Experienced in the task of taking ideas to revenues, he founded several technology companies (e.g., Pravala, Sirific, and Tagcomm), the most public being Sirific Wireless, which merged with Icera and then sold to Nvidia for just under half-a-billion dollars. In 2014, he co-founded Cognitive Systems Corp and is currently the CEO. Previously, Taj served as a tenured Professor at the University of Waterloo and ran an RFIC consulting firm. Taj has more than 100 granted patents and various awards in technology and business for his involvement in Software-defined Radios. Taj holds a degree in (Quantum) Physics and has a Ph.D., in Electrical Engineering from the University of Waterloo.
Vishal Sapru (VS), Research Manager for Energy Storage & Critical Power Group had the opportunity to conduct a Movers & Shakers interview with Taj Manku (TM), CEO of Cognitive Systems.
VS: Can you start by providing our readers a brief overview of Cognitive Systems, including the vision behind its formation and its current role in the market?
TM: Cognitive Systems was founded in 2014 by myself and Oleksiy Kravets. We had a mission to transform the way the world interacts with and uses wireless signals.
Determined to use radio frequency (RF) technology to build an RF camera, we drew upon our expertise in silicon design, RF and cryptography to create a new way to interpret wireless signals. As a result, Aura WiFi Motion™ was born. Since this initial innovation, we have developed our own chip (the R10) to demonstrate the capabilities of Aura WiFi Motion™— Aura Home Monitoring™, a Cognitive Systems (Cognitive) consumer IoT device—and are now licensing Aura WiFi Motion™ software for use in mesh routers, voice assistants, and IoT devices.
Our current markets include home monitoring, home analytics, remote monitoring, and home automation.
VS: Please describe your product/technology/solution for our readers. How different is it from what is already available in the market?
TM: The basis of our technology is called Aura WiFi Motion™. Unlike other sensors that use light or heat, Aura WiFi Motion™ uses wireless radio frequency (RF) signals to detect motion in the home. As the WiFi signals are dispersed from the source, they get attenuated or reflected by various objects. Aura WiFi Motion™ looks at the details of these changes and associates it to motion and motion context. From this, various applications can be layered on top.
Cognitive has two products. The first is our hardware that looks at the WiFi signals to monitor the home via an iOS or Android app on a smartphone. It also has the ability to alert the user if there is motion in a particular part of their home or if there is no motion.
The second product is implementing Aura WiFi Motion™ software directly into WiFi-based products, such as mesh routers, TVs, IoT devices, WiFi-based cameras, smartphones, etc.
There is nothing like Aura WiFi Motion™ currently in the market. Through our research and patented technology, we’ve found that motion detection based on WiFi is more dependable, as it limits false detections and has the ability to see through walls and in the dark, for full home coverage.
In addition, Aura is now a software solution so its deployment is quicker and can be placed into many hardware platforms already existing and selling today.
VS: What are Cognitive Systems’ greatest challenge and what strategy is in place to overcome it?
TM: Scale. The more WiFi devices that have Aura WiFi Motion™ the better the user experience will be. As more devices are added, the more data there is to learn from, making for a ‘smarter’ smart home. We are achieving this by partnering with many WiFi chipset vendors. Some that have been publicly announced are Qualcomm and Marvel Semiconductors.
VS: What is the unique value proposition of Cognitive Systems and what are your key competitive differentiators?
TM: Unlike other smart home devices that monitor motion, Aura WiFi Motion™ harnesses RF, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to classify and localize motion, providing context and awareness to smart home and IoT devices.
In addition, we reuse WiFi to layer other important applications, such as home monitoring, and automation, to provide added value to WiFi. Currently, we are the only company doing this and are able to do so because we own the full IP stack.
VS: What is your strategy in terms of offering best value to customer for the price, compared to similar offerings from competitors?
TM: Our model is based on a software licensing fee that is cheaper than other options if a customer decides to add many passive infrared (PIR) sensors. When comparing PIR and Aura WiFi Motion™, Aura WiFi Motion™ provides more motion context, has a much larger coverage area, and is very easy to install because it does not have all the installation restrictions of a PIR motion sensor. Most importantly, our customers do not need to change any hardware to incorporate Aura WiFi Motion™.
VS: Continued innovation is the key to success in this growing industry. How is the process of innovation managed at Cognitive Systems?
TM: Our innovation/roadmap comes in two forms; developing a larger Aura WiFi Motion™ network and enhancing new motion context that are important for various markets. To include new motion context, we continue to develop our AI engine in our product, bringing new data insights to our customers.
VS: What do you want the company to accomplish in the next couple of years and how would you define success for Cognitive Systems?
TM: Our goal is to have widespread deployment of Aura WiFi Motion™. We are dedicated to the continuous development of WiFi Motion technology and in exploring new applications, all with the aim of advancing the smart home ecosystem. We are also looking into incorporating Aura WiFi Motion™ as a standard into IEEE802.11.
VS: Could you elaborate on the acceptance or adoption of your product/solution in the marketplace and are there any positive client testimonials that can be shared with us?
TM: To make Aura WiFi Motion™ work, our team had to have knowledge and experience in a variety of technology backgrounds, including RF/antennas, WiFi architectures, WiFi standards, data science, AI, and machine learning; all brought together to harness the power of WiFi to do something new—detect motion reliably.
The ability to detect motion is not the only innovation. It also lies in our ability to tackle the bigger problem—the continuously changing wireless environment (a.k.a. the real world). This can include variations in the size of a home, the number of stories, a home’s layout and even the construction materials used, which often vary across geographical regions; all of these present real-world implementation challenges. The number of WiFi devices, usage patterns, network utilization, and sources of interference are additional factors that must be considered.
Once we proved our technology could work reliably, it opened up various opportunities and markets. As of today, we have several customers that have used our solution and are convinced it works. This is why we are confident in implementing Aura WiFi Motion™ into a wide range of products.
VS: Do you foresee the acceptance of your product/technology/solution in the marketplace to have an influence on the direction of the overall market going forward?
TM: Absolutely. We are changing the use of WiFi beyond just communication but using it for other markets and applications. Adding WiFi motion just builds into the massive deployment of this technology.
VS: As a general conclusion, what do you think the future holds for such solutions and, more specifically, what role can we expect Cognitive Systems to play in shaping the future of the industry?
TM: Change the (802.11) standard to include motion and motion context; this opens up other markets, companies can then layer other applications on top of this feature.
VS: What are your company’s marketing and product positioning strategies? Do you plan to form any strategic alliances/partnerships
TM: We have been focusing on developing partnering with WiFi chipset vendors that are in the business of security monitoring. We are now working with Qualcomm and Marvel Semiconductors so we can begin licensing our Aura WiFi Motion™. Technology.
VS: What is unique about your company with regard to offering the best and differentiated service experience to customers?
TM: Cognitive’s solution is beyond just motion sensing. It provides context to the motions (e.g., localization of the motion), amount of motion, a level of privacy (compared to indoor cameras), and provides ‘more coverage’ of your house (see images below). Aura WiFi Motion™ also has the potential to provide more context to motion, as there are more Aura-enabled devices within the home.
In the figure above, we illustrate the floor plan of a home where a person walks—in the various sections of the house. The Aura systems pick up motion everywhere. However, the PIR does not, and in some cases misses, the motion altogether.
VS: Please describe the importance and focus of your company toward building and strengthening the brand equity of your offering?
TM: As Aura WiFi Motion™ is still very new and Cognitive is the creator of this technology, we are working towards making Aura synonymous with WiFi motion. Back in the day when WiFi was introduced it was explained as ‘having wireless high-speed Internet within a local area’. Now, one word is used to explain all this—WiFi. We want Aura to be the ‘word’ that means ‘determining motion and motion context using disturbances in WiFi signals’. Our business is focused on making this brand identity.
VS: What kind of customer feedback mechanism do you have in place to ensure that the product development and innovation matches market and customer needs?
TM: We have more than 50 beta testers that ensure our product works and that it is reliable as described. We also provide reference designs to our customers, so they can test the various features. Lastly, as WiFi motion is new, we developed a full-featured QA process to ensure it works as marketed. The QA process also tests our new software builds.
VS: How do you compare yourself with top competitors in terms of offering best-in-class solution, with a full complement of features and functionality?
TM: At Cognitive Systems, we take WiFi motion seriously and our team comprises some of the leading experts in the field. We currently hold core patents for WiFi Motion and have more than 100 patents filed and more than 20 awarded. What sets us apart and makes us Best in Class is that Cognitive Systems owns the entire IP stack, from the hardware and algorithms, to the data analytics and patents, and we’ve brought to market a reliable solution—one that takes into account the realistic notions of physics (I should know, I’m a physicist). There are other companies that claim to do things which we know are not possible, based on simple physics.
VS: What is/are unique features of your product/technology that address unmet customer needs and competitors are unable to replicate and replace?
TM: As mentioned, Aura WiFi Motion™ is the first of its kind. Our hope is that it’s added to homes to enhance the smart home vision and to make it a reality for many in the forms of home monitoring and improving privacy. People can use our technology to gain a whole new understanding of what’s happening remotely. This applies to their own home (when kids arrive home after school or the housekeeper leaves) and a remote home (rental properties to know when guests and short-term renters come and go and to keep tabs on elderly relatives while maintaining their privacy); all in an effort to allow smart home devices to make more intelligent decisions and provides end users improved controls for a seamless smart home experience.
If you have any further questions/comments please contact: email@example.com