Sense On The Internet Of Few Things

Blame it on the election.  Or perhaps blame sleepy investment activity for the period that ended Oct. 7 on the hurricaine?  Whatever the reason, total fund flows were $285 million for the week, with  B2B coming up at 64 percent of that tally.  As of late it has been the FinTech sector dominating investments, so this time around, we can see that payments firms in the B2B arena grabbed the spotlight.

The biggest deal within B2B came through Payoneer, which raised $180 million for its global cross border payments technology, with a focus on China and offering bank account services for customers lacking local account access.

The Payoneer investment, led by Technology Crossover Ventures, stood out as the only tripe digit deal for the week, and was trailed drastically by the next largest deal, at under $27 million, as iwoca, a London based FinTech startup, raised funds via Series C funding round, with participation from Commerzbank..

And, as the financial trade press has focused on some hot money flowing into the IPO sector for firms based in the United States, the private money activity has been concentrated there as well, accounting for 73 percent of the activity in the most recent period.

Want to save 50 percent on your energy bill? How about ensuring you’ll never waste a freezer-full of food again because the door didn’t close properly, or eliminating the risk of fires caused by faulty wiring? Of course you do. Although not all the way there yet, this is the vision of Sense. The company has created a connected IoT home energy monitor by the same name. Sense’s mobile app tells homeowners what appliances are on, how much energy each device is using in real-time and which ones might need replacing to save home-owners energy costs.

According to Mike Phillips, co-founder of Sense, around half of the energy used in U.S. homes is wasted and could be saved if homeowners took steps such as checking that the AC is working correctly, getting rid of an old refrigerator and turning lights and appliances off when not in use.

Why such apathy where in-home IoT is concerned? Fifty percent of an energy bill is a significant amount of money for most U.S. households but, even so, people just aren’t that into it. Both Phillips and Joseph Braca, Senior Industry Analyst with Smart Home Strategies, agree that consumers have been slow to adopt the IoT in the home environment and that includes energy monitoring.

Braca says, “There have been some really notable failures in the home energy monitoring space, including Google PowerMeter and Microsoft Hohm. And I think that the main reason for the lack of success these companies have had is that consumers don’t care all that much about tracking, monitoring, or visualizing their energy use, especially when it requires an upfront investment.”

“People aren’t going to do their laundry or run the dishwasher any less often. Lighting is already very efficient, and the savings from remembering to turn off lights aren’t big… Consumers can purchase a smart thermostat that allows them to automate their heating and cooling. The smart thermostat is more likely to produce actual savings than a home energy monitoring device.”

Phillips of Sense has another perspective: “The problem with IoT is that it is the internet of a few things not the internet of all things because there in an unrealized notion that if we know in detail what is happening in a house and we have a way to interact with the consumers, we can advise them that they should get the AC fixed or replace the refrigerator.”

Companies such as Curb, Neurio, TED Pro and Smappee provide energy monitors that tell users how much energy appliances use and how to switch appliances on and off remotely but Sense provides more granular data. Sense measures the power going into a house at a million times using signal processing and machine learning. It is the speed and frequency of recording combined with machine learning that differentiates Sense from its competitors.

“There is no way to do broad-based home intelligence unless you know what’s going on…You could get a connected garage closer that tells you when the garage door is open or closed and allow you to close it, but all it knows is the garage door; it doesn’t know about the oven or the dishwasher. So we are doing the broad-based sensing across all these things, said Phillips.”

Braca thinks that what Sense is doing on the technology front is a whole more interesting than its energy monitoring device. “Being able to monitor a devices electrical signatures could open up some interesting use cases. One is monitoring for irregular signals that may indicate a problem with a device (e.g., hot water heater), prompting a notification to the user to get in touch with a technician.”

However, Braca also adds that there is a lot that Sense’s solution won’t tell you: “The information isn’t all that specific. For example, it can tell you that your kids are watching TV, but it can’t tell you what they’re watching.”

Might the big players like Amazon be interested in Sense’s technology? Braca says: “For the most part, Amazon is focused on providing the user interface (i.e., Alexa) for the smart home rather than specific devices and services. I view companies like or Vivint, which already have a huge presence in their customers’ homes, as being more interested in this type of technology.”

What would Sense like to see happening to advance the IoT? Phillips would like to see consumers able to buy in-home IoT applications directly from websites and have them installed in their houses.

“We think that long-term, this functionality just needs to be built into the house; consumers shouldn’t have to get an extra piece of hardware. That is the important path to scale. We are starting to talk to utilities and solar installers so that if you have people already in the house doing things, why not install a Sense so that you not only have solar panels on your roof but you see in detail how energy is being used throughout your house?”

Braca agrees and says that for broader connected-home solutions, “Professional installation, having somebody set it up, having customer support becomes much more important” and, unfortunately, costly, which brings us back to square one.

Sense intends to tackle fault detection; letting the homeowner know that the furnace is not working correctly or that dodgy wiring could cause a fire. These are the features that will save consumers money and might ignite their interest. “We haven’t done those things yet in the product, but we see that those things are possible and those will be coming in the future,” says Phillips.

Braca says, “It’s likely that we’ve only seen part of what they [Sense] are working on. It should be interesting to see what they come up with. But until then, homeowners would do well to turn appliances off when not in use, check that refrigerator doors are shut, and add the electrician to their smartphone contacts for when sparks fly at electrical outlets.

Sense recently raised $14 million in Series A financing led by Shell Technology Ventures and Energy Impact Partners. Sense has previously raised about $5.6 million since its 2013 founding.

The® Internet of Things Tracker, sponsored by Intel®, showcases 80 top companies that are leading the way in all aspects of the Internet of Things. Download the PYMNTS IoT Tracker here.

Investments For First Week, October 2016