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SCIENCE AND TECH

3 MIN

Montreal's Aerial Turns Your WiFi Router into a Security System

If there's someone in your home, the system senses disruptions in the the radio waves of your wireless internet

The so-called Internet of Things, or IoT, is advancing quickly: Smart fridges can adjust their temperature because they know what kind of food is being stored inside them through barcode scanning, smart lighting allows you to control the brightness or dimness in your home using an app, and the Amazon Echo’s digital assistant Alexa can answer any questions you might have about anything while you’re sitting and eating breakfast.

While intriguing, a lot of this technology is expensive. Take the realm of home security: Wireless smart security systems cost anywhere from US$300 to $600 per kit, not to mention the activation fees (anywhere from $200 to $500) and monthly services charges (an average of $50 a month).

Aerial, a machine learning and artificial intelligence company based in Montreal, hopes to make smart home security accessible to everyone. Its technology uses radio signals from your WiFi to detect when anyone, or anything – including your dog or cat – is in the space.

Aerial’s kit will cost from $159 to $199 (Canadian) with no activation or monthly fees – which could be worthwhile for someone who travels frequently. (You can join a waiting list at Aerial.ai.)

How does it work? Your wireless router, connected to your phone or cable line, converts the data it receives from either of those cables into radio signals that are picked up by the network cards of devices like your smartphone or laptop. Essentially, your router fills the environment around it with wireless signals.

The crux of Aerial’s system is its Cube, a piece of hardware that plugs into a socket and is able to read these signals. With an Aerial Cube plugged into the wall, the wireless signals all around you become an invisible security field.

Courtesy of Aerial

The app employs machine learning and artificial intelligence to understand what the WiFi “grid” looks like when no one is in the home. And when someone does walk through the door, Aerial detects the distortions in the WiFi grid.  

Jevin Maltais, vice president of product development at Aerial, explains how to set the system up, for example in a condominium: “Walk outside the front of your condo and say [to the app], ‘OK, Aerial, the house is empty.’ It’ll look at the home and see what the WiFi [pattern] looks like when the house is empty,” he explains. “Then you walk into your house, and it’ll say, ‘Motion detected, you have an intruder,’ which means Aerial is working.”

The technology was developed by Michel Allegue, whose PhD in electronics, signal processing and communications, building on the work of others, like professor Dina Katabi of MIT, who were already conducting research into the applications of WiFi signals. Katabi proposes using wireless as a radar that can identify people’s activities behind walls and closed doors. Allegue figured there had to be a more practical, everyday use.

When he came up with Aerial, he decided that the first application should be smart home security, which hasn’t always been accessible to most consumers because of the high cost.

“Aerial turns smart home technology into a non-luxury,” says Negar Gourchian, research scientist at Aerial. “Everyone has a WiFi connection in their home, so with a router and one small device, you can turn any regular house into a smart home.”

And the technology’s applications extend beyond security. Some of Aerial’s other uses include monitoring of pets, children and elderly people, as well as sleep optimization (i.e., letting Aerial watch how much you move in bed while you sleep).

Courtesy of Aerial

Maltais says that through a simple software upgrade, Aerial can be embedded into other devices, such as a television or Amazon Echo.

Aerial has sold its technology to large corporations we probably all know (though these companies can’t be named in this article). 

A television company would use Aerial to understand which person in the household was sitting in front of the TV. That way, it could recommend shows for each individual in the household without anyone ever having to pick up a remote, or the TV could log each person onto their streaming account automatically, without them having to manually sign in.

Published Friday, April 21st 2017

Header image credit: Courtesy of Aerial

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