Dallas Tech Startup Chui Crowdfunds an ‘Intelligent’ Doorbell

6/19/14Follow @angelashah

Smart gadgets are infiltrating many parts of our lives, but two Dallas entrepreneurs are focusing on a forgotten, but key, device we all use: the doorbell.

Shaun Moore and Nazare Chafni founded 214 Technologies last year to manufacture Chui, a so-called “smart doorbell” that uses facial recognition to tell you who’s at the door.

Chui, pronounced “choo-ee,” has a database with photos of known people, allowing it to act like a virtual bouncer with an e-VIP list. When visitors ring the doorbell, a photo is captured and analyzed. Then, Chui sends an e-mail to the homeowner’s smartphone saying “Mom” or an “unknown person” is at the door.

If it’s Mom, the device can be programmed to speak a message such as “Hi, Mom. Come on in. The spare key is under the third rock to the left. Some chocolate chip cookies are on the counter for you.” For others, say, a UPS delivery person, a message can be programmed asking that a package be left by the side door or another desired drop-off point.

Moore says the device even has a “do not disturb” feature: If someone on your blacklist—an annoying neighbor or ex-partner—comes to the door, Chui will disable the ringer and no notification is sent. Two-way audio and one-way video conversations are possible as well.

Moore says in addition to answering the door remotely, the device can also be programmed to connect via Wi-Fi to other smart home devices like Lockitron to unlock doors. Connecting it to Philips Hue, for example means, “you can program it so that the foyer lights come on when someone enters the house,” he says.

Moore and Chafni have temporarily set up shop in Boulder, CO, where 214 Technologies is wrapping up a stint in the latest class of the Boomtown Accelerator there and planning for a demo day Monday. So far, the company has raised $60,000 in a Kickstarter program, more than double its $30,000 goal. The startup has orders for 311 devices priced at $199 each, with a delivery date of this fall. Moore says the startup is seeking a round of seed funding to make new hires and complete deliveries of the device.

Moore says Chui’s main competitor in the digital gatekeeper space is Santa Monica, CA-based DoorBot, which also sells a smart doorbell for $199. The startup had a successful campaign on crowdfunding site Christie Street and then appeared on the TV show “Shark Tank” last fall. DoorBot raised $700,000 from investors such as Charles River Ventures and Upfront Ventures following its TV debut.

Personally, I can see the usefulness of devices like this, especially when you’re having people over: no need to interrupt your cooking to answer the door and let people in every few minutes before a dinner party. But what about security? How ideal is it have a message broadcast—even at low volumes—advertising the location of your spare key?

“Someone who intends to break into a home or business by overhearing a message … would have to literally be right next to the front door” to hear the message, Moore says. Also, if that is a concern, he added that owners could leave a more cryptic message along the lines of “The key is where I usually put it.”

Next, I asked Moore about the reliability of the facial recognition software. He says 214 Technologies’ tests—on sets of identical twins and in different lighting conditions—show that the software is 99.6 percent accurate. (The software is licensed from a European company that Moore does not want to identify until after the device has been shipped to customers.)

Moore and Chafni first met as classmates at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and then went their separate ways, Moore to Wall Street and Chafni to Morocco to run for parliament there. It was during a visit by Moore to Casablanca last year that the two began forming what would become Chui, settling on the Swahili word for leopard as the device’s name. Chui brought them back to Dallas.

“This is what we wanted to do,” Moore says.

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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