A new Halifax startup company that makes a security device for seniors is the Grand Prize winner of the AARP Innovation Champion Awards competition. The award, worth $10,000 (U.S.) also includes a trip to a Washington for American Association of Retired Persons event and advertising in the organization’s magazine.
The winning submission, “Smart Sensors for EXCEPTional Peace of Mind,” is a platform that allows customers to monitor loved ones at home using thermal sensors that determine patterns of activity and movement in real time without intrusive cameras or wearables.
HomeEXCEPT Inc., co-founded by CEO John Robertson and Chief Technology Officer Matt d’Entremont, also comprises three Saint Mary’s MSc Computing & Data Analytics (CDA) alumni.
Recent graduates Akhilesh Kotiya, Mahnoush Mohammadi and Sanjeevi Vicky were hired for their expertise and are responsible for the creation of the technical backend design components and the management of the cloud-based database and dashboard interface. MSc CDA students learn about the current technologies from industry professionals, gaining both knowledge and valuable industry connections.
What is it?
HomeEXCEPT Inc.’s plug-in device, typically placed in the kitchen and bathroom, uses a temperature sensor and artificial intelligence to monitor the safety of a loved one at home. It can detect whether the stove has been left on, if a person is home or moving around, and even if a window is open.
“The system will use machine learning algorithm to process the data and find the normal pattern,” explains Mohammadi, a recent M.Sc. CDA graduate, adding that if the system tracks a human in the kitchen every morning around 7 a.m., and again around noon, it will recognize a 3 a.m. visit as abnormal.
The device connects to the HomeEXCEPT network by cellular technology, feeding information to a dashboard that allows customers to check status, set up notifications. Robertson says the typical customer is an adult child who is worried about their parent(s), but the device can also be used to monitor rental or vacation properties, and will let owners know when guests have arrived or even if someone is smoking in the property. The customer can monitor a website, or the system can be used by a third-party monitoring company.
In Nova Scotia, 25 percent of the population will be over 65 years old by 2030. In the U.S., 10,000 people turn 65 every day, and by 2030 there will be 75 million seniors.
Learning Opportunities at a Startup Company
Robertson was pleased to hire the students he met in the CDA program, all immigrants who have chosen to stay in Nova Scotia despite job offers and opportunities in Ontario. Kotiya, originally from India, was seriously considering a move to Ottawa with his family, but chose to stay in Halifax to work at the startup.
“I believe to work in a start-up one needs an attitude to learn and implement new things quickly,” said Kotiya. “You have to wear different hat each day if not each hour and you need to adapt to changing requirements all the time. I believe the MCDA program helped me to inculcate most of these attributes … the unique mix of computing and data analytics-related courses is a big plus since it prepares you to work for a product development and data scientist position like mine.”
Mohammadi agrees, saying that along with the technical learning, she was able to improve her “soft skills through different roles that I had in different teams,” and that as an international student, the connections she made in the CDA program made helped her networking skills and helped her get her current job.
The company, which started in January 2017, is funded with local investments. The product is made in Lockeport, N.S. at Allendale Electronics.
“The AARP Innovation Champion Awards was created to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary efforts of companies that are aligned with AARP’s core mission – to empower people to choose how they live as they age,” said Anne Marie Kilgallon, AARP’s Vice President of Enterprise Strategy and Innovation in a release.
“We received hundreds of submissions and the decision was not an easy one, but in the end our panel of judges agreed that HomeEXCEPT Inc. best exemplified this mission. We thank everyone who submitted for their impressive work,” she said.
With nearly 38 million members, AARP is the largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization in the United States. The organization is “dedicated to empowering Americans 50 and older to choose how they live as they age.”