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Q&A: Cognitive Systems will automate your world with WiFi

Taj Manku, Co-Founder and CEO of Cognitive Systems, on using WiFi for motion sensing and using quantum science to innovate new tech products.

Is there more to WiFi than just Internet access?

Taj Manku thinks so. He’s the Co-Founder and CEO of Cognitive Systems, a company committed to finding new uses for WiFi – a technology that is nearly as ubiquitous as electricity.

The resulting technology – WiFi Motion – expands on WiFi’s untapped potential to include motion sensing functions. Manku believes the future of the home is a responsive environment that doesn’t require commands – lights that turn on and off without switches, adaptive heating, unobtrusive security and more. WiFi Motion works with smart home devices to automate your world.

At the moment, the company’s software is available to consumers through more than 50 internet service providers, mostly within North America and Europe. With the huge growth potential in smart homes, Manku thinks you’ll soon see this Waterloo innovation in every home.

We asked Manku about the growth of smart home technologies, how WiFi Motion works and, especially, how this made-in-Waterloo technology is truly something that couldn’t be invented anywhere else. Here’s what he said:

Q: When I think of Cognitive Systems the first interesting tidbit that comes to mind is that you were one of the first – maybe the first – company to come out of Quantum Valley Investments (QVI). Can you speak to the unique wrinkle QVI brings to the Waterloo tech ecosystem?

MANKU: Many of our founders, including myself, have a strong connection with the founders of BlackBerry, including Mike Lazaridis, who created QVI. From the beginning, QVI understood and believed in our vision to get more out of wireless signals. They’ve been patient and realistic with their expectations, allowing us to drive standardization and grow our portfolio of 300 patents and applications.

QVI is just a really unique asset to the community. How many places have an organization that exists to commercialize the incredible science that comes out of quantum physics? For companies like Cognitive Systems it’s been an integral part of inventing transformative technologies, rather than simply iterating.

Q: The key innovation from Cognitive Systems is the use of WiFi for motion sensing. Can you explain what WiFi motion sensing is and how it is used to enhance quality of life at home?

MANKU: WiFi Motion is a network technology that uses existing WiFi signals to turn connected devices in your home into motion sensors. When you move through your home, WiFi signals bounce off of you and this disruption is identified as motion. Our technology then determines when and where movement occurred in your home.

Over time, WiFi Motion uses artificial intelligence to get familiar with your home and patterns and what “normal motion” means in your space to provide tailored insights and awareness. These motion disruptions can be communicated to users through mobile app notifications.

These functions are highly customizable and allow users the freedom and peace of mind to monitor and gain analytics from their home as they see fit.

WiFi Motion can enhance the quality of life at home through a myriad of ways. Some common applications include home monitoring, wellness monitoring and smart home functionality.

For example, you can find out whether movement occurred within your home while you were out at work. Or maybe you’ve been wondering whether your newborn has been sleeping through the night. Other users may be more interested in connected devices.

WiFi sensing can help create a smart home that intelligently turns lights on and off or automatically triggers A/C as you move about your house. Ultimately, WiFi Motion puts you in the driver’s seat for keeping your home and family safe, comfortable and healthy, all without additional hardware or infringing on your privacy.

Q: How is WiFi Motion offered to consumers?

MANKU: At the moment, WiFi Motion is delivered in the subscription packages of internet service providers through distribution channels like Plume and Airties. We’re also partnering with service providers to offer WiFi Motion as part of service packages such as Plume’s Home Pass bundle.

In the coming years, WiFi sensing will become a standard part of the smart home with WiFi Motion featured in the offerings of more ISPs.

Q: What is the connection between WiFi motion sensing and quantum science?

MANKU: WiFi Motion does not directly correlate to quantum physics, but it does rely on a detailed understanding of electromagnetic physics to work. This physics is an important aspect of making a quantum computer. It deciphers interruptions in the WiFi signals throughout our homes.

Cognitive applies physics and machine learning to understand patterns of activity through these signal disruptions to proactively monitor the home and decipher preventative health data about ourselves and loved ones.

In the future, we plan to leverage AmI (Ambient Intelligence) to add predictive motion intelligence to the smart home, wherein IoT devices will respond to natural movement.

Q: You’ve already told us a bit about QVI, but can you speak to the broader Waterloo quantum ecosystem, especially as it pertains to development of new tech? Can local quantum expertise help other tech companies develop unique and interesting products (as Cognitive has done)?

MANKU: We believe there is no better home for Cognitive than Waterloo and we are excited for our tech hub to continue to grow and flourish. The sheer diversity in talent and tech competition pushes us in our own work and innovative drive.

Every year, we see more and more Waterloo tech names in the “Fastest Growing” lists. The quantum ecosystem adds another skillset and perspective, as well as opportunities for companies that are interested in finding ways to commercialize cutting-edge science. You really won’t find an ecosystem like this anywhere else.

Q: What’s next for Cognitive Systems?

MANKU: We are excited to see WiFi sensing gain more and more traction in the network and technology spheres. The idea of using WiFi signals for anything outside of communication is still in its infancy. So, we are excited that around the time WiFi 6 becomes common in smart homes, you’ll also see WiFi Motion as a part of broadband offerings in most markets in the world, including Canada.

The future of Cognitive means exploring new applications of WiFi sensing as well as new markets that will leverage key partnerships. We are currently building on our Home Aware and Family Aware solutions to offer holistic smart home applications such as energy management, assisted living and wellness monitoring.

In 2022, we will consider opportunities in the enterprise space as well as launch Caregiver Aware. We believe that WiFi Motion is just the tip of the iceberg. In the future, we expect motion to be the new voice and to be an important aspect of a smarter home. Anywhere WiFi is present, you will be able to add WiFi Motion intelligence.

What's next?

Want to learn more about how Waterloo’s quantum ecosystem can help your company innovate? Get in touch with our team today.