Waterloo-based Cognitive Systems has brought its amera product out of an 18 month stealth mode period, unveiling a sensor that detects and visualizes wireless radio frequency (RF) signals in physical space.
The amera sensor, and its underlying R10 chip, identifies wireless signals connected to a user’s network. It notifies a user when a device connects to their network, authorized or unauthorized, picking up rich data sets associated with particular devices, including device ID.
“This technology will help businesses, organizations and consumers protect their data and devices from hackers who would take advantage of weak wireless security or set up dummy networks to snoop and steal private information,” said Taj Manku, Cognitive’s co‐founder. “While the technology behind amera is complex, it communicates information to users in an understandable form through a sleek sensor unit and applications that can be accessed via their smartphones or computers.”
Backed by Research In Motion co-founder Mike Lazaridis’ new fund Quantum Valley Investments, along with partner Doug Fregin, the amera sensor alerts users to potential cybersecurity threats by detecting the presence of signals from cell towers, Wi-Fi base stations, or rogue signals.
Cognitive Systems, which has 50 employees, is the first company backed by Quantum Valley to publicly reveal a product. Manku was an associate professor at the University of Waterloo from 1995 to 2001
He and Cognitive Systems’ other founders, Oleksiy Kravets and CEO Hugh Hind are all ex-BlackBerry employees.
One of the amera’s selling points is cost. It can replace a conventional video or motion-based security system that typically runs into the tens of thousands with a relatively more low-cost sensor that picks up a richer environmental profile, as well as being more accurate for identification purposes.
Unlike most motion sensors, amera detects changes in the environment by detecting wireless signals, which can be picked up through walls or in the dark.
The R10 chip has five custom CPU cores, four wireless receivers, and highly configurable dual multi-vector processors.
“The R10 chip functions like the human eye, only it can see invisible wireless signals that people cannot,” said Manku. “And the chip is much faster. It can respond to and report on signals in one‐millionth of a second.”
Cognitive Systems is building a cloud platform called Myst, that it believes may be used to power smart city applications.
“Technically speaking, the R10 chip is engineered with three layers of design,” said co-founder Kravets. “The first layer contains a matrix of radios for sensing wireless signals, the second layer contains a grid of digital signal processing modules, and the third is the software used to configure silicon sub‐systems and process the data.”
Cognitive Systems has secured three core patents in the United States and Europe relating to amera, with 20 more pending.
“The vision that drove amera and the R10 chip was to build a platform that empowers people by giving them more information about their wireless environment,” said CEO Hind. “Now we want to enable people with innovative visions to explore other beneficial uses of the platform. The opportunities are only as limited as our imaginations.”
Aside from physical security on wireless networks, the sensor has a wide variety of potential applications, from detecting a missing skier lost in an avalanche to a lost child in a crowded space.
A real-time picture of traffic flow can be created, allowing optimization of retail spaces, airports, sports arenas or other public spaces.
These applications will be more obvious when the company reveals its Myst cloud platform and its upcoming X10 chip hardware, which is being described as a physics engine.
Amera will begin being sold in North America, selling hardware and a subscription service set to be up and running in the first half of 2016, while partnerships with unnamed distribution and security companies are to be announced at a later date.
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