A connected world

From left, Kallidil Kalidasan, Pavan Kumar and Nandakumar, founders of Mindhelix Technosol, with their home security solution, Rico   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Think home security and the first things that come to mind are the occasional burglar alarm and protectors of the four-legged variety. But in an age when everything from light bulbs to refrigerators can connect to the Internet, security devices need to be smarter too.

Enter Rico, a one-stop solution developed by Kochi-based startup MindHelix Technosol Pvt. Ltd. that tracks temperature, humidity and carbon monoxide levels, detects smoke, and is capable of controlling other networked devices. This seems simple enough at first glance, but Rico also has a trick up its brightly coloured sleeve – if you have a used smartphone lying around, rather than throw it away, you can insert it into Rico to give it new functionality. With a smartphone inside it, the little robo-dog shaped device gains the ability to recognise voice, detect motion, and tap into Wi-Fi networks, making it an inexpensive but effective security package.

“The inspiration behind Rico goes all the way back to a personal security app we developed in 2011, called Sentinel,” says Pavan Kumar, chief operating officer. Pavan goes on to add that while Sentinel existed long before the sudden onslaught of security apps that followed the 2012 Delhi gang rape, the small team realised that it would be difficult for them to hold up against larger companies that had now launched security apps.

“With Kalidasan (CEO), Nandakumar (CFO), and I all having engineering backgrounds, we slowly became interested in the Internet of Things (IoT), and decided to adopt the idea behind Sentinel into a hardware product. While the concept of home security is yet to take off in India, we found that solutions in the USA were very expensive and had subscription fees. At this point, a company named Canary released a solution that could be used out of the box and this was a huge success, leading us to push forward harder with Rico,” he says.

It was when debating how to bring down the device’s cost that MindHelix stumbled upon the idea of using smartphones to incorporate features like voice recognition, camera and Wi-Fi into the Rico. “In India, we sell used phones, but abroad a lot of people just throw them away or leave them around the house, causing an e-hazard. This was a good opportunity for us to address two problems at once.” The company is also making a fully featured Rico that will not require a smartphone for its full range of features.

Pavan says that the team understands that Rico on its own is not a daily use kind of device, and they sought to address this by making smart sockets. These work a lot like simple multi-pin plug points, except they can connect to Wi-Fi and allow users to turn the connected appliance on or off, and monitor power usage statistics through a mobile app. “We are currently working on perfecting the sockets, as this is our first hardware product and we want to start simple,” says Pavan.

Once their plan for Rico and the socket was ready, MindHelix took to crowd funding platform Kickstarter, which helped fund many other ambitious tech projects like the Pebble smartwatch. The goal was 1,00,000 US dollars, and by the time the campaign ended, their tally stood at 1,19,000 dollars. Development for the devices is underway and the first batch of Ricos is expected to ship to Kickstarter backers in the US, Europe and Japan by November.

Pavan says India should see the sockets launched first, sometime next year, as they want to introduce it at a compelling price point. “We want to sell some units abroad first, as devices like this are still a novelty back home, so we want to enter the market with the right pricing.”

MindHelix is taking it slow, but their plans look far into the future. “The idea is that Rico can be a device that acts as a hub for many other devices. We’re planning on making its camera portion movable to give it a wider field of view, and external cameras that can stream data back to it. In the future, you may have dog tags that allows you to know where around the house your dog is, or door handles that can connect to Rico. As the sockets advance, they will know to turn on certain devices before you enter the room. All this is a long way away, but the possibilities are endless,” says Pavan, reaffirming MindHelix’s commitment to building connected devices.

It is early days yet, but the little doglike contraption that sits on your table may soon be smart enough to look after your house, so you can safely go out and walk the actual dog in peace.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 1:51:41 AM |

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