Imagine a real-life version of Harry Potter’s magical Marauder’s Map, which showed the location of everyone prowling throughout Hogwarts castle. That’s what startup Xandem is building: a new kind of all-seeing motion-detection system that’s poised to shake up the security market.
There are many different ways to track motion, but most commercial systems rely on optical beams that require uninterrupted sight lines. Heat-sensing infrared systems don’t have that weakness, but they’re prone to false alarms and can be blocked by anything that insulates body heat.
Xandem’s secret sauce is its use of radio waves, which can go through things like trees and walls. That means motion sensors using those waves can be completely hidden — a breakthrough that’s drawing notice from both scientists and security industry professionals.
The Salt Lake City-based company was hatched four years ago at the University of Utah, when electrical engineering doctoral student Joey Wilson spied some cutting-edge radio wave research from his advisor, Neal Patwari. Wilson, who has a background in wireless communications and signal processing, offered to team up with Patwari.
“I thought, ‘If I don’t jump on this now, I’m going to miss a great opportunity,’” Wilson recalls.
The pair envisioned a system that would make it possible to see through walls and detect people wherever they were in a building. Within a few months, they had a working prototype of a node, which works in tandem with other nodes to create a field of radio waves. Disturbing those waves triggers the sensors’ detectors.
Wilson and Patwari won the University of Utah’s 2010 business plan competition, then raised $110,000 from friends and family to start Xandem. They also picked up a Utah Innovation Award and a $40,000 grant from a state technology development fund. But by last fall, Wilson and Patwari were largely out of money — until Ryan Smith, an angel investor in Salt Lake City, swooped in with a $250,000 investment in the company. A few weeks later, the company, which now has a staff of six, scored a $150,000 SBIR grant from the National Science Foundation.