Less than a year and a half after announcing itself to the world, Cognitive Systems Corp. – a Waterloo startup stacked with wireless veterans – has started shipping its first product: a home protection system that reads the wireless signals in your house to detect unexpected movement.

The system, called Aura, made a splash at its unveiling at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this year, where Cognitive began taking pre-orders at US$399. It consists of two pieces of hardware – a hub and a sensor – which plug into the wall and can be set up within 10 minutes. The system then monitors for movement by detecting disturbances in the unseen wireless signals within the home, and sends a notification to your smartphone when it detects anything unusual.

As such, Aura can extend home monitoring beyond where security cameras typically reach, since homeowners are often reluctant to place cameras in bathrooms or bedrooms, said Hugh Hind, CEO and co-founder of Cognitive. It’s also less invasive than cameras, making it an option for rental-property managers or Airbnb hosts who want to monitor for unusual movement in their spaces without invading the privacy of tenants or guests, or for families of vulnerable seniors living alone.

The units that began shipping today will go mainly to early adopters who pre-bought them after seeing Aura at CES or hearing about it in media reports that followed. So far, the Aura website is the sole sales channel for the device, though that is likely to change once Cognitive gathers some feedback from initial customers.

“As a startup company, we want to basically interact with the initial customers quite closely and make sure that they’re delighted by the product,” Hind said in an interview at the Quantum Valley Investments building, where Cognitive is housed along with other companies incubated with backing from BlackBerry co-founders Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin.

Hind spent 12 years as VP of Wireless Technologies at BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion) and co-designed the device’s vaunted cryptography system and encryption protocols. He has a PhD in mathematics from Cambridge and a master’s in electrical engineering from the University of Waterloo, where he was an assistant professor before joining RIM.

His Cognitive co-founders also have deep expertise. Oleksiy Kravets, the Chief Technology Officer and VP of Product Development, led the Advanced Radio Systems group at BlackBerry, which developed all-new radio frequency integrated circuits (RFICs), and was behind the radio subsystem that underpinned the company’s most successful devices. Taj Manku, Cognitive’s Chief Business Development Officer and VP of Silicon, is a serial entrepreneur and former academic who founded three companies. He has a degree in quantum physics and a PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Waterloo, where he was an associate professor.

With a current headcount of 48, Cognitive has ambitions to be “quite a substantial company a year from now” as it enters a growth phase with Aura now in the market, Hind said.

That growth is bolstered by the ecosystem of wireless talent in Waterloo Region in general and at QVI in particular, where one of Cognitive’s neighbours is ISARA Corp., a quantum cryptography startup led by Scott Totzke, a former colleague of Hind who led development of the security systems that once made BlackBerry the go-to device for world leaders and business titans.

“If you’re introducing a security product, immediate access to security experts is fantastic,” Hind said.

“The Waterloo Region has been fortunate, and I don’t know whether it’s luck, hard work, careful thought, planning by visionaries – really, I think it’s a combination of all of those, and the willingness of the community to interact and create the environment – but what we have is the cornerstone technologies for the next generation of products,” he said. “And there are very, very few regions in the world that have expertise in all of those cornerstone technologies in one place.”

Those technologies – wireless connectivity, digital signal processing, cryptography, quantum computing and machine learning-AI – have positioned the region well for the future, Hind said.

“Waterloo – in big part through groups like Communitech, the Accelerator Centre and QVI – are incubating expertise in those cornerstone technologies, and as it all starts coming together, the benefit for the region will be enormous.”