If you had told me on March 1st that by early April I’d be on indefinite lockdown in my San Jose home (along with the rest of the country) due to a pandemic, I would have laughed it off as a terrible plot idea for “The Twilight Zone.” Yet here we are. The impact of the virus has even directly touched our firm—my colleague Anshel Sag contracted the pathogen in late March, but thankfully is on the road to recovery. His frank and emotional account of his bout with COVID-19, along with his description of how technology helped him through this crisis, can be found here.
During these uncertain and scary times, I take solace in how truly fortunate I feel to work in the tech industry. In my opinion, the industry has stepped up to combat COVID-19 in a way that is reminiscent of the role American companies played in defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War II. It makes me proud to think about what companies like Apple, Intel, Microsoft, Amazon, Cisco, Google, HP, NVIDIA and IBM (just to name a few) have done in just a few short weeks. My colleague Patrick Moorhead wrote extensively about these companies’ efforts since March, and it’s nothing short of extraordinary.
While these efforts are awe-inspiring, I’ve perhaps been most impressed by the role that technology is playing in how we deal with this pandemic. Cognitive Systems recently invited me to a full-day deep dive session with its senior leadership team at its corporate headquarters in Waterloo, Canada. I was struck by the potential usefulness of its motion sensing technology in the home and office—particularly in the context of our current national lockdown. Let’s take a closer look.
Cognitive Systems’ WiFi Motion
Stated simply, the company’s WiFi Motion technology provides whole home awareness by “sensing” and decoding movement anywhere WiFi signals are present. WiFi Motion’s functionality is enabled by a router that utilizes the company’s embedded software to allow all connected devices smart devices in a home to act as motion sensors.
How does it work? By establishing a foundation of the home environment (or what the home “appears” to look when there is no movement), WiFi Motion utilizes AI algorithms over time to learn normal patterns and accurately predict behavior trends that can be acted upon. When there is movement in the home, WiFi Motion classifies these “ripples” in the wireless signals, based upon time, duration and location. Then it determines whether specific action should be taken.
While motion sensing is certainly not new, Cognitive Systems’ approach is novel. First of all, WiFi Motion takes advantage of the fact that the average home has 11 connected devices throughout the house—a figure that will likely grow to more than 20 devices over the next few years as digital assistants and other IoT devices grow in popularity. This phenomenon is a tailwind for WiFi Motion in the sense that it doesn’t require additional discrete or specialized hardware to function. Since most homes today already have numerous connected devices in almost every room, WiFi Motion can leverage that existing wireless network “blanket” to sense motion throughout the home. The cost-effectiveness of WiFi Motion sets it apart from other existing solutions that detect movement in the house. The practical application of WiFi Motion is relatively broad when you consider today’s smart home. Its core use is with home monitoring, wellness monitoring and smart home automation applications, though one can envision other exciting usage models.
WiFi Motion makes home monitoring simple. When motion is detected in a particular room, a simple alert is sent to your smartphone (e.g. “Gloria has arrived home at 5:15 PM” or “Mom is awake and out of her bed at 7:15 AM”). Unlike traditional sensors, WiFi Motion provides full home coverage through walls (and even darkness).
COVID-19 has caused significant “separation anxiety” for families, making it difficult to keep 24/7 tabs on children or elderly parents who live remotely. Because of this, WiFi Motion holds unique appeal in this current moment. “Unusual activity alerts” (e.g., someone is entering or leaving a room at an odd time) can be set up. Cognitive Systems believes that WiFi Motion could also be used for sleep pattern tracking and other preventative health applications (e.g., monitoring for irregular breathing or lack of physical activity). What’s very compelling is that these capabilities could be enabled without requiring a wearable device.
Finally, WiFi Motion opens up endless possibilities for smart home automation usage models. The heat or air conditioning can be set to automatically turn on or off when someone enters a home or specific room. A garage door can be set to automatically shut when someone exits. Lights could be programmed to automatically turn on when someone enters. In a situation such as the current COVID-19 lockdown, it’s not hard to envision how WiFi Motion could help alert homeowners when deliveries are made.
Privacy sets WiFi Motion apart
Over the past several years, the increasing popularity of surveillance and in-home monitoring cameras has raised serious customer concerns about privacy. Amazon found itself in hot water last year when its popular Ring business group provided free doorbells to police agencies who, in turn, distributed them to some homes. More recently, Zoom’s video conferencing capability, which has exploded in popularity since the pandemic crisis began, has come under tremendous scrutiny over lax security protocols with users’ cloud-based video content and various breaches.
One of the most compelling advantages of WiFI Motion for home monitoring is the fact that it utilizes wireless signals to detect motion instead of traditional cameras. In other words, you’re not being visually spied on. This has the potential to ease the minds of consumers who worry about the privacy implications of conventional in-home cameras.
As part of its commitment to safeguarding privacy, Cognitive Systems points out that the motion data and identifying information it collects at the local device are not correlated. This means that the government and the device manufacturers can’t spy on you. On the other hand, aggregated data by region (which is the most “granular” data that Cognitive Systems can provide) could potentially be used by public officials to help make “lockdown-class” scenario decisions.
Cognitive Systems enhances its leadership position in the motion sensing space
Industry pundits will recall that Waterloo, Canada was also the original home of BlackBerry. An interesting aside is the fact that Cognitive Systems’ leadership bench is staffed with several legacy BlackBerry executives. This, in my view, gives the company a nice level of credibility from a technology and innovation perspective.
While the company doesn’t have broad name recognition, that hasn’t stopped it from cementing business partnerships with industry leaders such as Plume, Qualcomm, Broadcom, AirTies and CommScope. Cognitive Systems’ association with Qualcomm and Broadcom notably gives the company access to more than 90% of the mesh router market. This is a crucial because it enables Cognitive Systems to claim broad compatibility with nearly all of the wireless routers on the market. Its partnership with Plume is also notable, since Plume’s Adaptive WiFi solutions have made extraordinary inroads with numerous global ISPs (including Comcast) over the past two years. Plume’s decision to use WiFi Motion for its motion-sensing technology, in my view, is a testament to the robustness of the technology. I expect we’ll see a lot more from Cognitive Systems and WiFi Motion in the months and years to come. I’ll be following with interest.