My Startup: Wondrwall, Manchester
As part of our weekly My Startup feature, we look at some of the best startups from entrepreneurs in the North of England. This week, it's Wondrwall, an advanced home automation system.
The Manchester business has created a product that changes the way you interact with your home. It automatically controls your heating, lighting, security and safety with voice control, and cleverly adapts its home supervision by understanding how you live and behave.
Founder: Daniel Burton
Founded: October 2015, launched February 2018
Unlike other smart home technology, Wondrwall intelligently learns from your behaviour. If you leave the house without turning a light off, Wondrwall will turn it off for you. Then at the end of each month, you can see a report detailing everything Wondrwall has saved you.
Powered by Amazon's Alexa, you can use either voice commands or the smartphone app to instruct the technology to carry out tasks like playing a certain song or turning the heating on.
We spoke to Daniel to find out more about Wondrwall...
Why did you start Wondrwall?
About five years ago, I was looking at smart home technology and thought to myself, this really is not smart at all. All it did was allow you to control your home from your phone. To me, that was like using a remote control with your TV and calling it a smart TV. What I wanted to do was make the home intelligent and able to control itself.
Tell us more about the tech behind the product?
To make a home intelligent, you need to understand how that home is being used and how it is performing. We used a human being as the model for how it works. If you want to learn how to ride a bike, you use your senses and process input with your brain. We wanted to apply the same philosophy to the home. However, one thing we did not want to do was put lots of plastic sensors all over the home so we looked at what was already available and decided to use the light switch.
The core of the Wondrwall system is our advanced light switch with 13 different sensors covering motion, temperature, luminosity, humidity, power with speakers and microphone and three different wireless technologies. If you can imagine replacing all the light switches in the home, you have 100 to 150 sensors around the home. We put this together with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to create a really good understanding of how the home is used and the environmental impact. This allowed us to do some really intelligent things.
When you leave your home, Wondrwall will automatically turn off any lights you might have left on. It does the same thing as you come home but also adjusts in real time so if you are delayed coming home, it will pause the heating until you are back on track. The system is very intelligent and proactive about saving energy.
What's been the hardest thing about getting Wondrwall off the ground?
Doing a hardware product is really tough. The amount of development effort required was more than anticipated at the beginning. There are four years of hardware and software development in every one of our switches. The best things in life are worth waiting for though.
Why should more people be using Wondrwall?
The Wondrwall system keeps homeowners safe, secure, comfortable, protects them and their belongings, and above all reduce energy consumption and save them money. Unlike other systems that rely on the homeowner to do something, the Wondrwall system does all this automatically for you, without your input.
You will have seen the reports recently that smart meters are not providing the energy savings that were originally expected. It's the problem with all smart technology. If you leave the home and have left the lights on, you need to remember to go to your app and check and then turn off the lights. What should happen is that the system should turn those lights off for you. That's Wondrwall.
With motion sensors in every light switch, the Wondrwall system is a very advanced home security system. I have been burgled once and I wanted to take the system a step further so it could prevent the burglars from getting into the home in the first place. We built voice technology to listen for the sound of a window being smashed as well as turning lights on and off to simulate occupancy.
Where are you at right now?
Doing really well as it happens. We have some key partnerships. We are a partner of Amazon and were one of the first to build Amazon Alexa in every one of our switches - effectively homeowners can talk to their homes. We are also partnered with Sonos to provide high-quality sound and music throughout the home.
We've been shipping in volume for a couple of months now and are installed in sites with major house builders across the UK. We have started selling in France, Germany and the Benelux as well.
What are your aims for the next year?
Grow the business massively. In addition, we will be launching our home insurance business. All homeowners installing the home automation product will automatically get free building and contents insurance. This will be the first home insurance product that is tightly integrated with a home automation system allowing us to provide tailored policies and a better service.
We will know exactly what is happening in the home so we can start processing a claim before the homeowner even calls us. It will change the way home insurance happens.
How much will it cost customers?
One of our goals was to make home automation something that could be installed in all homes. The price is similar to a standard burglar alarm for a three bedroom home. It will cost £1300 to control heating, lighting, security, safety, music and add voice control throughout the home.
From a purely financial perspective, we estimate that the system will reduce energy consumption by 30% through the intelligent control of heating and lighting meaning that the cost of Wondrwall is covered in three to four years. You will also have one of the coolest homes around with the very latest technology and who can put a price on that?
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