Google Home, WiFi Smart Gadgets Launch in Australia

Google’s smart benchtop speaker and mesh WiFi network go on sale in Australia on Thursday, staking Google’s claim in the simmering smart home war with Amazon and Apple.

Selling for $199, the voice-activated Google Home speaker brings the talkative Google Assistant to life and is available via Google’s local online store as well as traditional brick and mortar retailers. The same goes for the Google WiFi hub, which sells for $199, or $499 for three, working in unison to fight WiFi blackspots in your home.

We’ve been waiting for Google’s latest smart home gadgets to go on sale locally since they were launched in the US late last year. The versatile Google Home speaker understands a wide range of spoken natural language queries, offering everything from weather forecasts to sports results, plus it can set alarms, keep shopping lists, stream music and control other smart home devices.

google home launches in australia

Photo: article supplied

Australians who couldn’t wait, and imported a Google Home speaker, can now take advantage of support for Aussie accents and slang – although even set to US English you don’t need to fake a southern drawl in order to make yourself understood.

Of more importance to Australians is that, with Google Home now officially supported here, the search giant finally plans to add localised services such as the ability to order home food deliveries.

Google isn’t very forthcoming with details at this point, it says Google Home will have access to third party apps “soon” and you can be sure that a pizza home delivery deal will be near the top of its list. Launching without any local deals in place is surprising, perhaps Google was concerned that if it waited too long to launch the Amazon Echo speaker would steal its thunder.

Australians can link up to six Google accounts to their Google Home, with Google Assistant learning to recognise their voices so she can offer personalised answers to queries such as “what’s on my calendar today?”.

Unfortunately Google Assistant still lacks a parental mode, meaning parents can not declare some features off limits for the children – which could create problems when the youngest members of the household discover that the genie in the lamp can magically make pizza appear at the front door.

This article was originally published by the Sydney Morning Herald.

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Rise of the Machines: Who is the ‘Internet of Things’ Good For?

In San Francisco, a young engineer hopes to “optimise” his life through sensors that track his heart rate, respiration and sleep cycle. In Copenhagen, a bus running two minutes behind schedule transmits its location and passenger count to the municipal traffic signal network, which extends the time of the green light at each of the next three intersections long enough for its driver to make up some time. In Davao City in the Philippines, an unsecured webcam overlooks the storeroom of a fast food stand, allowing anyone to peer in on all its comings and goings.

internet of things

Photo: article supplied

What links these wildly different circumstances is a vision of connected devices now being sold to us as the “internet of things”. The technologist Mike Kuniavsky, a pioneer of this idea, characterises it as a state of being in which “computation and data communication [are] embedded in, and distributed through, our entire environment”. I prefer to see it for what it is: the colonisation of everyday life by information processing.

Though it can often feel as if this colonisation proceeds of its own momentum, distinct ambitions are being served wherever and however the internet of things appears. The internet of things isn’t a single technology. About all that connects the various devices, services, vendors and efforts involved is the end goal they serve: capturing data that can then be used to measure and control the world around us.

Whenever a project has such imperial designs on our everyday lives, it is vital that we ask just what ideas underpin it and whose interests it serves. Although the internet of things retains a certain sprawling and formless quality, we can get a far more concrete sense of what it involves by looking at how it appears at each of three scales: that of our bodies (where the effort is referred to as the “quantified self”), our homes (“the smart home”) and our public spaces (“the smart city”). Each of these examples illuminates a different aspect of the challenge presented to us by the internet of things, and each has something distinct to teach us.

At the most intimate scale, the internet of things is visible in the form of wearable biometric sensors. The simplest of these are little more than networked digital pedometers, which count steps, measure the distance a person has traversed, and furnish an estimate of the calories burned in the course of this activity. More elaborate models measure heart rate, breathing, skin temperature and even perspiration.

If wearable biometric devices such as Fitbits and Apple Watches are, in theory, aimed at rigorous self-mastery, the colonisation of the domestic environment by similarly networked products and services is intended to deliver a very different experience: convenience. The aim of such “smart home” efforts is to short-circuit the process of reflection that stands between having a desire and fulfilling that desire by buying something.

This article was originally published by The Guardian.

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3 Most Critical Controls For Digitally Safe Cities

The Internet of Things (IoT) is connecting devices, objects, systems and services never connected previously. To increase productivity, quality of service and to enable remote troubleshooting, most modern utilities systems including water purification/distribution, power generation/distribution have been shown to have some connection to the Internet.

digitally safe cities

Omaru Maruatona

Big data and data mining have enabled data scientists to analyse historical data trends and make predictions with adequate precision. This is also made possible by increasingly powerful computers that process millions of instructions within a fraction of a second. A host of machine learning algorithms are slowly being perfected to model data patterns and to observe minute deviations within these patterns.

Operating in an inter-connected world, automation through knowledge based systems powered by big data and machine learning is an almost established reality. Increasingly, the commercial advantage of autonomous systems is being realised in business. In many sectors, human tasks are progressively being replaced by software or sophisticated robots. This article presents a summary of three critical controls essential in a digitally safe city.

Urbanisation is driving the push for efficiency in resource provisioning and management in cities. As more people move to cities around the world, it is becoming important for these cities to increase efficiency in the way cities services are rolled out and managed. To help drive this efficiency, technology is becoming an aspect of every public service in cities, leading to the emergence of IoT which now drives the so called Smart Cities. A Smart City pushes the quality of resource management and service provisioning using the benefits of ICT. Some of the benefits of smart technology in cities include efficient traffic flows, demand based water and electricity supply, interactive public transport scheduling, intelligent buildings and effective police resourcing among others.

The advantages of smart technology are being taken advantage of by cities, businesses and enterprises around the world as well as the technology manufacturers and vendors. It has been estimated that the global smart city technology market will be worth over $3 trillion by 2025. As with many other technological advancements before it, the demand for smart city technology somehow reduces security to an after-thought.

Given this demand, the security of the different smart city devices, platforms and systems is likely to be deliberately and inadvertently ignored. To manage this eventuality, a basic approach involving key personnel awareness, security regulation/ standardisation and cyber incident response drills will go a long way in deterring potential hacks and preventing some less sophisticated cyber-attacks. This approach also helps to manage cyber incidents in a coordinated and timely manner.

Awareness programs have been effective in helping to reduce cyber-attacks in organisations. Basic cyber education for the city’s Fire services, Police forces, ambulance personnel and other emergency rescue services will help provide some context on the significance of a smart city cyber-attack and its’ potential to harm human lives. A regulatory framework including mandatory security assessments for all smart city solutions will help guarantee that the technology has some level of security and that it will not be easily hacked. Cyber drills and cyber incident simulations are an essential preparation and readiness exercise for the emergency services personnel and other parties involved in the response effort following a cyber incident.

By Omaru Maruatona, Cyber Security Manager and Adjunct Research Fellow at La Trobe University.

Omaru attended the 2016 Safe Cities Conference.