UW Spinout Funded by Madrona To Build Cheap Home Sensor Networks

12/11/12Follow @bromano

A team including a “genius” University of Washington professor and one of Seattle’s top serial entrepreneurs just landed $1.5 million from Madrona Venture Group and others to build a small, inexpensive, long-lasting wireless sensor network that could revolutionize home hazards detection.

Led by Jeremy Jaech, SNUPI Technologies—for Sensor Network Utilizing Powerline Infrastructure—is building a communications platform that can support a wide variety of environmental sensors capable of detecting water leaks, carbon monoxide, smoke, mold, methane, argon, and other hazards.

The company is commercializing technology with roots at Georgia Institute of Technology, where co-founders Shwetak Patel, now a UW computer science professor, and Matt Reynolds, now at Duke University, worked with Professor Gregory Abowd. The technology was further refined at the UW, with contributions from another co-founder, Gabe Cohn, a Ph.D. student advised by Patel.

“The technology has been under development for four or five years, but we actually started working on the company in May,” Jaech says.

The product would consist of a gateway device that plugs into a wall outlet and an ethernet cable, creating the network, which can be accessed and controlled on the Web. The battery-powered sensors are placed around the home, using nearby electrical wiring to as receiving antenna.

“That’s why it doesn’t take very much power to run the communication link, because it’s not transmitting a signal very far,” Jaech explains, adding that the sensors can run “for decades” without a battery change, overcoming a major drawback with devices such as battery-operated smoke detectors.

“That’s the real advantage,” he says. “You can take a sensor and place it somewhere in a house or a building”—behind a wall, in an attic—”and forget about it.”

SNUPI is licensing a pending patent for work done at Georgia Tech for the power line antenna innovation, and a second patent applied for by the UW covering a specific receiver and integrated circuit chip design.

Other applications for such low-cost, long-lived sensor networks include temperature, pressure, and humidity monitoring to optimize commercial HVAC systems, and noise and motion detection for security. With lots of sensors, enough data could be compiled to make inferences about what’s happening in a given space. For example, a sensor network could detect deviations from an elderly person’s daily routine and alert caregivers.

The funding, from Madrona, Radar Partners, and the founders, will allow SNUPI—currently based at the UW’s Center for Commercialization in Fluke Hall—to commercialize what is now an “academic prototype,” and prove that it can be manufactured at a competitive cost, Jaech says. … Next Page »

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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  • RC

    Awesome. I’ve been trying to find a system like this to monitor heat flow for awhile. I couldn’t even find parts to cobble together.