Right now, Americans are spending more time than ever in their homes. Since the onset of the coronavirus lockdowns, home improvement projects have skyrocketed. People are doing everything from slapping on a fresh coat of paint to installing swimming pools. One of the most popular, and easiest home improvements that people have been undertaking is updating their home security systems. People want to feel safe in their homes. They want to know that any packages left outside their doors will remain there until they are ready to pick them up. They want to know that their children are safe to be playing in their yards. With advanced security systems, people can now see just how secure their property is. But what if a security system could go beyond the limits of stationary cameras and act intelligently?
That is the exact question Sunflower Labs decided to tackle, how to design an intelligent total home security system. After becoming friends in college, Alex Pachikov and Chris Ehim decided to quit their day jobs and build the best home security system. In 2016 they founded Sunflower Labs and began working on an intelligent sensor and drone-based security system. While systems like Nest and Ring have provided homeowners with smart cameras to monitor their homes, these devices use a stationary camera primarily at an entranceway. Alex and Chris wanted a way to monitor an entire property without having to position 24hr recording cameras everywhere.
After years of fine-tuning, they came up with a 3 part home awareness system. The Bee is the first part of the system, a fully autonomous, 1.5kg drone with a high-resolution camera. The second part, the Sunflowers, looks like solar-powered lawn lights that are spaced within a 20ft radius of each other. The Sunflowers are essentially beefed-up motion sensors. As described on their website, “Most motion-activated lights contain only one or two motion sensors to cover a large area. These sensors typically go off whenever something moves, even if it’s just a branch in the wind. Sunflowers, on the other hand, contain over a dozen sensors that can detect motion and vibration. They share information with one another, essentially comparing notes to reduce false alarms. They learn your property’s daily activities and use information from other smart home devices to make the best alert decisions possible.” The final part of the system is called the Hive, which functions as the drone’s storage and charging center as well as being “the brains of the entire system, processing and analyzing sensor data using state-of-the-art embedded AI computing,” the website explains.
All three components work together to give you complete situational awareness. The Sunflowers differentiate between the movements of a car, person, animal, or just the wind, and send a signal to the Hive. The Hive then instantly reacts to the information and decides if the drone needs to be released to investigate. If released, the drone gives you a full aerial image of the property, flying through the mapping algorithm established by the placements of the Sunflowers. The Hive sends all data to the homeowner through an easy to navigate app. The Bee is able to maintain 15 minutes of continuous flight before it returns and safely lands in the weatherproof Hive. The system learns the property’s schedule to further determine normal from suspicious behavior.
In terms of meeting FAA regulations, Sunflower Labs states, “We will comply with all local, state, and federal regulations applicable to the operation of the Sunflower system in your area. While today’s regulations place limits on autonomous drone flight, our system is designed to work within the regulatory framework while still providing a great deal of utility for homeowners. Over time we expect the regulations to evolve and allow for new and broader uses of our system.” Sunflower Labs also took into account their customer’s privacy when creating this system. The drone’s camera only records necessary images, rather than 24hr surveillance. The images that are recorded by the Bee are geofenced by the Sunflowers, so your neighbors do not need to worry if their privacy is being infringed upon. Also, all data is transmitted through a secure link between the Hive and the owner, so only the owner sees what is happening on their property.
Sunflower Labs hopes to start shipping out systems within the next few months now that all operational issues have been resolved. The hardest of which Alex said was perfecting the drone’s landing. One of their early investors, Phil Libin from General Catalyst, can’t wait for that day to come. “Home security is one of those industries where products haven’t been living up to their promise,” Libin said. “The current systems for monitoring your whole property do not enhance your enjoyment of your home as much as they make you paranoid. By tying together really smart sensors, drones, and artificial intelligence you can have a house that looks out for itself and gives you more awareness as to what’s going on.”
Dr. Hans C. Mumm