In February, 2013, I conceived of ILA, then called “Smart Residential Power Control and Monitoring,” as part of the Senior Design Program at UNC-Charlotte (UNCC). As soon as the UNCC Faculty Patent Committee approved my request all the major work got underway. Because I was apart of the entrepreneur class, I was able to develop the invention, alongside my chosen team within the university while retaining ownership–as I did not rely on any of the university’s resources and thereby was able to maintain intellectual ownership.
Our project swiftly became renamed as ILA or Integrated Living Assistant, which we liked because we wanted it to have a personality and we thought “ILA” sounded like an actual name. The project was funded in part by my company RedWire Logic as well as the NCIIA (National Collegiate Inventors and Innovations Alliance).
The concept of ILA was for a wireless technology that allows remote autonomous control of household devices and real-time monitoring of power consumption. The goal was to create a product that would allow for a flow of conversation between the user and the product so that ILA could operate all the devices in the user’s home upon command or by establishing a routine setting.
The team members, all with Electronic Engineers backgrounds collaborated on the design but each brought his particular area of expertise to the project. Neil Taylor did the hardware design and mechanical components, Peter O’Conner wrote the embedded software, Justin Hinson did the radio frequency work and was the number cruncher, while I developed the backend and user interfaces.
We each had our strong points and we all had to assume a lot of roles, especially when it came to the competitions, when we were doing everything from business plans to creating promotional videos.
Interestingly, it was around the time that we were developing ILA that a number of similar products were just hitting the market, so we shifted our focus to ensure to make ILA different and better. We felt like our product is unique, because of three things. It is easily expandable, it has flexible programmability, and it has a very user-friendly point-and-shoot interface.
The expandability comes through multiple USB ports in every ILA switch, which allows a user to plug in multiple devices just like they do with a computer. This gives ILA the ability to control lights, televisions, computers and special items like automated window blinds, all by simply plugging them into an existing switch.
ILA has no proprietary software and uses standard USB protocols, which gives it simple programmability. Appliance manufacturers can easily make their products compatible with ILA.
To validate the ease of integration and development within the platform we created a wireless controlled blinds product. A small solar cell was used to keep the battery charged, and provided intelligence around sunrise and sunset times.
The point-and-shoot interface means the ILA controller knows its position and can identify what products are near it. The user then just points the controller at an item and has full control over it, rather than having to go through a complicated list of menus to select specific rooms and individual appliances.
The marketing concept for ILA we developed, entered my team into the UNC Charlotte Venture Challenge business plan competition in December 2013, where we won second place. By May, 2014 our product was completed and we won first place at the Lee College of Engineering Senior Design Expo.
Our product’s success helped us evolve from senior design team to the fully realized company RedWire Logic, with a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) designation. ILA therefore became RedWire’s primary product. RedWire first set up shop in UNC Charlotte’s recently opened PORTAL building as part of the university student incubator program. Beyond space, PORTAL provided RedWire with support in creating business and marketing plans, and making business contacts.