Catastrophic forest fires raging in Australia, California and other regions have dominated the news over the past year. In the U.S., more than 170,000 homes go up in flames due to burning stoves, ovens and other cooking equipment. Each year, more than 500 people perish in house fires along with their pets, thousands are injured and tens of thousands are displaced from their homes.
Making families and pets safe has been the recent focus of Matt Crowley, CEO of Vesper, a leading provider of intelligent sensors. Crowley has partnered with LifeDoor, a leading producer of lifesaving fire safety devices and announced that Vesper’s ZeroPower Listening™ microphones will be embedded in the LifeDoor products to bring extended battery life and durability. Grit Daily got a sneak peek of the Vesper-LifeDoor new, combined products ahead of CES 2020.
Grit Daily: Explain why this industry is ready or rather, needs this type of technology (intelligent sensors).
Matt Crowley: Currently, the smart home industry focuses primarily on modernizing common everyday experiences, making them more convenient than ever before.
While LifeDoor can be used in that capacity, the main use case for this product is executing a proven safety enhancement in the home. We wanted to bring intelligent sensors to the home to bring safety to meet 21st century needs. There is presently little or no middle ground between everyday smoke detectors, which provide notification only, and sprinkler systems which come with a high cost, carry various risks and are seldom used in residential homes. LifeDoor provides a cost-effective solution that goes above and beyond these antiquated methods of residential fire safety. House fires are increasing in frequency and spread 600% faster today as compared to 40 years ago.
Ten years of research by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Firefighters Safety Research Institute shows that fires are spreading faster and that a closed door makes a 900-degree difference. Despite this information, many people opt to sleep with their doors open for access to their children, pets, etc. LifeDoor offers a high-tech solution for peace of mind.
GD: Why did you choose to partner with LifeDoor? What about it makes them the perfect candidate for this technology and infrastructure?
MC: Partnering with LifeDoor was an easy decision, as we saw a unique opportunity to use our intelligent microphones in a way that we had not previously done before. Saving lives, as a new application for Vesper, immediately captured our attention. The synergistic combination of Vesper-LifeDoor launches an entirely new class of smart home products which use audio event detection in battery-powered devices to save lives.
GD: Explain the smart-sensing technology, how does it work? How is it able to detect the smoke or the fire? Does it know if someone is in the room? Walk us through it so we can explain it to someone else.
MC: Vesper’s proprietary ZeroPower Listening technology is embedded in the LifeDoor device. LifeDoor’s smart sensing technology automatically closes a home’s interior doors in response to the sound of a fire alarm to prevent the fire from spreading.
A secondary response is illuminating the room and broadcasting an additional alarm to alert sleeping occupants. The door is then easily reopened when it is safe to do so. Our sensors are 100% audio-based and designed to detect the sound of smoke detector alarms.
The algorithm filters out all other noise and has been trained to detect the distinct sound of a T3 detector, the smoke alarm UL-standard sound since 1997. If no smoke detector is going off, the device returns to sleep mode.
GD: Could this potentially put someone (unintentionally or accidentally) in harm’s way by locking them in an environment with the very harm it’s trying to protect them from in an example of technology turning against its maker?
MC: No. LifeDoor simply closes the door – it does not lock or attach to the knob in any way. Once closed by LifeDoor, interior doors can be easily reopened using less than 50% of the international build code force requirement for door movement. The device is also self-resetting after each use.
GD: What gave rise to Vesper’s technology and partnership with LifeDoor?
MC: Vesper’s proprietary piezoelectric MEMS technology originated at the University of Michigan. Vesper CTO and founder, Bobby Littrell, developed Vesper’s piezoelectric-acoustic MEMS transducer design based on his PhD thesis at the university.
The LifeDoor partnership came about organically. LifeDoor purchased some Vesper parts on their own initiative through an electronic component distributor in late 2018, and then both companies met for the first time at CES 2019. At that point, they already had a prototype to demonstrate. The partnership then grew from there.
GD: Can you use the California wildfires as a case study for this? How would you present this in a pitch utilizing the CA Wildfires?
MC: Blazing wildfires eventually become structure fires as they continue to spread, causing catastrophic damage to residences, commercial and industrial buildings, etc. LifeDoor helps significantly reduce damage in a structure fire, providing protection from smoke where it is installed.
In a widespread disaster like the California wildfires, resulting in mass loss of structures, homes in the buffer zone of such fires could experience significant smoke damage, creating a major secondary loss. Having LifeDoor installed would reduce various rooms’ exposure which could also reduce losses and costs for structures near the fire.
GD: Let’s talk about privacy and the data being collected, stored, analyzed, etc. Walk us through this, keeping in mind the CCPA (in effect Jan 1) and GDPR.
MC: We don’t actually collect any data. The LD1 is a stand-alone device with no outside connectivity.
GD: Do you have other case studies or success stories from the prototype? When can consumers expect to see this?
MC: Our live-fire testing from the prototype deployment proved that LifeDoor limits the spread of smoke and heat, even in a suboptimal setting such as having a door partially propped open or having a warped door. Fortunately, none of our early customers have experienced a catastrophic housefire to date.
One user did have a small kitchen fire caused by burnt food, which was substantial enough to activate the smoke detector to trigger the closing of her daughter’s bedroom door. The incident was resolved by the homeowner with no damage, but LifeDoor kept the smell and smoke out of the girl’s bedroom.
LifeDoor is available for consumers now.
This article was co-authored by Andrew Rossow and Dr. Loralyn Mears of Grit Daily.