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PicoBrew announces a modular and scalable professional brewing appliance

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PicoBrew today announced a new product in its growing line of brewing appliances. Called the Z Series, this product targets serious brewers with a scalable design that allows for greater precision in repeatable larger batch sizes. And with the largest model, the Z4, the owner ends up with a stack of slick brewing appliances that reinforces the thought we’re finally living in the future.

The Z Series uses the technology PicoBrew created in 2013 called Zymatic that allows it to brew using just grains. The new series features upgraded fluid distribution and heating components throughout the system. Each unit is stackable and rackable allowing owners to create a series of connected brewing devices.

The Z Series shows PicoBrew is pushing itself towards new markets. Since the original product, the company has been targeting home brewers with desktop appliances. And its latest device, the PicoStill, shows the company still aiming at small-batch processing. The Z Series is the PicoBrew grown up and ready to go to work.

Prices reflect the new target market, too. The base model, the Z1, costs $2,500 and is capable of producing 2.5 gallons per brew cycle. The Z2 outputs 5 gallons and costs $4,000, the Z3 does 7.5 gallons and costs $6,000 and the Z4 produces 10 gallons per cycle and costs $8,500. All models are available at a discount if pre-ordered before March 15.

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Ultrasound could waken a sleeping smart home

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The home of the future, we are assured, will be swarming with tiny sensors: security cameras, carbon monoxide detectors, speakers and everything else. Few need to be running all the time — but how do you wake them up when they’re needed if they’re off in the first place? Ultrasound.

That’s the idea being pursued by Angad Rekhi and Amin Arbabian at Stanford, anyway. Their approach to the problem of devices that can’t stay on, yet can’t be all the way off, is to minimize the amount of energy necessary to send and receive a “wake” signal. That way the Internet of Things really only consumes power when they’re actively in use.

Radio, which of course all these tiny sensors use to transmit and receive information, is actually pretty expensive in terms of power and space. Keeping the antenna and signal processor ready and listening uses more energy than these devices have to spare if they’re to last for years on a charge.

Ultrasonic sensors, on the other hand, are incredibly power-efficient and require very little space. Ultrasound — soundwaves above the human range of hearing, 22KHz or so — is a much more physical phenomenon, and detecting it is easier in many ways than detecting radio frequency waves. It’s a bit like the difference between a sensor that’s sensitive to nearly intangible x-rays versus one that detects ordinary visible light.

Rekhi (left) and Arbabian looking natural in the lab

Rekhi, a grad student in electrical engineering working under Arbabian, describes their approach in a paper just presented at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco. It’s a simple idea in a way — a small switch that hits a bigger switch — but the results are impressive.

The system’s ultrasound receiver is efficient even for an efficient class of sensors; the tiny, super-sensitive microphone was developed at Stanford, as well, by the Khuri-Yakub Group. The receiver is always on, but draws an amazingly small 4 nanowatts of power, and is sensitive enough to detect a signal with a single nanowatt’s strength. That puts it well ahead of most radio receivers in terms of power consumption and sensitivity.

There’s one from a study last year that has it beat on both… but it’s also more than 50 times bigger. The ultrasonic sensor only takes up 14.5 square millimeters to the radio chip’s 900. That’s valuable real estate on an embedded device.

You wouldn’t be able to activate it from across town, of course — ultrasonic signals don’t travel through walls. But they do bounce around them, and the wake-up system’s sensitivity means even the smallest fragment of an ultrasonic signal will be sufficient to activate it.

It’s just a prototype right now, but don’t be surprised if this sort of mega-efficient tech gets snatched up or duplicated by companies trying to squeeze every ounce of life out of a watt-hour.

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Sonos One is the speaker to beat for those that want great sound and smarts

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The connected speaker wars are upon us, and one day they will be detailed in history books for all to remember. But here now, it can be hard to cut through the various narratives surrounding the options out there and pick a winner. Now that the cards are on the table in terms of offerings from the major players, however, it’s pretty clear that Sonos has the best option available for most people.

Sonos One, the connected speaker that the company released last year, is a terrific sounding Wi-Fi-enabled speaker that also has built-in support for Amazon’s Alexa, which is if not the best smart assistant out there, then at least tied for first with Google’s Assistant.

On the sound front, Sonos has the most experience of any of the top three companies making smart speakers worth your consideration, too. The Sonos One is, in many ways, just an updated version of the Sonos Play:1 that’s acoustically very similar – but that’s actually a really good thing. The Sonos One, like the Play:1, is a terrific sounding audio device, especially given its size and physical footprint.

I’ve been using a pair of Sonos Ones for the past couple of weeks, and it’s clear that they do a great job of filling a room with sound, thanks in part to Sonos’ sound shaping tech that uses a two-minute setup process involving waving your phone around to properly model the audio they put out for your space.

Individually, a Sonos One is already a strong contender even against the Google Home Max and HomePod for sound quality for most people (who don’t need the additional power or won’t notice the auditory improvements afforded by the larger speakers) but the Sonos One has a another neat trick up its sleeve, since it can form a stereo pair with a second Sonos One. This provides true sound separation, meaning left and right channels reproduced as they were actually meant to be, instead of via some simulated stereo separation effect (which can be pretty cool, as HomePod reviews show, but which ultimately can’t match true stereo separation).

Another huge benefit of Sonos vs. the competition: the Sonos One integrates out of the box with the rest of your Sonos setup, should you have one. You can control all speakers via voice, and group them together for whole home/room-by-room playback. Google’s Home Max can work together with Chromecast-enabled speakers for similar multi-room streaming setups, and HomePod is set to get an update that will add multi-room and stereo syncing, but Sonos One offers both of these now, and using a method that’s proven to work.

There’s also pricing to consider. Sonos One, in a bundle with two, is available for $349 right now, which is the same price as a single HomePod. It’s an unbeatable deal, given the other advantages listed above, especially since it means you can see if you like it alone, or equip multiple rooms with Alexa smarts and quality connected sound in one go.

There are reasons to consider other options, to be sure, especially if you’re 100 percent committed to the Apple ecosystem of device and services, but in general for most people, for most use cases, Sonos One is the far better choice.

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Spotify job listing hints the company’s ‘first physical products’ are coming

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Spotify so far has been content to partner far and wide on hardware, via its Spotify Connect platform, which allows anyone building a connected speaker, mobile device or piece of AV equipment to turn their gadget into a Spotify speaker. But a new job listing suggests it will soon build hardware of its own, and it’s looking for people to help make that happen.

The job listing, spotted by The Guardian, seeks an ops manager for “hardware product,” and the first line of the description says outright that “Spotify is on its way to creating its first physical products,” though it doesn’t go into detail bout what those products might be. Chances are good that these will be smart, connected speakers of some kind, however, since it seems like a logical first step into the hardware world for software-focused Spotify.

A dedicated Spotify smart speaker could be a very good thing, especially if it integrates some kind of assistant tech, and could help the streaming leader translate its software success into an ecosystem of products with a bit more range in terms of diversifying their business. The question would be what Spotify could offer that devices from existing partners cannot, and whether Spotify would continue its strategy of embracing such an open ecosystem of hardware partners if it’s also making its own.

Another possibility is that Spotify explore dedicated streaming devices (a low-cost, Spotify-specific iPod-type media player seems like an idea with legs, for instance). But based on this listing, it seems like it’s still early days for any gadget strategy from the streaming music provider.

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