Little devices that use huge cloud servers to do your bidding

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Right now, in a data center far, far away, gargantuan cloud servers are providing brainpower to devices as minute as fitness trackers. At first glance, for example, a baseball-size connected camera is nothing more than simple home surveillance; what you don’t see, however, is that it can employ thousands of servers to enable image recognition, allowing it to know the difference between a human and, say, a moving tree branch. Machine armies undergird countless teeny-tiny devices. Here are five of the smartest:

BullGuard Dojo Smart Home IOT Security System


An IoT attack dog.

Last year, homeowners connected some 4 billion devices to their networks. Dojo by BullGuard keeps hackers from exploiting them. The 6-inch box plugs into your router, monitors traffic, and cuts off any shady activity. Meanwhile, Dojo’s server looks for patterns across all its relatives to thwart bigger threats. $199.

Nest Cam Weatherproof Outdoor Security Camera

Nest Cam Outdoor Security Camera

The all-seeing eye.

The Nest Cam Outdoor is always watching, but it needs help to know what it’s looking at. With the Nest Aware service, footage uploads to the company’s servers, where computer- vision algorithms distinguish a person from Spot chasing a squirrel. Those smarts reduces false-positive intruder alerts. $179 plus $10 per month.

Under Armour UA HealthBox fitness system

Under Armour UA HealthBox

The personal trainer.

Armed with data from more than 200 million users, Under Armour motivates athletes with what drives them most: competition. The UA Record app and HealthBox kit—which includes a heart-rate monitor, fitness tracker, and scale—tap into an IBM-powered virtual coach that stacks up users against other athletes. $220.

Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker with Alexa

Amazon Echo Dot

Ask Jeeves.

Barely larger than a hockey puck, the Echo Dot is always ready. The Alexa-powered voice-activated assistant passes commands through Amazon’s cloud- based natural language processing to understand and carry out over 9,000 skills, including setting alarms, hailing an Uber, and reordering Doritos. $50.

CogniToys Dino educational smart toy Dinosaur

CogniToys Dino

Jurassic smarts.

Imaginary friends, meet the competition. Backed by Watson’s encyclopedic memory bank, a custom speech algorithm, and a weekly-updated roster of games, facts, and stories, CogniToys Dino is a clever, greg- arious (and adorable) 6-inch chatterbox. It also builds a profile of its human buddy, like if a kid is into pizza or soccer. $100.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2017 issue of Popular Science.