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Cognitive Systems reinvents way consumers can use wireless spectrum

The company has developed hardware that uses wireless spectrum as a sort of invisible fence that can alert people to the presence of unwanted networks or devices.

Cognitive Systems Corp.

One of the first investments from the Quantum Valley Investments technology fund is ready to exit "stealth mode" with a system that reinvents the way consumers can use wireless spectrum.

QVI was created in 2013 by BlackBerry Ltd. founder Mike Lazaridis with long-time colleague Doug Fregin, and has committed $100-million to help found the next generation of computer tech in Ontario through practical applications of quantum physics. One of the companies it funds, Cognitive Systems Corp., has developed new hardware called Amera that can identify wireless signals emitted by smartphones, cell towers, routers and other devices in a home or business to provide physical and digital security.

What that means is that wireless spectrum, now used mainly to send data between devices, can be used as a motion sensor that can "see" through walls, and even as a sort of invisible fence that can alert people to the presence of unwanted networks or devices.

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"Wireless is a form of light. When we move through it, we cause reflections, that also produces a sense of being able to look at motion," Cognitive co-founder Taj Manku said.

The technology was developed by three BlackBerry veterans, and the company is headquartered in the Westmount Road office building in Waterloo, Ont., that hosts QVI. "We were in deep stealth for 12 months," said Mr. Manku, whose co-founders include CEO Hugh Hind (former BlackBerry VP of wireless) and Oleksiy Kravets (former director of BlackBerry's advanced radio systems group).

Cognitive is now ready to announce its custom-designed hardware, which includes a new system on a chip it designed, its own cloud-computing system to process the data and its own software platform for building apps. There is no developer kit yet for third parties, but Cognitive plans to expand its own software for use in different industries in 2016.

Mr. Manku said that in prototype stage, Cognitive tested its ideas with off-the-shelf equipment at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars per rig. To make it commercially viable, Cognitive manufactures its own processor, called the R10, so it can sell a device that will cost in the hundreds of dollars range.

"Chip design is not something that a large number of companies were doing," said Mr. Manku, who founded and sold his own Waterloo-based semi-conductor company, Sirific Wireless, in the early to mid-2000s. He says the expertise to do it remains in the Waterloo area, including some of Cognitive's 50 employees.

These systems are not on sale to the general public yet, but Cognitive is already working with partners in the home and enterprise security industry with the expectation of shipping products in 2016.

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