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Deploy the Drones: A Dramatic Departure from Traditional Detection

The disruption clock is ticking for the electronic security industry, according to one ESX speaker. This serial entrepreneur, who founded his latest company with the firm belief that innovation was due in home security, took the ESX Main Stage to share his belief that drones could swoop in and shake up the industry like nothing else before them.

“We really think that now is a great time to disrupt the security industry; it’s this massive, lucrative, very resilient, very successful industry where there has essentially been no real innovation,” said Alex Pachikov, founder and CEO of Sunflower Labs. “Yes, of course there has been some [innovation] – the cameras are better and the sensors are different – but besides the Ring doorbell, a normal person cannot point to a significant advance that’s happened. We want to think a little bit differently. We think that something like this is not only inevitable, but it’s at our doorsteps.”


Defying Tradition

Pachikov presented his company’s creation, which he believes can bring the next wave of advancements in security, to attendees during the OpenXchange Breakfast. This session started the week with a challenge to think differently about the future of electronic security, and how new technologies might dramatically alter the landscape of offerings to consumers.

One such technology – autonomous security drones – were the focus of Pachikov’s presentation. His company, Sunflower Labs, developed an airborne security solution that doesn’t rely on stationary cameras to get a visual on detected events.

“There’s been so many tremendous advances in robotics, in autonomy, in machine learning. And all of these things have been promises. Everybody keeps talking about them, but there really hasn’t been a time like this when those things come together in a really practical way,” said Pachikov. “We believe that the next revolution in security is going to come from autonomous drones … this is a mature technology, it is a capable technology, it is something that gives unique advantages which are hard to compete with. And of course, its first step would be integration with other systems as an augment and expansion of them.”

Pachikov explained that his solution is more than just video from a drone; instead, a dizzying number of sensors work together with an autonomous drone to feed information to consumers about what’s happening on their property. To accomplish this, the base station – called the hive – connects the drone with a set of garden lights – called sunflowers – each packed with 20 motion sensors and one vibration sensor. This allows the system to detect the approximate size, direction and location of entities on the property. The system then processes the data received from the sensors, leveraging the power of machine learning to triangulate, map and formulate a plain explanation of what is happening on the premises.


Focusing on Simplicity

Pachikov shared the example of the system detecting a dog walking around in the back yard. In this case, a user of the system could open the Sunflower Labs mobile app to see a timestamped description on their feed saying “An animal walked through the back yard.” No alarm would be triggered, but the user would be given the option to view a map of activity based on sensor data or deploy the drone, which would then autonomously investigate the four-legged visitor, sending a live video feed to the user’s app.

“These explanations are the things you actually want to know. You don’t care that the alarm went off; you want to know what happened and whether you should be worried or not,” said Pachikov. “Ultimately, these cute little garden lights can tell you whether it’s a person, animal or car, and whether it’s coming or going from your property. Then the base system analyzes whether it’s truly something unusual and needs to raise an alert.”

According to Pachikov, the system will deploy a drone only if it detects something threatening, or if the user manually activates the drone.

“If the threat level is high enough, then we deploy an autonomous drone. We call it the bee. It flies fully autonomously; it’s a level five autonomous system. There’s no joystick, there’s no controller, you can’t pilot it,” said Pachikov. “It’s integrated with AirMap so we know that the airspace is clear and we’re allowed to fly. It has a 3D property map that it reacts to and collision avoidance sensors. [Using this data,] it goes to the observation point where it’s optimal to view the event. That’s actually very important; it flies toward the outer perimeter of the property looking inward, so you don’t have the same angle as the security cameras.”


Playing Well With Others

Sunflower Labs designed the system to integrate with existing security systems to provide a unique combination of security services to the user. As mentioned earlier, Pachikov described the market-entry trajectory of his product as being an augmentation of existing systems first. To showcase the unique advantages offered by the drone system, he detailed the speed with which the drone can sweep an entire property from an aerial vantage point.

“We can cover a 150 meter radius with one system in under 30 seconds. We can do anywhere within 20 meters within four seconds,” said Pachikov. “Also, our system is built to intelligently identify events. Everybody knows what a tremendous problem false alarms are. You see false alarms just because a single sensor goes off or a single camera saw something; we never rely on that. For any event, we rely on a dozen sensors confirming it in different spectrums – the motion spectrum, the vibration spectrum, etcetera.”

Pachikov reiterated that Sunflower Labs was interested in working with dealers at ESX to explore ways to get the new product onto the market. When asked what the target market was, he explained that the company was primarily targeting high-end residential customers, because they are the most accessible market to his company due to the higher cost of a product still in development. He stated that in the near future, he believes the drone system will be competitive with traditional camera installations.

When asked where he thought companies should be investing as the industry is washed in a wave of IoT-hungry consumers, Pachikov said companies should “think differently” and challenged the audience with one final statement.

“It’s not an evolution at this point; it’s not small steps and small improvements. It’s likely a very radical change, whether it’s drones or not. I believe drones are certainly a part of it, but in just about every aspect, the industry is due for a major shakeup. It’s not necessarily going to come from an outsider – there’s plenty of talent inside established companies – but I think the mentality needs to shift. The mentality needs to be ‘how can the world be radically different because of [security] technology?’”

ESX OpenXchange Breakfast was sponsored by Macguard Security Advisors and The Connection Xchange and endorsed by Security Business Magazine and