Mulled wine, gently falling snow, glittering ornaments, and round-the-clock carols — such are the hallmarks of the Christmas season. So too are the holiday films that start playing in mid-November of each year, from beloved classics like It’s a Wonderful Life to the action-packed Die Hard to the uproarious (and yes, crass) Bad Santa.
One film that has been a cult classic and holiday staple since its release in 1990 is the quintessential booby-trap film: an eight-year-old boy, accidentally left behind when his family embarks on a Christmas vacation, creates an elaborate scheme of obstacles and decoys to protect his home from burglars. We’re talking, of course, about Home Alone.
Now, according to New Atlas, the film is the partial inspiration for a new high-tech robot from Swiss home security startup Mitipi. This virtual roommate is being toted as the first Internet of Things (or IoT) device specifically designed to deter burglars by simulating human presence. Its name? Kevin, of course — a clear homage to the adorable eight-year-old Kevin MacAllister, a character made famous thanks to the cheeky, expressive acting talents of a very young Macaulay Culkin.
Kevin is a diminutive device that looks not unlike the latest personal home assistants on the market. Its design is based on a multitude of sketches, mood boards, and focus group feedback; the result is a compact device with a slight retro vibe. A 3D printed prototype debuted at CES 2018 in Las Vegas, where it garnered an impressive amount of interest and media coverage from the likes of Forbes and Mirror.
Zurich-based Mitipi employed extensive user testing in the creation of Kevin. Its four founders (Khanh Nguyen, CTO; Laura Schilliger, CMO; Julian Stylianou, CEO; and Jakob Cevc, Head of Product) were brought together by a common concern for the emotional trauma and financial devastation of burglaries. “In the US and in Europe, 1 in 2 people will experience a burglary during their lifetime,” the company states on its Kickstarter page (where it received the prestigious distinction of being fully funded in under twenty-four hours). “We want to change that and prevent the break-in before it happens.” The team spoke with victims, experts, researchers, psychologists, and yes, even burglars, in order to create a mode of prevention.
One of the first prototypes was given to a volunteer named Emmanuel, who set up the device in his apartment without telling his girlfriend, Jeanette, that he had done so. “Before entering our flat, I heard conversations and I thought, ‘Emanuel is home,’” she shared in her user feedback. “Even when I entered the flat, I thought, ‘Emanuel is doing something in our living room.’ I was surprised to discover Kevin.” The team was on the right track.
But how exactly does Kevin work?
Simply place the device in an exposed room — for instance, a kitchen or living room with windows that may be susceptible to thieves. The company has pledged a simple setup that will take five minutes or less, from plugin to operation. Kevin can be controlled both by its physical buttons or via a companion app, which functions remotely. Once installed, the device uses smart logic to consider factors like location, language, weather, home type, and more, creating a strategy for simulating human presence in the home. This illusion is created in two ways:
Light. A light intensity sensor means that Kevin knows when to switch on or off. A combination of white light and a fully RGB adjustable provides both ordinary lighting and the illusion of a television set, as well as other effects. (The TV setting provides a light equivalent to that released by a contemporary sixty-five-inch screen). 3000lm means that it can be every bit as bright as the headlamps of cars.
Sound. An integrated speaker specifically engineered for natural, high volume audio and good speech representation creates a false soundscape of human conversation, as well as other noises generally associated with human presence.
All of that extensive user testing resulted in prototype tweaks informed by human behavior. For instance, the team discovered that people generally forgot to turn on the device, and so they incorporated geo-fencing, meaning that Kevin could activate itself once a homeowner or tenant left the premises.
The result, Mitipi promises, is a device superior to security monitors. “Burglars fear confrontation, not cameras,” argues the company.
And while a scheduled 2019 delivery date means that Kevin won’t be active this Christmas season, this holiday may be the last in which we must ever leave our homes truly…well, alone!
Photos via mitipi.