Startup Spotlight: Chinese Startup Uses Cloud-Based AI to Turn Houses into Smart Dream Homes

This post was created by the Microsoft Customer Stories team and was originally posted on https://customers.microsoft.com

The mission of Perspicace Intelligence Technology is to redefine the concept of the smart home and deliver a fully realized smart home experience. We use AI to predict what people will do and what they need so that they don’t have to tell our home-management solutions themselves. To achieve that goal, Perspicace has engaged a strong partner—which is also secondary majority shareholder HuaYanFangMeng, one of the top-three real-estate sellers in Shanghai and top 100 in China, so it’s a natural fit for us to make homes as inviting and comfortable as possible.

Keeping your home safe and comfortable

The Perspicace platform consists of two cutting-edge components. First, Intelligent Housekeeper is a ubiquitous virtual assistant that communicates using natural language to control appliances and environmental conditions. Second, the solution’s Wi-Fi-based bio-detectors use IoT hardware and machine learning to sense waves (motions) indoors to infer what it judges as important human actions, such as standing, walking, sleeping, and, especially important for older residents, falling down. Monitoring in-house activities and harnessing AI to process that data is what makes our system work.

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Bear in mind that Perspicace takes privacy seriously, so we balance the collection of information needed for analysis with the importance of respecting users as they go about their day-to-day lives. Our AI platform gathers only data that the solution needs to provide users with the best possible smart-household experience.

Choosing the most intelligent AI

The public hears about using AI for proactive machine repairs, industrial production processes, collision avoidance, and many other areas, but we apply it to helping with people’s everyday schedules. To make it work, we have developed a sensor called Wi-Fi Bio Detector. Drawing upon the data provided by these devices, our AI can learn how to distinguish between, say, noises that indicate danger versus the noise of a dropped object.

The same technology can be applied to hotels and extended-stay facilities. Wi-Fi Bio Detectors know whether multiple people (instead of the usual one) are in the room, and our solution can adjust itself accordingly. For example, we work with fire departments to embed Perspicace technology in buildings so that first responders will know how many people are in the building and where they are.

Discovering that not all clouds are alike

We thought carefully before choosing the cloud technology to power our system or to recommend such technology to our customers. However, the functionality of Microsoft AI technologies, vast compute and storage resources of Microsoft Azure, and prestige of the Microsoft brand made it the logical choice. The cloud platform is cost-effective, reliable, and complementary to our software. Moreover, after we talked to the Azure team and experts at the Microsoft Research Center, we realized that Microsoft shares both the technology and the vision of how we believe AI should evolve. That made us confident in storing our sensitive data in Azure. Similarly, we are looking at running our proprietary predictive engine software in Azure, too.

We are taking advantage of several AI technologies within Azure to maximize the effectiveness of the Perspicace platform. What makes Azure such an especially appealing choice is that we get so many technologies from one cloud provider. We are especially impressed with Azure Machine Learning, Azure Blob storage, Cortana, and Microsoft Cognitive Services. Some of the Cognitive Services APIs we rely on include Face API, Emotion API, Custom Vision Service, and Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS). The combination of these wide-ranging technologies is cost-effective and comprehensive; plus, we get vast compute and storage resources.

Building a company through relationships

To put our growth in perspective, consider that we started Perspicace from almost nothing five years ago, developed an advanced AI solution, and began commercial sales at the end of 2018. Despite our young age, customer demand is already high, and we attribute about 20 percent of our initial deals to our participation in Microsoft for Startups. Our Wi-Fi sensor projects will create global, not just local, demand, and we expect as much as 50 percent of that business to come from customers that Microsoft connects us with, especially in the hospitality sector. We’re also promoting Perspicace solutions to companies in many other sectors—everything from electronics retailers to major chemical manufacturers, and Microsoft is helping us make connections to many of the stakeholders.

Similarly, as part of a real-estate company, we already have many connections with property developers. But because Microsoft also has connections in related sectors, when we ask the company to help us to find decision makers who might be impressed by our solutions, we get a chance to talk to them and sometimes to sign deals.

Selling alongside Microsoft

More recently, Microsoft and Perspicace have been working together to sell our solutions, but for only a few weeks, so that relationship has not yet generated significant revenue. Still, we are convinced by the data that success is inevitable. For example, we routinely demonstrate to our prospects how subscribing to Azure not only makes data transfer with Perspicace more efficient but how it can help their organization manage operations internally.

By selling with Microsoft, we benefit from the reputation Microsoft has established, which gives us the credibility to promote Azure as well. As a particularly compelling example, consider that the Chinese government highly scrutinizes AI projects and considers only the most trusted and expert providers, but they allowed us to use buildings and office space for free to demonstrate our solutions. The successful results of our tests give both Perspicace and Microsoft considerable credibility with the government.

The goal of selling with Microsoft is to benefit both companies. We want to spread the word on how choosing Azure—and partnering with Microsoft—makes good business sense and how working with Perspicace makes good sense, too.

Our goal is to use AI technology to better society and everyday lives. Microsoft has not only empowered us with that technology but also connected us with like-minded AI enthusiasts. Thanks to Microsoft for Startups, we now have a way to inspire companies to pursue the possibilities that AI can bring.