Is Wondrwall finally our smart home Oasis?
It’s more than 20 years since Oasis hit number two in the charts with the fourth release from (What's the Story) Morning Glory?
Wonderwall has sold more than 1.3m copies since, making it the Gallagher brothers’ biggest selling single in the UK.
In the eyes of Daniel Burton, you would imagine this success is classed as moderate.
He heads up Wondrwall – a Manchester firm with a deliberately Manchester name – and wants to change the way we build houses.
Described as the world’s ‘most intelligent light switch’, it is the first in-home artificial intelligence system that manages home security, energy saving, heating and lighting together.
In lieu of a physical switch, it has 13 different sensors tracking things like heat, humidity, luminosity, movement, and sound.
Essentially, Burton (pictured below) says, it adapts your home to your needs and desires. The CEO is from London, but has been based in the North for the last 30 years.
In December 2016, his product secured a £2m financing package from NatWest – the first time he has accepted outside investment.
“There is no limit to what automation in a house could do. This is just the beginning,” he said.
“What people want is that thing that makes their life easier, and that’s what Wondrwall does. It constantly saves them money, it keeps them secure, it keeps them safe.
“It takes all the running of the home and does it all for you. That’s what we recognise.”
But Wondrwall’s affordable intelligent home is not the first time a company has thought of giving a living room a brain.
Google, as you would expect, has already made its way into the market with the purchase of Nest in January 2014, for $3.2bn (£2.48m).
Although according to its creators, Wondrwall is the only product that brings everything under one system.
“There’s smart home technology out there, but the reason it has not taken off is that people have done different sectors of smart homes,” explained Burton.
“Companies have done heating, done lighting, done security. Now, what we’ve done is brought all of it together – but given the home the ability to control it.
“You have very expensive systems, like Control4, that are all linked in, but they still don’t have the intelligence that Wondrwall has. You have smart technology, and our vision is to create the intelligent home.
“We’ve made a solution where anybody can afford to have a full home automation system.”
Going to bed, cooking tea, even going to the toilet, the brains behind Wondrwall are collecting a huge amount of data on how people use their home – which Burton agrees will be very valuable.
The company has already struck data deals with insurance companies Direct Line and AXA, and Redrow has signed a deal to incorporate the technology into its new-build homes.
Burton explained: “There’s so much we can learn from how you live and how your house works.
“For the developers, who are putting these into new houses, they’re given a new understanding of how people use the home.
“Is there any point in building four bedroom homes, when actually nobody goes in the spare bedroom?
“Why don’t we build more three bedroom homes than four bedroom homes? Are we using the dining room? Why have a dining room? Why not put that into a large front room because that’s where people are most of the time.
“Understanding how people live and behave is actually really important, because actually that can really govern how people can build houses in the future.
“It also means the insurance companies can potentially give you a lot better rate than what they were, as they know what is going. It’s data-driven.”
Sharing a name with the Oasis hit is more of a happy coincidence for the Manchester-based firm. It is unlikely AI is what the Gallagher brothers had in mind back in 1995.
Instead it comes from a previous product developed by Burton – intelligent wallpaper.
He added: “In essence these light switches are like a baby computer. You’re putting maybe 150 sensors around the home that are monitoring everything you do – what times you spend in certain rooms, what time you go to bed, what time you go to the toilet in the evening, how the home heats up, which room heats up quicker and which are cooler.
“We gather a lot of information, collect it and send it up into the cloud where we have machine learning and predictive modelling that learns from that data. Then we start controlling the home.
“If you go to work at 7am, the home knows what time you go to work so it turns the heating off at 6.30am, because it knows it will stay at your ideal temperature before you leave.
“If you walk out the door and you’ve left any lights on, well the home knows that you’ve gone to work so it turns all the lights off for you.
“On a night where you go out for a drink after work, it’s not going to turn the heating on. It’ll work out when you are coming home and only turns on the heating on when it needs to. It’s about being really intelligent about how we control heating and lighting around the home, and it doesn’t rely on you to make any of the decisions.”
Wondrwall’s raison d'être, says Burton, is making lives easier.
Despite being a company that sells hardware, its strength lies in the intelligence behind it, and what it can learn.
The light switch now also includes Amazon’s Alexa technology, which means the devices can be used to order taxis, takeaways and control music throughout the house.
But according to Burton’s research, AI can only go so far into ordinary lives. There are certain parts of the home people do not want to see automated.
“People don’t want a computer controlling the locks on their front door because, at the end of the day, they don’t want someone to break in.
“The other thing, is people don’t want cameras inside the home because they feel like they can get spied on.
“There are a lot of stories about that, whether they’re true or not.”
But security is a big part of the Wondrwall story – described by Burton as a “goal right from the beginning”.
Instead of waiting until a burglar is inside the home to raise the alarm, the intelligent light switch is constantly listening out for the first signs of a break-in.
“We have two motion sensors in every single light switch in the home,” he said.
“So we have a real sensory-based system all around the home – like a standard alarm system would have. But what we wanted to do is catch burglars on the outside of the house before they got in, because if you can imagine a burglar smashing a window, getting into the home, he would only trigger a motion sensor once he is inside.
“Well once they’re in the home they’re going to do whatever they wanted to do, and they’ve already invaded your space.
“What we did is build some voice technology into these light switches which listens for two sounds.
“One of them is a window smashing. If a window smashes in a Wondrwall home, the system will react by sounding the burglar alarm and flashing the internal and external lights, and also send a notification to your phone with a recording of what’s gone on.
“If you imagine a burglar and the window goes in, boomph the whole house goes up all crazy – he’s going to run off.”
The home will also let you know when your kids get home from school, sending you a message to say so. A key fob arms and disarms the security system, but it also acts as a panic button.
If someone is home alone and something happens then they can press the panic button and it’ll alert everyone on an address book.
“Anything is possible, really,” said Burton. “You just have to have the control to do it. We have a full road map of product development.
“There’s so much that we can do, this is just the start.
“It will go on for ages, but we had to get a product to market and we couldn’t keep sitting there developing, and developing.”
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