platform-driven entry-level approach for this same goal.

Google Nest thermostats to have HVAC fault notification

Article

Nest Learning Thermostat courtesy of Nest Labs

These Google Nest thermostats will be able to let you know if the heating or cooling is about to break down

Nest thermostats in the US and Canada can now monitor your HVAC system | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Behind the scenes with the new Nest Thermostat (Blog Post)

HVAC Monitoring from Google Nest (Support Article)

My Comments

Google has added a notification function to their range of Nest smart room thermostats to let you know if the heating or air-conditioning is failing.

This has been a side project of theirs as part of the main Nest Smart Thermostat effort but is now finished. It will be available not just to the latest Nest thermostats but also for older models installed in the US and parts of Canada. The functionality will only work with forced-air systems that we in Australia often refer to as “ducted” systems, most likely because they are the most common type of residential heating / cooling setup in the US.

The functionality detects anomalies in how quickly the home heats up or cools down to the temperature the thermostat is set at. For example, it will alert you if it is becoming colder or taking too long to heat up while the heating is actually on; or becoming warmer or taking too long to cool down when the air conditioning is actually on. This will usually highlight a failing air-distribution fan or the burner in a heating system not staying alight while needed.

As well, it monitors the HVAC system’s control circuitry to identify abnormal shutdown activity or whether it is actually on and working as intended. Here, it observes conditions where the gas-fired heating may intermittently fail to light up or stay alight for the duration of the heating cycle or the air-conditioning fails to start cooling or runs longer than expected,

You receive the reports via e-mail or the Google Home App or a “heads-up” alert can be indicated on the thremostat itself. In most cases, you will have to call out your HVAC technician to rectify the problem. The “early alerts” functionality can be of use if you have your HVAC technician service your system regularly so it is working reliably and safely for the seasons that matter.

At the moment, Google encourages the use of “Nest Pro” technicians who partner with them to supply and install the thermostats or the “Handy” tradespeople platform who partners with Google. This allows for you to book them to attend to your system at the times that suit you through these platforms.

Thanks to the use of standard heating/ventilation/air-conditioning wiring setups that the Google Nest thermostats use to interface with the heating and air-conditioning, there is no need for this kind of system-health monitoring to be dependent on the use of a particular brand, model or series of HVAC system. This factors in the reality that “durable” products like these systems are expected to last many years and there is the requirement to allow newer thermostats like these to work with the older systems that are still in service.

Here, what I am pleased about is the idea of Google allowing a smart thermostat to be able to alert you to your heating or cooling system being at risk of underperforming or failing to make it through the seasons that matter. Hopefully they will have this kind of functionality for other types of heating or cooling setup or available in other markets. I also see this as a direction for smart thermostats from other manufacturers to alert you to the state of your HVAC setup.