21 October, 2015

Home Automation, AI and the Crownstone

Waiting for that future where you're dressed automatically? I'd rather do that myself and don't have a Roomba yet but as tech marches on, we'll get more automation in our homes.

With more and more 1984, Brave New World and Farenheit 451 being brought to this century by our esteemed leadership and our corporate overlords, I'm hoping that this tech will be ours, rather than theirs.

Enter a nice player in the "automate stuff" arena: Dobots. In their own words:
Our goal: Really smart buildings. Really smart robots. We're a startup in AiTech with applications in CleanTech and GreenTech.
What makes them nice is that they are real Open Source folks, putting what they code on github under a free license and working with and building on open tech.

They previously did industrial cleaning robots and other stuff. Currently, they are running a kickstarter for a smart power outlet as a first foray into home automation. EDIT: they've instead decided to, for the first run, only create EU plugs as there was little interest in the US. You can order them on the crownstone.rocks website.

Enter the Crownstone

How is AI relevant for power outlets? More than you'd think. One example is SLAM. SLAM (Simultaneous Localization And Mapping) tries to answer two key questions in Robotics:
  • Robot Localization: “Where is the Robot?”
  • Robot Mapping: “What does the world around the Robot look like?”
(read more about SLAM here)

Dobots has turned this around in the crownstone, using these algorithms to map your house and localize people in it. Yes, the Crownstones know where THEY are and where YOU are. While not exactly a localization tech, the Crownstone uses Bluetooth LE for this so it works with pretty much any device. And the best part: their localization code is, in Javascript, to be found on github!

This means you need no motion detectors or cameras to know where people are in the house, keeping things simpler and cheaper. But Bluetooth LE is used for managing the Crownstones, too. Rather than turning to WiFi or (expensive) central control hubs, Dobots lets the Crownstones automatically create a mesh network. Your smartphone acts as control hub (apps on github, of course) though you can also take a Raspberry Pi, plug in a bluetooth usb module and have it act as hub. That way, even when you're not at home, you can control devices or get notificationsthat, say, your television, computer or other devices are getting unplugged. It uses XMPP and WebRTC to get through your firewall and guess where you can find the Cordova based Raspberry Pi app...

But there's another innovation in there which helps avoid extra devices and complicated configuration: extremely fine grained power usage monitoring. Yeah, it can tell you how much power your fridge and TV use but more importantly: it can automatically detect which device you connect to it! So when you leave the house, it can kill power to your tv but not your fridge... I've been told they think they eventually will be able to figure out different makes and models of laptops based on their power signature. Now is that cool, or what?

The algorithms to do this are currently Matlab code but once finalized, they'll be on github, too.

Dobots regularly works with students who get to play with their tech and come up with new, innovative use cases. And this works wonders. Just some results from a recent hackathon:
  • Team 1 developed ChildLock. Devices are only turned on when adults are in proximity.
  • Team 3 developed Start VR. Virtual reality that allows you to picture your own furniture in an Ikea store.
  • Team 4 introduced Never Lose. Lights indicate for elderly people where they have lost items with iBeacons.
  • Team 5 used Crownstones to indicate the way to store employees.
  • Team 6 worked on Tommy. An AI that analyzes patterns of daily life to combat loneliness.
  • Team 7 developed Any Morning. Your phone using the Crownstones guides you to your morning routines to make you leave your home on time.
  • Team 10 implemented Tipspromenad. Kids have to find objects in a place combined with solving puzzles for fun!
  • Team 11 developed SpotOn. In emergency situations lights indicate how to flee a building

All together

The Crownstone has some nice advantages over the competition:
  • Functional. Dimmer, iBeacon, a current measuring device, a standby killer and more in one.
  • Cheap: you get 2 ready-made or 3 do-it-yourself for Eur 75 but there's no need for a hub, motion sensors or other stuff.
  • Open. Using open protocols and code on github and I expect interesting applications to come from the community.

I did an interview with their COO - for more background, read it on LinuxVeda.

So I say - if you are looking to start with some basic home automation, go and get some Crownstones and get started!

20 October, 2015

ownCloud Server 8.2 is here

And on time following the new three month release cycle! The previous release, ownCloud Server 8.1, was all about stability, performance and security. Now, more work has been put in the user experience. That shows in the new sidebar, the new gallery app and refreshed style but for system admins, there's a large number of new control points as well.

Gallery app

For end users, the design improvements are nice but the new Gallery app is truly a transformation. It is essentially the 'Gallery Plus' app, developed by Olivier Paroz. It is essentially a full rewrite based on the new app framework, after which lots of features and performance improvements were made. The app has been around for a while and Olivier has solidly proven himself as maintainer so I'm really glad this app is now a part of the core ownCloud experience. Below is Oliviers' talk from the ownCloud Contributor Conference, introducing the new Gallery to the community!


The new notifications are cool, too - only one app supports them, for now, and that one isn't there by default so you won't see notifications until apps get updated. But as soon as they get adapted to the new API, accepting share invitations or getting notified of changes becomes easier and nicer. If you want to play with the notifications right now, go get the announcementcenter app and send some news to your users to see how it works!

New Appliance and Proxy app

Technically not new, as both were announced at the conference and made available since then, but super awesome: we have an official ownCloud appliance. This will make installing ownCloud a lot easier for a lot of people - and bring back some kind of Windows Server support, too.

On top of that, the appliance contains the ownCloud Proxy app, which is really great for lowering the bar even further. Simply put, ownCloud Proxy enables you to take a laptop and an Internet connection, connect to your privately hosted ownCloud from anywhere, without requiring you to make any changes to your local network settings – no router configuration, no DNS entries, no domain name registration. The ownCloud Proxy service relies on a partner who provides the service for a fee. Right now, there is one partner, pageKite. It would rock if somebody else saw business in this, too, of course!

Now, go, go and get it. Note that the VM isn't available as of right now (14:05) because it's still building... An 8.1.3 based one is there, though.