Launching Useful Sensors!

Person Sensor from Useful Sensors

For years I’ve wanted to be able to look at a light switch, say “On”, and have the lights switch on. This kind of interface sounds simple, so why doesn’t it exist? It turns out building one requires solving a lot of tough research and engineering challenges, and even more daunting, coming up with a whole new business model for smart devices. Despite these obstacles, I’m so excited about the possibilities that I’ve founded a new startup, Useful Sensors, together with a wonderful team and great investors!

We’ve been operating in stealth for the last few months, but now we’ve launched our first product, a Person Sensor that is available on SparkFun for $10. This is a small hardware module that detects nearby faces, and returns information about how many there are, where they are relative to the device, and performs facial recognition. It connects over I2C, and so is easy to integrate with almost any microcontroller, but is also designed with privacy built in. If you’ve followed my work on ML sensors, this is our attempt to come up with the first commercial application of this approach to system design.

We’ve started to see interest from some TV and laptop companies, especially around our upcoming hand gesture recognition, so if you are in the consumer electronics world, or have other applications in mind, I would love to hear from you!

Now we’re public, you can expect to see more posts here in the future going into more detail, but for now I’ll leave you with some articles from a couple of journalists who have a lot of experience in this area. I thought they both had very sharp and insightful questions about what we’re doing, and had me thinking hard, so I hope you enjoy their perspectives too:

Pete Warden’s Startup puts AI in the Sensor, by Sally Ward-Foxton

Former Googler creates TinyML Startup, by Stacey Higginbotham

4 responses

  1. Hi Pete,
    Is there any combo circuit out there where we can readily run machine learning and computer schemes like yolo and ssd? One of my sibling is visually impaired i want to make a system which is capable of assessing the nearby objects identify them including OCR as well as people in the vicinity and their expressions as well as topography like stairs rough surface etc. Is this the candidate or this ?

    • Luckily there are some good solutions out there that you can program yourself. I’d highly recommend checking out Edge Impulse’s platform, they have some very powerful tools like FOMO.

  2. This is very clever and I have several uses for it – congratulations!

    Could the hardware be reprogrammed (by you, not the user) as a new (“Nimrod”?) sensor which recognises a cat carrying prey (mice, birds, etc.)? Do you know of a suitable generic (any cat) database to train it? I have not found one.

    Our cats regularly bring live (or dead) creatures indoors, and I’m sure that cat flaps that prevented this would sell very well. My wife is a dab hand at catching mice and birds without further hurting them but she would really rather not have to. (I tell her that her proper role when she sees a mouse is to jump on a chair and scream, but she tells me that my view of woman’s role in such cases is Victorian, if not Neanderthal.)

    There are a number of articles describing such systems trained using pictures of the particular cats to be discouraged, but I do not really want to start such a project myself as I am already busier than I would like.

  3. Very neat!

    I’ve often wondered whether something like this could be made to read digit sequences from seven segment LED/LCD displays. That could provide a mechanism for monitoring legacy devices, a kind of universal Useful Sensor.

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