When we went checked out Linksys’ motion-sensing Wi-Fi feature last month, we were more impressed with the potential of the technology than its actual capabilities at launch. But at CES 2020 the company gave us a glimpse of Linksys Aware’s future, and we’re now far more optimistic about the technology’s potential to be a genuine game-changer for the smart home.
Linksys Aware, for those who haven’t delved into our excellent review, is a new feature/service introduced as a software update for the company’s Velop tri-band AC2200 routers. It leverages the wireless signals bouncing around every corner of your home that make up your Wi-Fi network as a sort of intricate web of laser tripwires—except there’s no lasers involved, and it’s completely invisible to everyone in your home.
The nodes that create your wireless mesh network are constantly beaming radio waves back and forth between each other, and by detecting when the intensity of those signals varies over time, such as when a person or an animal moving through a space temporarily obstructs the radio waves, motion can be detected and reported.
The fact that it simply worked was the most impressive part of Linksys Aware, but in its current form the feature can really only provide details of when motion is detected in your home, within your wifi network: not where it happened, or what caused the disturbance. That’s useful for knowing when there’s a potential intruder in your house when you’re away, but other home security and surveillance solutions provide far more details so you can know if you need to call the cops, or scold the dog for jumping up on the couch. Those limited capabilities made it hard to recommend Linksys Aware’s $US2.99 ($4)/month or $US24.99 ($36)/year subscription fee.
It turns out motion detection was just the tip of the iceberg for Linksys Aware. Working with Origin Wireless, the company responsible for developing the AI-powered algorithms that are able to extrapolate movements from interruptions in wireless signals, Linksys will be dramatically increasing the capabilities of Linksys Aware moving into 2020 and 2021. While the feature currently only works with the company’s tri-band mesh networking hardware, eventually it will be able to take advantage of the cross-talk between your networking hardware and all the internet-connected IoT devices in a home, including smart bulbs, smart speakers, and smart appliances—expanding the accuracy of Linksys Aware and what it will be able to report to a user.
Eventually Linksys Aware will be able to pinpoint where exactly movement was detected in a home, alerting users with more details so they can quickly investigate a potential problem. Though the alerts and data won’t go up to the cloud and instead be handled locally—slightly reducing privacy concerns.
Which is good because there’s even more potential once Linksys releases its new Wellness Pods accessories later in 2020. When using existing routers and IoT devices, the software powering Linksys Aware makes its measurements of the wireless network about 30 times every second, without affecting network traffic, and without requiring software or hardware updates for existing Wi-Fi-connected devices. But with the Wellness Pods added to a network, Linksys Aware ups its sampling rate to 1,500 times every second. That provides a much greater degree of detail and accuracy which allows Linksys Aware to then detect incredibly subtle movements like the subtle shifts of someone while they sleep, and even a person’s breathing rate.
Linksys is positioning the Wellness Pods as being a useful tool for remotely monitoring the health and wellness of a loved one, like an ageing parent, from thousands of miles away. The greater level of detail will allow Linksys Aware to even recognise three different types of sudden falls, whether caused by a slip or a medical emergency, by detecting the quick movements and then sudden stop when a person hits the floor. It sounds a little morbid, but Linksys Aware could be an incredibly affordable way to monitor someone’s health and wellness 24 hours a day, without requiring them to remember to wear a special monitor or motion detector. As long as there’s a wifi network in their home and power, they’ll be monitored.
There’s still a lot of questions to be answered about the Wellness Pods and Linksys Aware’s new skills. Linksys hasn’t revealed when the hardware or software upgrades will be released, how much it will cost, if there will be a price increase for the service subscription, or even how the new, and presumably more advanced, interface will work. At CES 2020 the company and Origin Wireless demonstrated a setup where when a simulated fall was detected, Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant came to life, assuring the person that help was being notified, and then contacting pre-determined emergency contacts. Setting all of that up isn’t something Linksys current mobile app is capable of, and we’re curious how the company will keep the feature user-friendly.
But, after seeing where Linksys Aware is going, we’re convinced it’s going to be a killer feature for the company, and a compelling reason to upgrade away from its competitors.