A few weeks ago, at the Parks Associates Connections conference in Dallas, I met with Ivani, an eight-year-old company that makes software to add wireless sensing to a variety of devices. I was intrigued by its approach, which leverages software that could be installed on any device that uses RF to add motion sensing to a device.
I’ve written a lot about Wi-Fi sensing companies like Cognitive Systems and Origin Wireless that have firmware that must be integrated into a specific Wi-Fi chip, which means that to add their Wi-Fi sensing capabilities to a product, a device maker must select a specific chip. But Ivani’s sensing technology isn’t specific to Wi-Fi and it doesn’t require integration on the chip itself.
Ivani software can run on any existing RF chip, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Thread, or other options. The company has deals with LeGrand and other companies it cannot name to add wireless sensing to everyday smart objects such as light switches and outlets. It has placed its technology in several hotels and has raised at least $15 million in funding.
The technology opens up a world of sensing that can be added as a software update or later in the design process of a particular device because it is not limited to a subset of chip vendors that can support the technology. However, Ivani’s technology can’t provide high-resolution sensing that can detect small or medium gestures.
For now, the idea is to detect motion to provide more context for the smart home or office. It has an obvious use case in light switches and even blind controllers because it can detect when a person comes into a room or walks under a light fixture. I’m looking forward to walking down my hall and having each light turn on dramatically right in front of me.
RF sensing is finally coming into use in the smart home (and commercial settings). We are seeing companies such as Plume add Wi-Fi motion sensing from Cognitive Systems into its products. Ecobee recently released a thermostat that uses radar instead of an infrared sensor to track when someone is in the home. In commercial settings RF sensing can help replace motion sensors that force people to wave their arms in the air just to prove they’re still in a conference room or at their desk.
Another advantage of RF sensing is that homes won’t need separate sensors to track motion — sensing can be built into existing devices. RF sensing is also better at distinguishing between people and events or animals which can trigger older motion detection sensors.
More sensors mean more context, so a light switch or bulb near you could automatically turn on if it senses a person, or it might also respond when someone says, “Siri (or Alexa) turn on the light.” They might also be useful when it comes to creating new forms of light displays in a home. Y’all know I love my Nanoleaf light panels, but adding RF sensing might make them more interactive. They could become an extension of my security system when someone walks by them.
The possibilities are endless, so I am eager to see how technology such as Ivani’s ends up in more places.