Wireless Power in the Smart home with Steve Chazin from Alarm.com

29 May 2019

Steve Chazin is the VP of Products at Alarm.com. Steve and I discuss some of the challenges with home security and the smart home, and how wireless power might be able to help.

This episode was recorded on Mar 5, 2019


Yuval Boger (CMO, Wi-Charge, @TheChargeGuy): Hello, Steve. Thanks for joining me today.

Steve Chazin (Vice President of Products, Alarm.com): Hi, Yuval. Thank you.

Yuval: So who are you and what do you do?

Steve: My name is Steve Chazin. I’m vice president of products for Alarm.com. I joined about a year ago, to help look at the future, peer around corners and try to figure out the next generation of technologies that Alarm.com should be investing in. And I’m delighted to be able to speak to you today.

Yuval: The pleasure is mine. And what does Alarm.com do?

Steve: Alarm.com is a leading home security provider. We provide a platform for 8,000 independent security dealers to deliver their security products to the market. Millions of people rely on Alarm.com’s technology to monitor and control their homes. And if you kind of think about us, I like to call us the operating system for the smart home. We started with security, which is a traditional use case to know that your system is armed. But we’ve evolved to deal with home automation and all the devices in your home that would connect to your security system. And one of the things that’s unique about Alarm.com is unlike a lot of the apps where you have different solutions for different segments, Alarm.com has a single solution that integrates all of them, from security to automation to energy to video to wellness.

Yuval: So, Alarm.com, would they be my security provider or would I call someone that then in turn uses the Alarm.com platform?

Steve: Yeah, it’s the second one. Alarm.com doesn’t sell directly to consumers. We sell through a network of dealers as I mentioned, and they then sell to the end-user. Some of them showcase our brand. If you look at maybe the app you have for your security system, you might see a “Powered by Alarm.com” moniker on the bottom. Some put their own brand on it. One of our largest partners is ADT. So they go to market with their brand and you wouldn’t even know Alarm.com was a technology platform providing that solution.

Yuval: I have a security system in my home, probably like most other people, and fortunately I don’t use it much. I mean, I arm it when I leave home and I disarm it when I come back but it’s a fairly safe neighborhood. And I still pay the security company hundreds of dollars a year. So is there anything that a security company, a security platform could do for me beyond just alerting me if someone’s trying to enter my house?

Steve: Yes, thanks for bringing that up. So, about 19 years ago, Alarm.com got started by innovating in that existing old fashioned security system. So, in the past, you needed a phone line pulled specifically for your security panel, so if there was an intrusion detected, it would pick up the phone behind the scenes and call a monitoring service and say, “Hey, something bad’s going on here.” But it was very easy to break those systems. You could rip them off the wall or you could simply cut the phone line.

Steve: Alarm.com was the first company to put a cell radio in those panels. So, now we had a 24/7 connection to the home and you could look at signals that were coming out of the home all the time, not just for the use case you described: some bad guy breaking in when you’re not home.

Steve: And over time, we’ve learned what makes for sort of a common set of signals coming from the home. And we have analytics that runs in our cloud all the time to look for things that may be out of the ordinary. And so even if your alarm is not armed, which is in most cases, it’s not armed, it can still lookout for things that are unexpected. And right now for instance, if it learns your patterns – it takes about a month to learn your patterns – and a window opened at an odd hour, that could be a bad guy opening the window while you’re home and your system is unarmed, you would get a notification that says, that’s odd. That window usually doesn’t open at this time. Or if you’re watching over some elderly parents living on their own, you might notice the front door opened at an odd hour. Again, the system didn’t have to be armed, but that doesn’t look right. So we’ll push a notification to their caregivers and say, “Hey, you might want to look in on Mom.”

Steve: So, I think that is very unique. Most systems are meant to either manage yourself with your own app, to sort of self-monitor or are only in the intrusion detection use case, when something bad already happened.

Yuval: And I think you guys also offer some form of cameras today, right? So it’s beyond the sensors. I could actually remotely look at my property when I’m on vacation, for instance. Right?

Steve: That’s right. So I like to say that Alarm.com makes sense of sensors. So, we look at all the data coming from all these different sensors, motion sensors, door sensors, even cameras are a big sensor. And now we run an analytic stack on top of the cameras to figure out what is the camera seeing.

Steve:  We can detect now whether your camera sees a person, an animal, a vehicle, and then you can automate the response for those behaviors. If for instance, you set up your Alarm.com system to notify you when a vehicle is in your driveway at any hour it could then push you a text message that says, “Hey, you might have a FedEx package waiting for you,” which will allow you to then potentially even open the garage door, let the package be delivered that way.

Steve: Or as you point out, you could peek in at any time and look at the video and just see what’s going on live. But kind of if you lean into the future a little bit, watching your own video camera live isn’t a very good use of your time. And we see the analytics that our systems provide doing that for you, kind of thinking of it as a technological force multiplier so you don’t have to keep an eye on your home all the time. We’ll do that for you.

Yuval: This morning about 7:00 AM, this is a true story. I get a call from my alarm company and you know, everyone’s home and everything is fine. And they said, “Well, you know, your battery on the glass detector at zone 26 may be low and it’s not disarming.” And that is a lot of data without a lot of information because I have no idea where zone 26 is. I guess I could start going through all the zones in my home and tried to figure that out. But is this low battery use case, am I the only one in the US that had it this morning or is that a common thing?

Steve: I’m not sure how common it is, but it’s definitely an issue. When a professional comes and installs your system, they could name those zones whatever they want because they’re the ones going to handle most of the tech calls from the system. If that battery says, “Hey, I’m low,” it’s gonna push a notification to that provider and that provider should be able to say, “Hey, Yuval, your kitchen glass break detector needs a new battery. Do you want me to come out and do it or do you want to do it?”

Yuval: Someone told me that the installers, the number one reason they get calls is low battery and the number two reason is a sensor not working, which usually translates to no battery. So these battery issues seem to be a pretty common problem if that’s correct.

Steve: Yeah, it’s fairly common. As I mentioned, these are all devices that have to connect to a network. They have to check that they can still receive a signal and WiFi devices are notoriously energy consumers because they’re always looking for that signal, especially as the WiFi network comes and goes, or are they try to roam between a few different hubs. So yeah, batteries are an issue. And if people could stop worrying about their batteries and have this peace of mind that the system, once it’s installed, will continue to work forever, I think you’d have more people, lean back in their chairs and have one less thing to be concerned about.

Yuval: And if the battery didn’t need to be replaced, so as an end-user I would benefit, but I think the installer would also benefit. Right? They don’t have to send a truck and spend a couple of hours just to replace the battery for someone.

Steve: Yeah, that’s right. One of the main components of Alarm.com’s system is the tools we provide our dealers, so they can remotely access a customer’s account and see what’s happening with the devices. And they can get small pieces of information like the battery state of a device or the signal of a WiFi router nearby or maybe even the name of the access point.

Steve: So if there was a way that batteries, as a challenge could be removed, the consumer would benefit, they’d have that peace of mind that their system works as advertised and as always, and the installer would benefit because they’d save money and at the end of the day have a better, more reliable experience for their consumer, who would probably stick around a little longer.

Yuval: Now, Wi-Charge makes wireless power, wireless charging systems, as you know, so obviously we can create a situation where batteries never need to be replaced, but beyond this battery that lasts a lifetime, what else could you do if you had power delivered wirelessly?

Steve: That’s a great question, Yuval. I think one of the reasons I love working at Alarm.com is, you know, we’ve been a leader for many years, and one of my great joys is the ability to kind of appear around corners and figure out what’s coming down the technological road map. And then I think it’s our job, is to help our customers and our dealers embrace technology that can improve their lives.

Steve: And so we discovered the wireless charging capability that Wi-Charge has, sort of our eyes lit up around all the different things that could be made possible in a world where power is delivered wirelessly and people don’t have to worry about batteries, replacing them or finding them or worrying about them. And so, you know, there’s a couple of different categories. We mentioned one briefly, and that is the camera.

Steve: Other categories are, let’s call them asset trackers. Devices you can put on things or maybe even animals or people that could track their location all the time, when they’re home, when they’re not home. So, hey, you misplaced something. You can find it in your home or your dog is missing. You could find them in the world.

Steve: Those devices tend to be complex because when they’re home, they talk to a local network in the home, WiFi or Bluetooth, when they’re out, they try to talk to GPS, all of which consume power. And so those devices haven’t been practical for the world. So, imagine a future where somehow when they’re home, they’re being charged wirelessly. So, they always have a topped up battery. Then when they leave or the pet escapes, that could communicate reliably back to a service and you can find them.

Steve: Those are just two small areas where we think if you had wireless power, you could unlock a bunch of use cases that heretofore but hard to address.

Yuval: From the installer’s standpoint: we spoke about the maintenance issue of replacing batteries, but do we see also a benefit during the installation or even during the sales process? I mean, for instance, if you do have a video camera and it is wired, maybe the homeowner just doesn’t want cables running all over the place or maybe it’s a rental or maybe even if everything’s fine, it just takes more time to run these cables. Do you see it the same way?

Steve: Yeah, it’s interesting. I bought a home. We moved from California to Virginia recently and the owner before me had wired a few of the bedrooms with AC outlets about eye level in some of the bedrooms, intending for a television go there, which is great because if I ever bought a television, I can have an electrical outlet right behind it and plug it in.

Steve: Unfortunately, the one room I call my office, where I want to put a TV on the wall, does not have it. And so it’s going to take me a bunch of effort or hiring an electrician just to run an electrical outlet to that wall for a flat television, which would obviously look much better on the wall then having a cord hanging down. That’s a problem we’re not going to solve with wireless power in the near future, but it’s an indicator of the challenge people have when they look at a home and want to do what they want to do.

Steve: And then you might have other benefits you don’t even think about. We all walk around with smartphones and they’re notoriously running out of charge. And at least in my home, I’ve got wires plugged into walls for just the opportunity to go find a convenient cable for a smartphone. So when somebody comes over, they see that AC adapter and a smartphone charger hanging off the wall. And they just ask me politely, “Hey, can I borrow this while I’m here?” Because who doesn’t want to top up their battery when they’re in someone’s home.

Steve: I imagine a future where wireless power would be everywhere and there’ll be a placemat or some kind of charging station that itself is being back powered wirelessly. And they just drop their phone on it when they come in. It’ll be a much more convenient experience for people. And I actually think of installers offering services like that after they’ve put in the cameras and put in the motion detectors and other things that need power.

Yuval: So, If we just summarize, what I heard is that for the installer, wireless power could be beneficial during the installation process. Meaning, route fewer wires or simpler installation. It could be helpful in delivering more functionality. So, maybe it’s a door lock with a video camera on it, or maybe it’s a sensor that can report more often, now that it doesn’t have to worry about the battery depleting so quickly or a thermostat that you can place anywhere you want.

Yuval: And then on the third side, there are the maintenance issues. So if you don’t have to replace batteries, that also saves time. So sounds like a triple play. I could benefit in the installation and the functionality and also in the maintenance.

Steve: It would be a great world when all of this is available everywhere, for sure.

Yuval: If you were controlling the Wi-Charge work plan for the next 18 months and I know it’s a difficult task anyway. What would you have us work on? What would you have us do?

Steve: Yeah, I think what you just described making the installation of devices more convenient and reliable. Because you then have more people excited about the opportunity that there’s some innovation in the space, that there’s an opportunity for them to do something maybe their spouse hasn’t allowed them to do before, because it would’ve looked ugly. And so I think you should promote the availability of the solution.

Steve: I guarantee you most people, when you talk to them about this for the first time, think it’s science fiction that you could charge something wirelessly. Then their brain necessarily goes to, well, is that safe? So you need to address that issue, and I think you’ve already done that with some of the certifications you’ve received. But then you just need one simple problem to solve that people relate to. And so they go, “Ah, I want that,” even if it’s secondary to the core use case that you see in mind.

Steve: And again, the concept of having a Qi charger that’s powered all the time and not plugged into the wall that you can just drop your smartphones on, I think would capture people’s imagination. And then when they ask you how do they do it or how does this home have this capability, but my home doesn’t, then they’ll ask the next step, well, who can provide this for me? And then that would hopefully lead them to someone like us, who have a network of installers who can set that up for them.

Yuval: And by the way, as we come closer to finishing our session, we’ve been speaking about homes, but this could very well be applicable to businesses as well, right? You guys are also active in a commercial setting.

Steve :
Yeah, that’s right. One of our fastest-growing segments is our commercial offering. A lot of that is because the owner of those buildings wants the people who work there or the customers who shop there to have a great experience, and they also want to keep it safe and secure when there’s nobody there. And so devices in those locations could also benefit from having wireless power. The most obvious is a coffee shop where they’ve got dozens of people with devices that need power and very few power outlets to provide that.

Steve: I recall a snowstorm that happened in New Hampshire maybe eight years ago where people would go to a coffee shop to get what little power they could get. And they were so gracious. People were bringing power strips with them and asking for an extra plugin somebody’s strip and they were daisy-chaining these all through the restaurants, just so people could do their work.

Steve: And it was interesting is no one had anywhere to go because everything was closed. People were very polite to each other, but it made it very obvious to me at that point in time that, without power, people can’t do what they want to do. And so, if you think about a commercial use case where they don’t have to worry about reaching for their power adapter, they don’t have to plug something in a wall somewhere, feel guilty that they’re hogging that port, they might stay longer in that establishment. They might have higher, better feelings about the people who provided that for them.

Steve: And then it might allow that commercial entity to take a leadership position saying, hey, you know, just like years ago, some shops had WiFi and you could do your work there if they had, you know, wireless Internet. Now, it seems like a common occurrence effect. It’s almost shocking when you go to a place that doesn’t have free WiFi for its patrons. You might imagine a future where wirelessly charging your smart devices is a commonplace as WiFi is today and you would expect that from one of the places that you shop or eat or visit.

Yuval: Got it. So, at Wi-Charge, we have very much enjoyed and hoping to continue to enjoy working with you and Alarm.com and understanding how you see the future of home security and home automation. But how can other people learn more about the work that you’re doing?

Steve: Yeah, so, the best place to go to is Alarm.com. Our name and our website are the same. And there you’ll find a list of all the different products that work with our ecosystem on the home page. And then if you’re interested in finding more about what this might mean for your home, there’s a very simple form to fill out that just asks for your location and then helps us connect you with an authorized installer who can help you with acquiring the Alarm.com system.

Yuval:  And to get a peek of the future, I think we also put together, we did the joint CES demo and we put a couple of short videos showing both the integration with the Alarm.com system and with a Schlage smart lock and just giving a glimpse of what the future could hold, hopefully in the near future could hold, with wireless power in the smart home. So Steve, thanks very much for joining me today.

Steve: Thank you, Yuval.

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