Startup: World's First WiFi Intrusion Sensor

By Brian Rhodes, Published Mar 18, 2014, 12:00am EDT

Intrusion motion sensors have remained relatively static for years, but one startup wants to make them go IP and intelligent.

Zwobbx is raising money to deliver on a sensor that not only detects motion, but also flashlights, temperature swings, and smoke, but also triggers lights or even sprinkler systems to turn on.

Will this startup succeed? Will they render existing motion sensors obsolete?  We look closer at the device in this note.

Stand Alone

The key feature Zwobbx builds on is that it operates autonomously, with its own battery power supply, but communicates with other home automation systems via Zigbee or pushes notifications via wifi connected cloud servers.

Unlike traditional motion sensors, the device needs no panel to operate. As a result, it can be hung anywhere it has wifi access and still operate, including outdoors and remote locations.

Overview

The effort's indiegogo page includes this short concept video:

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Essentially the sensors form a coverage area the company coins a "protective shield" that continually monitors the environment against intrusion or sharp environmental changes that signal trouble. If detected, the sensor can communicate with other systems (home automation) to turn on lights or even watering systems, or dial out to alarm monitoring companies, law enforcement, or home owners via mobile app.

Vague Details

Despite the firm workflow claims, much of the final design of the sensor is still being decided, including:

  • PIR Sensor Range: The biggest gap comes in determining just how far, and with what accuracy, the PIR sensor performs. Given the PIRs are notorious sources of false alarms, the fine details here are no small matter. The overall performance, range, and configurability of this sensor is the core of Zwobbx's value, and if executed poorly the idea could just be expensive junk.
  • Integrateability: The value in Zwobbx is that it stands alone, but that it can be incorporated into other systems. Early claims of Zigbee interoperability are fine, but the North American market increasingly prefers Z-Wave. Where does this leave the device working with other networks? The company has yet to decide one way or the other.
  • Battery Life: The device's early design calls for a double AA battery power source that it claims will offer 6 months of service.  This alone means that power management will be a chore for many users who will need to change batteries at least twice every year - a frequency that might be considered excessive where more than once device is installed.
  • App Design: Another key feature still in early development is the remote app. Not only are matters of 'push notifications' undefined, but the overall layout and GUI is not even in beta.  For this product to succeed, it will need to be easily navigable by the DIY crowd, since the primary configuration portal will be app, not web, based.

Not Turn-Key

Zwobbx's users will find the device is not a simple 'set it and forget it' type of sensor. In order to be useful, it needs to be properly configured for the environment (ie: given alarm setpoints) and integrated with other systems to be useful. Configuring Zwobbx is likely accomplished through the app, and the relative ease or difficulty of joining the unit with household systems is likely to be involved and require some technical aptitude to pull off.

At the current time, Zwobbx's team is focused on hardware development, and the software team is provisional with much to accomplish.

Cost

Another key factor: Zwobbx is relatively expensive at a pre-release price of ~$130 per sensor. Depending on the range of the sensor, anywhere from two to four sensors will be required to cover even a modest apartment or flat. While a total system cost of less than $500 is a steal compared to 'traditional' hard wired alarm systems, the same area could be covered for less total cost by another DIY system like Scout [link no longer available].

But... It Is Different 

However, the idea of making the sensor smarter is compelling, and maybe a design trend to watch. Given the buzziness of 'the internet of things' concept coupled with advances in more powerful, cheaper processing at the edge, products like Zwobbx could signal the end of the traditional hard-wired, centrally monitored security system.

Dead Before It Lives?

The biggest alarm may be found in that the effort only has raised ~$1300 of it's $100k goal after ~20 days.  This warning sign can mean Zwobbx is a half-baked idea, the design is fraught with flaws, the team is ill-suited for development, or the device just is not marketable in a segment awash with friendlier, less-obtuse DIY offerings.

In any case, we cannot ignore the pitiful showing this campaign has raised. While we are bullish on the idea, the execution is another matter entirely, and it appears Zwobbx is not likely to succeed in current form.

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