Noah Technologies Aims to Keep Basement Floodwaters At Bay

1/9/14Follow @XconomyWI

It’s a homeowner’s nightmare version of the old tree-falling-in-a-forest conundrum: What happens if a pipe bursts in a bathroom and nobody’s home to hear the water sensor alarm?

Sharper minds can sort out the philosophical question of whether a sound is made in this scenario, but the real-world result is clear: a flooded building with potentially thousands of dollars in damage.

It’s a problem that Noah Technologies, a startup based in Bonita Springs, FL, with R&D in the Milwaukee area, aims to solve with its Intelli-Sensor system.

Common water sensor alarms, which can be purchased for as little as $10, make a loud noise to alert the homeowner of a leak. But some do nothing to actually stop it, and the homeowner would be clueless to the problem if he or she were away.

In contrast, the Intelli-Sensor will beep and send a text message and e-mail alert if it detects a leak. It also sends an electronic message to a pre-installed valve in the plumbing system, which subsequently closes off the main water pipe to the home or apartment. Water won’t flow again until someone manually disarms the alarm.

“You have to hear [the alarm] and then act on it for those other products,” said Noah Technologies co-founder David Rice, a Milwaukee-area electronic engineer who developed the Intelli-Sensor. “This one, you don’t need to do anything [to stop the leak].”

The Intelli-Sensor system includes a series of monitoring devices, each roughly the size of a garage door opener, that are placed near toilets, sinks, and other sources of water. The devices, propped up slightly by tiny screws that hold the product together, measure the volume of water present and how fast the water is moving by emitting radio frequency signals that rebound off the water to a receiver device. A half-teaspoon of water is enough to trigger the signal to the receiver that closes the shutoff valve.

Rice and business partner Dan Fish, a building contractor in Florida, founded Noah Technologies in 2010 after they met while Rice was vacationing in Florida. They are boot-strapping the company with personal investments, Rice said. Noah Technologies contracts with Accurate Electronic Assembly of Elk Grove Village, IL, and Lake-View Electronics of Grafton, WI, to manufacture the system.

So far the company has installed Intelli-Sensor in 250 condominium units in Florida, Rice said. He wants to expand the customer base to the Milwaukee area, where Noah Technologies is participating in a seed accelerator program for water tech startups. (Read Xconomy’s profiles of other Milwaukee water tech startups: Microbe Detectives, H2Oscore, and Vegetal i.D.)

Noah Technologies faces a difficult task in standing out in the flood of smart home devices, some of which also monitor for water leaks and turn off the water main automatically. What sets the Intelli-Sensor apart, Rice said, is its use of radio frequency technology to detect water, which doesn’t require contact, unlike competitors that use ultra-sensitive metal pins that can give false alarms—say for condensation or a melting ice cube—or miss a leak completely if the pins are covered by dirt or corrosion. Rice said the Intelli-Sensor’s microprocessor and proprietary software make his company’s product more reliable.

The startup will also need to convince homeowners … Next Page »

Jeff Engel is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @XconomyWI

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