Belkin, the maker of myriad Apple accessories, USB widgets and even the WeMo connected outlets, has a big business in industrial products as well. And today it announced a series of sensors aimed at helping commercial companies and utilities better manage electricity and water usage.
It has a pilot project with the Department of Defense related to the electric sensor technology as well as an exclusive partnership on the water side with HydroPoint Data Systems, a company that helps companies analyze and monitor water usage. The Belkin sensors are one of 22 projects that the DoD selected to pilot, and those 22 were selected from 468 proposals.
To learn more about these sensors, branded Echo Water and Echo Electricity, I spoke with Kevin Ashton, the general manager, global product management for Belkin Business, and the guy who says he coined the term “internet of things.” Ashton joined Belkin when it acquired his startup, Zensi, three years ago. Now he’s excited to share the last three years of his work with the world.
There are two elements to the Echo sensors: a water management platform and an electricity management platform. Customers deploy sensors in buildings or on pipes to measure electricity by tracking voltage and a few other elements to determine what’s sucking power and how it’s behaving, and then the sensors send that data to the cloud. On the water side, sensors located under a sink detect pressure and vibration to understand water usage, and sends that information to a cloud-based service.
Once the data is collected, Belkin runs algorithms to figure out if things are behaving properly, where energy savings might be had and general patterns around usage that might help companies or homeowners optimize their appliances or even behaviors. At Zensi, the original plan for the voltage-reading technology was to create an itemized electric bill for different apartments or even different gadgets inside the home.
Now, Ashton said the system is still as precise, but the use case is still evolving. He said that the plan is to open this data up to utilities and other services eventually, but right now the focus is on getting this deployed and in use in different buildings. Ashton said that so far partners and Belkin are fielding calls from commercial customers but also new homebuilders, who see this as a good way to help “green” new homes for high-end clients.
Of course, the real power for these sensors — the algorithms, data and insights they produce — is linking them to other gadgets, perhaps enabling a true demand-response system between a customer and utility or even helping a homeowner set devices to react to the cost of power. Aston realizes this, which is why he’s a proponent of open standards and making it easy for people to switch out devices and talk to management systems. “We hope to let the magic happen with well implemented open standards,” Ashton said in an interview. “The value in this system may be in places we don’t expect.”
I’m pretty confident that the value is in the algorithms that Belkin’s Echo sensors use to glean insights, but I’m glad Belkin’s planning to let others build on those smarts to make the overall information exchange even better.