Internet of Things

Using Sensors And IoT To Thwart Home Invasions (Of Privacy)

To monitor a home and to make sure all is safe and secure means you have to monitor the people and the activities inside.

How to do that without destroying privacy in the age of work from home, shop from home, do-everything from home?

In the age of connected devices, it may be that the sensor can go a long way toward eliminating that all standby, the unblinking eye of the camera — always on, and perhaps intrusive.

In an interview with Karen Webster, Nils Mattisson, CEO of Minut, a startup that makes a home security device that does not rely on cameras and is connected to the Internet of Things, said advanced technologies can make sure homes are safe, in real time.

As he explained, the company traces its genesis to providing a way for Airbnb hosts to monitor their homes while they were renting them out.  As he told Webster, “in the early days [of Airbnb] there really were not any alternatives, which meant that a lot of hosts started to use cameras as a way to monitor things when they were away.”

That led to feelings of resentment by at least some renters, who felt their privacy was being invaded.

But, as he noted, it’s possible to see the desire to use such visual technology from the host’s point of view as they let strangers on the premises. In some cases, according to Mattisson, guests weren’t taking care of the properties as well as they should have.

Fast forward from Minut’s founding in 2014 to today, and the focus is to provide security that leverages motion detection and sound to monitor homes without compromising privacy.

Mattisson told Webster that there are different expectations of privacy when sharing homes in different ways, “whether it’s with a significant other or with a roommate.  From my personal point of view, I would still expect a level of privacy even in those relationships.”

He said too, that with the younger generation, there exists a high expectation of privacy whether they are in their own homes, or renting from someone else.

“We serve both markets,” contended Mattisson, “the people who want privacy for themselves and the people they share their home with, and the people who are using their homes in a ‘hospitality application.’ ”

Delving into the particulars of the home security device itself, he said that the technology leverages sensors and a microphone to determine what type of activity is taking place on-premise.

The company has likened its alarm to a small computer equipped with sensors and a powerful processor, with algorithms that can analyze noise, motion and temperature without transmitting raw recordings to the cloud for further analysis.

Once an anomaly is identified, a “fingerprint” of the event is indeed sent to the cloud, analyzed by additional algorithms and sent to end-users.

Mattisson said that data is collected in real time and analyzed within the device itself, recognizing (through neural networks) what he termed “different features” of the activity — akin to identifying a dog or cat in a photograph.

He told Webster that Minut’s approach is different from other security setups because it relies on sound rather than other types of data — and as a result “we can identify events based on sound, but without recording any personal data.”

The ability to train the device to discern certain events from others (a window breaking vs., say, “normal” movement through the house via the sensors and neural network), he said,  affords Minut a barrier to entry against would-be competitors.

“When we benchmark, we do it on the data set that we have and if we make a mistake and we don’t pick something up, we often actually ask our customers to record it and send it to us. And then we added to the datasets,” he explained. That type of fine-tuning can reduce false positives and allow potential threats to be separated from the hypothetical mishap of a glass breaking when dropped in the kitchen.

Thus far, he said, the company is seeing traction and demand for its devices in the short term rental space, which has been marked by younger consumers who have relatively higher expectations of privacy.

Emerging use cases include healthcare, where, for example, the elderly live in assisted-living, perhaps need some level of monitoring but still have a fair amount of autonomy. He noted, too, that there is increased adoption from commercial property managers who tend to own (and must monitor) several properties.

The company raised about $8 million in a Series A funding round last year, which Mattisson said will be used to build up the commercial side of the business.

As for its targeted markets, said Mattisson, the short-term rental market may rebound more quickly than other subsets of the vacation and travel verticals, particularly as travel increases domestically.

“I’m convinced that this more flexible part of the sharing economy will bounce back and it will do so faster than the incumbents, ” he said.

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