SNUPI Technologies wants to help homeowners spot mold, leaks, and appliance failures before they become a big problem, but that’s just the beginning.
This Seattle startup is building a platform at the intersection of low-cost, low-power sensor networks, cloud computing, and machine learning, that is showing potential beyond the initial product and service that SNUPI is bringing to market.
SNUPI is also notable for its location in a surprising space on University Way—better known as The Ave—pioneering what city and University of Washington leaders see as Seattle’s next hot startup neighborhood.
SNUPI—an acronym for Sensor Nodes Utilizing Powerline Infrastructure—is getting plenty of attention, and for good reason, starting with its founders and leadership. The underlying technology was developed at Georgia Institute of Technology by co-founders Shwetak Patel, a MacArthur Genius Grant Fellow (pictured above, middle), and Matt Reynolds (above, bottom), now computer science professors at the UW. UW PhD student Gabe Cohn (above, top) helped refine the technology and is another co-founder. Jeremy Jaech, one of Seattle’s top serial entrepreneurs, is CEO.
In a little more than 18 months, SNUPI has taken an academic prototype and turned it into a product it’s marketing as Wally. The Wally name is meant to be friendly and approachable, and is a reference to the fact that the technology wirelessly taps the electrical wiring in the walls of a building, which serves as an antenna to link sensor nodes to a central hub. This innovation sips power compared to other wireless communications and allows the sensors to last for 10 years, the company says, on one battery.
That’s important because the sensor nodes—capable of detecting changes in temperature, moisture, and humidity—are designed to go in hard-to-reach places like attics, crawlspaces, and under appliances. Once in place, they quietly monitor for changing conditions that could indicate impending hazards. A spike in temperature around a water heater, for example, could indicate that the inner core has failed and tank rupture is days away. Wally would detect the spike and send an alert via text or email, potentially saving a big mess and inconvenience.
While the product development work has occurred quickly, it hasn’t always been easy.
“A lot of the work initially was trying to get the knowledge that had been learned in the lab into the heads of the guys who were trying to build production systems,” Jaech says.
“The theoretical models and simulations never actually match the real world situation,” Patel says, adding that it was critical in this process to have the company located close to the UW campus.
The door to SNUPI’s office is situated between a skate shop and a burger joint right on The Ave, complete with its grittiness, interesting people watching, and smells of food and incense. It’s not where you’d expect to find a startup, but climb the stairs to see the exposed brick and office dog, and you might as well be in Pioneer Square.
The university and the city are in the midst of a major planning effort aimed at turning the neighborhood west of 15th Avenue into “a regional center for innovation, knowledge, and creativity.” There’s lots to recommend the area, principally its proximity to a UW campus increasingly focused on spinning out startup companies, and the arrival of the Sound Transit light rail stop in 2021, which will strengthen connections to the rest of the city. (The neighborhood’s development is also a stated focus of the Startup Seattle initiative launched by the city in May.)
“It’s happening,” Jaech says. “I think this is going to be the next Pioneer Square or South Lake Union.”
The company has about 25 people contributing right now, including 14 full-time employees, seven part-time, and several interns. And, of course, it’s hiring: in operations and engineering. The company raised $1.7 million from Madrona Venture Group, Radar Partners, and the founders last year and is in the midst of raising its next round from existing and new investors.
SNUPI is about more than sensors and low-power wireless communications. The bigger challenge is … Next Page »