Have a Merry Connected Christmas

Have a Merry Connected Christmas
By David Webster, RGB’s Chief Technology Officer
– Thursday 1st December 2016

IoT (Internet of Things) connected devices can achieve some astonishing things for an entry level system and they will help build the future business pipeline for our pro custom installers…

There are now a significant number of smarthome products that can easily connect together to create a more convenient, safer and secure home. Most are DIY and available at affordable prices making this the perfect entry level for consumers (and generate future business by priming their expectations of what an upgrade to a full custom installation could do for them).

Using IoT technology, these products connect to each other via the cloud. Replacing complex setup and programming with simple configuring to achieve new levels of integration and automation!

Let’s start with Nest: You can install the Nest Learning Thermostat to save energy and increase thermal comfort, Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detectors for improved safety, or Nest Cam indoors or Nest Cam Outdoors for added security. The Nest devices can tell when you’re home or away and since they work with a vast amount of products from the official “Works with Nest” range, you can start to develop your connected home…

Add Philips Hue smart LED lamps: Connect with Nest so that when Nest notices the house is empty, your Hue lights can turn off to save energy. If your Nest Cam sees someone in an Activity Zone (like the back door) your hue lights can switch on to scare off intruders. And when you’re on holiday, your lights can automatically switch on and off randomly so it looks like you’re at home. As well as this, when Nest Protect senses smoke or carbon monoxide, your Hue lights can blink red to warn you and your family that there’s danger! Philips Hue lamps can also be set to gently wake you up by slowly fading on like an alarm making it easy to see and wake up in the morning.

Add Wemo plugin power switches: Off when you’re out, On when you’re home. Save energy when the house is empty. Or your plugin lights (table and floor lamps, xmas tree lights, etc.) can automatically turn on when you walk in the front door. Maybe use the Wemo app to set schedules, monitor energy consumption, and even randomise your lighting schedule to bamboozle weak-minded burglars (just like the kid from “Home Alone”).

Controlling lots of connected devices with one or more apps on your phone or tablet is great fun but not always the most convenient. Sometimes all you really need is a wall switch, or a remote control handset. For example the new Logitech Pop push button (a Bluetooth wireless device) opens your smarthome to everyone. It can be configured with up to three custom commands (push, double-push, push and hold) to control Hue smart lighting, Sonos music, and much more. For example stick one on the wall by the room door to easily turn off everything in the room as you leave.

But my favourite interactions with connected homes is through voice commands. It really feels like you’re living in the future! So now that the Amazon Echo and Dot are available in the UK, Nest owners can say things like “Alexa, set my hallway to 22 degrees” and Hue owners can say “Alexa, turn off all Hue lights” or “dim living room to 50 percent” to set your Hue lights from the sofa to watch a movie – all without lifting a finger!

Alexa can also learn other new Skills. So soon in 2017 you’ll be able to say “Alexa, tell the thermostat that I’m too hot.” Or ask about the temperature and humidity. Or choose music to play on your Sonos system. Or even tell it that you’re leaving.

For the more enthusiastic DIY “Connectsmith” consider adding the Logitech Harmony universal home remote control that will soon have an Alexa skill to voice control AV equipment, or Samsung SmartThings hub, sensors and devices to monitor, schedule and automate even more. (Via a variety of IP, ZigBee and Z-Wave devices).

Perhaps though you are more DIFM (Do It For Me) than DIY? In that case the professionally installed Savant Pro Remote system is for you! Surely this is the ultimate choice in luxury home automation. It gives you control of all your entertainment, lighting, and climate, from a compact, elegant touch screen remote control or a single App. Team a Savant control system with a Lutron Homeworks QS lighting control system to add the very best experience of whole home lighting and motorized window shading. Once installed, you can have fun setting up your personal “favourite scenes” to recall at will or by an automated schedule. (Even existing HomeworksQS systems can be upgraded to control Nest Thermostats and be voice controlled by Alexa with the Lutron Connect Bridge).

TIP: There are a growing number of smart devices available to buy but many are “island solutions” i.e. they do one or two jobs only and don’t connect well with others. For now these are probably best avoided in favour of devices that are certified as “Works with Nest” or “Works with Alexa” etc., but be aware that even these products may not always offer all the functionality you might have expected!

Have fun with all these new toys and I wish you a Merry Connected Christmas!

 

 

 

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Amazon Echo and SmartHomes

echo

Amazon Echo and SmartHomes
By David Webster, RGB’s Chief Technology Officer
Wednesday 26th October 2016

Now that Amazon have released the Echo and Echo Dot (2nd Generation) devices for the UK, it is worth considering how this will impact on how home owners can now interact with their SmartHomes…

The Amazon Alexa voice assistant is very good (but not perfect) at recognising spoken commands and can act on many of them directly. For example playing music, listening to radio, weather forecasts, shopping lists, alarms, etc. However Amazon have created a way for Alexa to communicate with many other devices and information or content services by means of software extensions known as “Skills”. Using the Alexa App, it is an easy matter to browse all the available third party skills and to enable them for use. For example there is a Nest Skill that allows Alexa to cleverly set the Nest Thermostat temperature with spoken commands. I can report that this works well, but the spoken commands have to be said in a way that Alexa can understand. It took me a while to discover that even when you have only a single Nest Thermostat, Alexa insists that you reference it by its own name and not by “temperature” or “Nest”. In my case I had given the Nest Thermostat the name “Hallway” when I had set it up with the Nest App, and this is what Alex expects me to use for sending it voice commands. So now to set the temperature I can say “Alexa set Hallway to 22 degrees” and it will do so and then confirm the action with the Alexa voice. (By the way the voice synthesis is extremely natural sounding – even on the smaller speaker in the Echo Dot).

Other SmartHome Skills already available include Philips Hue, Hive, WeMo, Samsung SmartThings with more to follow. Sonos Skills are scheduled for 2017 and many others such as Lutron Homeworks QS are expected soon.

I can understand that some people will question the usefulness of all this and that it is already possible to do similar voice control tasks with their phones but this rather misses the point – Amazon Echo is capable of working at a distance from the person speaking. This makes using Alexa so much more convenient, natural and accessible. For those users that are technophobic (I can think of a few) or incapable of using a phone or tablet, a world of control is now possible to them for the first time and the implications for Alexa in assisted living environments are very clear.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Echo devices, is not so much how well the technology works (remarkable though this is) but more the fact that they are so affordable. For general and smarthome VUI (Voice User Interface) applications the Echo Dot at £49.99 it is not unthinkable to have one of these devices in every room of the home!

 

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The future is in Biometrics

The future is in Biometrics
By Matthew Baxter, RGB’s Product Marketing Executive
– Tuesday 4th October 2016

Technology has come on leaps and bounds in the last 10 years. In 1996, who would have thought we’d all be carrying around powerful, pocket-sized computers that are capable of not only making calls, but taking photos, doing your grocery shopping, keeping track of your health and even diagnosing leaky windows (apparently)!

There is so much technology that has come on such a long way in the last 10 years, let alone in the last 100 or more. Technology exists today where you can use your fingerprint, iris, or you face to identify you and this is called ‘Biometrics’. Biometrics is the measurement and statistical analysis of people’s physical and behavioural characteristics. The technology is mainly used for identification and access control, or for identifying individuals that are under surveillance.

Biometric technology isn’t just something out of a James Bond film, but is widely available to the consumer market today. Apple has included fingerprint recognition feature which allows users to unlock their device, as well as make purchases in the various Apple digital media stores.

Today, Biometric technology is more compact, more affordable and has cleverer features than ever before. When combined with a control system, you can even programme different fingers to trigger different actions upon entering a building, such a light settings and music.

Maybe it’s time for the lock and key mechanism invented by Yale in 1861 to move one like the rest of modern technology has. The future is in Biometrics. Also, you’re a lot more likely to lose your keys than you are your finger!

Image result for fingerprint

 

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Smart Buttons – The Ultimate User Interface?

Smart Buttons – The Ultimate User Interface?
– By David Alexander, Senior Technical Support Engineer
Thursday 29th September 2016

The IOT marketplace is becoming ever more populated with useful devices that can achieve various things each with their own app and often able to share some information with each other. What they all share in common is a reliance on a smart phone or pad as the primary User Interface. This, however, is changing with the use of Smart Buttons.

Most IOT device Apps are designed with convenience in mind through the ability to remotely control devices or apply schedules for example. Immediate tasks such as changing light levels are inconvenienced however because instead of using a switch or dimmer on the wall you have to embark on a ‘smart mission’ to find, make ready and use a smart phone or pad.

Smart Buttons essentially offer a shortcut to a task making it immediately available and with house guests in mind very simple to explain.

There are a few Smart Buttons in the marketplace such as Flic, Logitech Pop and Fibaro The-Button. All of these offerings allow you to do more than just one thing, Flic and Logitech allow you to define what happens with a click, double-click or a hold which is a perfect balance between flexibility and simplicity. I chose Flic smart buttons for my own home because they are the smallest form factor and talk directly to an iPhone or iPad running the Flic App using Bluetooth 4.0, no hubs or gateways needed!

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The Flic App offers a wide range of integration including popular products LiFX, Philips Hue, Sonos, as well integration with other Smart Home applications like Logitech Harmony Hub, IFTTT and basic HTTP commands. It also offers integration with native Apple apps like Music and Maps. You can even mount a Flic on the handle bars of your bike and use it to send an automatic email to the Mayor of London each time you find yourself endangered in traffic! It really is flexible with new integration being added all of the time.

I have configured the buttons in my home to integrate with my Savant system providing an easy way to turn off all of my lights and AV equipment in the lounge from each doorway. Using the buttons, I can also turn the lights on to a certain level and even turn the TV on and leave it on the EPG ready to browse. My car has also gained a Flic working with my phone so whilst using GPS and Apple Music the button allows me to skip next song, play/pause without touching the phone or interrupting the navigation. The hold function will start Apple Maps and direct you to a predefined destination, home in my case.

 

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Can your car be Smart?

Can your car be Smart?…
– By Jim Brown, Savant Europe’s Pre-sales Technical Support
Tuesday 26th July 2016

…And no, I’m not talking about turning your 4×4 into a little city run-around.

GPS is by no means a new thing, but have you tried using the latest versions of “social” sat-nav? The Waze app is a great example of how you can get more out of your phone. Not only is it a great sat-nav app with a clear and modern design but it has an extra trick up its sleeve – everyone who’s using the app has their driving speed fed back to the cloud servers meaning that your sat-nav has truly live traffic updates from everyone else who’s actively using the app. It really is very impressive how it can shave time off your journey by re-routing you live as traffic builds up around you.

You can even take it a step further and use the app to report traffic jams, roadworks, broken down vehicles… the list goes on and they all automatically help everyone else avoid the problem areas.

But that’s not really making your car smart. Here’s where OBD can come to the rescue.

Have you ever noticed the socket in your dashboard where your mechanic can plug in his laptop to get all the on-board diagnostics (OBD) direct from the sensors in your car? It’s normally under the steering wheel, and you can now get very affordable dongles that plug straight in there. (For Android devices you can use a Bluetooth model, for iOS you’ll need the Wi-Fi variant).

So, what does this get you? Access to all the information about everything your car’s doing! Next time that pesky Engine Management warning light comes on (you know, that one that could mean literally anything) you can now use an app to find out what the problem is without having to go to the garage. There are many apps out there that can collect this OBD info to create custom dashboards and all kinds of boy-racer style toys, but I personally use Piston as it’s quick and clear and can translate all those error messages into plain English.

Another great app that can use OBD dongles is Dash. It can help you monitor your fuel consumption and (next time you leave your car down a side street at lunch time) it can automatically remind you where you parked. But the best bit is its integration with IFTTT.

Using Dash and IFTTT combined you can create a trigger that automatically logs your mileage and fuel expenses in a Google Spreadsheet. No need to track your mileage ever again, simply tag the journey as “work” and share the document with your accounts department.

No matter whether your driving a Mercedes or a Mini you can now have; live traffic updates with automatic re-routing, comprehensive diagnostics and translation of all those mystery lights on your dashboard, and the car will even do your expenses for you. All for the cost of a £5 dongle? That’s my idea of smart.

Jim Blog

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For the love of music…

For the love of music…
– By Steven Jones, RGB’s Technical Support Engineer: Commercial AV
Friday 22nd July 2016

Every few years it seems that a new audio format is released. For many years that meant an increase in audio quality as well as formats becoming easier to use and more durable; from Vinyl to CD to Blu-ray. However, in recent years with the invention of the iPod and booming popularity of streaming music has become much easier to access- at a cost.

Storage limitations and bandwidth have all meant that the music that most people listen to today is of a much lower quality than it was 10 or even 20 years ago. For example, CD quality is 1411 kbps compared to the 128 kbps that is common in MP3, a 10th of the size! Therefore, consumers since the birth of MP3 players and streaming, have always had to pick between a huge music variety or its quality, but this is no longer the case…

Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) is a new audio technology that provides studio quality sound without compromising storage space. This means that consumers will be able to stream music at low bandwidth whilst getting a quality that the artist gets in the studio- quality music without sacrificing your music library. Having heard MQA myself I can tell you that the difference is outstanding. It is not subtle. Timing becomes far more precise and I noticed intricacies in playing that I have never heard before. In a few words, the music comes alive. I recommend hearing it yourself, so I don’t to appear too pretentious.

This technology is backward compatible and is embedded in the standard streaming services that consumers already use, such as Tidal. All that is needed is an MQA enabled product to hear the higher quality, and if you don’t have this you hear the standard stream. My hope is that MQA rekindles an appreciation and love for the sound of music and Hi-Fi, resulting in less music being played through those tinny in-built phone speakers! Being hugely passionate about music I am so happy to have this uncompromised solution- the best quality sound, with all the artists I love, streamed to my PC.

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A week out the office…

EI South 2016.jpgA week out the office…
– Monday 18th July 2016
By Matthew Baxter, RGB’s Product Marketing Executive

This year, as always it seems to be the case at Essential Install Live South, the sun was shining and the going was good in the beautiful setting of Sandown Racecourse in Esher. Aside from the long traffic jam on the way to the show, EI Live South went well for RGB and Savant Europe and we hope it was as worthwhile for anyone who visited.

EI South is never going to be as busy as some of the other trade shows such as ISE, but we found that because of this, we got to spend longer with the dealers we knew, as well as ones we didn’t.

ISE can feel like a hectic 5 furlong sprint, but taking dealers around our champagne bar area at EI felt but more a long steeplechase. Rather than having to rush and try to talk to multiple groups at a time, at EI south we could take dealers around our booth in a relaxed fashion, spending more quality time with them.

The relaxed nature of the show meant that we got to tell the RGB story and show how all of our products and brands fit together. It was great to see the enthusiasm from the visitors regarding our newest brands, especially with Nest and Atlona, as well as for the new products from our well established brands, such as the Savant Pro Remote and Lutron Connect Bridge. At RGB, we strive to offer the very best products to our dealers. We are proud to distribute the brands that we do so it was a great pleasure to be able to show them all to the dealers who were present.

If you didn’t get to see us at EI Live South, then please give us a call on 0844 8800 765. We would love to come and show you our latest products and help you jump over any technical hurdles you may have (sorry, I couldn’t resist one more pun).

EI Logo

 

 

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