As the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes more popular--and its capabilities an increasingly normal part of how the world works--more startups are incorporating the technology in their platforms. Wearable pain relief. Pet monitoring. Remote temperature control. You name the market and there’s probably a fledgling tech company tapping IoT capabilities to capture it. Here’s a look at three startups using the technology for wildly different purposes:
Preventing catastrophic fires in slums
In 2013, three major fires erupted in Cape Town, South African slums--known as informal settlements-- displacing 5,000 people in one day. As it happened, Francois Petousis, an engineering student at the University of Cape Town, was working on a thesis about low-cost, sensor-based fire detection designs. Appalled by the disaster, he and a small team got to work commercializing his concept.
Now, their company, Lumkani, sells an easily installed heat detection monitor that can communicate with similar devices in nearby homes through radio frequency, warning residents if there’s a fire in their home or close by. The system detects heat, since informal settlement dwellers usually cook with open flames, thereby generating a lot of smoke in the normal course of their day.
A central device, one per 100 households, sits on top of a centrally located residence. It not only sends out text messages to the community and the GPS coordinates of the fire to local emergency responders, but also collects data about such factors as time of day or weather for later analysis.
Such systems are especially important in densely-packed shanty towns. Fires can spread quickly, so warning residents immediately is essential to avoiding a tragedy. “The community can mobilize to meet the challenge,” says David Gluckman, one of the company’s four full-time team members who joined in 2014. “We’ve seen a big decrease in deaths in places using the technology.” According to Gluckman, he knows of about 20 fires that were contained thanks to the device, and many more stopped in their tracks.
As the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes more popular--and its capabilities an increasingly normal part of how the world works--more startups are incorporating the technology in their platforms.The company has about 6,000 customers now. Both its team of community liaison officers and a network of NGOs can distribute the device and explain to residents how to install it. Next step: exporting to other emerging markets, like West Africa and India, as well as the United States.
Connecting every little thing
It’s not always easy for your typical tech –savvy, connected consumers. Sure they may be able to control the temperature of their house remotely and track how many steps they take each day, but connecting all those capabilities, along with other online services, and using them all together seamlessly, is another matter. Similarly, developers must deal with a plethora of standards and manufacturers. “It’s a mess,” says entrepreneur and tech industry veteran Dave Evans, who also is the former chief technologist of Cisco.
With that in mind, two years ago, he co-founded Stringify, a startup that aims to make it easy for people to use multiple capabilities and online services in different combinations, regardless of the manufacturer.
Perhaps you need to make sure that, two minutes before you arrive home, your door is unlocked and living room lights are turned on. Or, when you’re nearing a particular city, you may want to see four-to-five-star Chinese restaurants within two miles of your hotel. In Stringify lingo, these connected triggers and actions are called “flows.” And whatever you want to do, you’d drag and drop choices from about 250 options, ranging from Nest to Yelp, then draw a line with your finger to connect selections and schedule activities. Consumers who need inspiration can check the site, where there are hundreds of flow ideas to peruse.
For now, according to Evans, the company isn’t disclosing its revenue model. But it raised a healthy seed round of $9.3 million last year from a group of venture capital firms and private investors.
Wearable pain relief
Back in the ‘70s, scientists introduced a technology called Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or TENS. Tiny electrical signals transmitted through the skin to nerve endings block pain signals before they reach the brain, as well as releasing endorphins, natural discomfort-fighting chemicals in the body. But they’re not portable and require lots of wiring.
Enter iTENS, a recent spin-off from Akron, Ohio-based Pain Management Technologies. It sells a wireless, wearable pain management device controlled via an app that uses TENS technology to block pain.
How does it work? You stick a small, thin, flat butterfly-shaped device on your body, wherever the pain point is, with a reusable gel pack that conducts current to the nerve; the product is connected to an app on your smart phone. You then choose from a variety of settings controlling factors such as the body part involved and the specific malady, making adjustments as needed.
“You can plug and play based on the condition and feedback,” says Josh Lefkovitz, CEO and founder.
You can also report your level of pain to determine how much relief you’re getting, and track results. Usually, the discomfort returns when you remove the device, but sometimes, you can experience longer-lasting relief, according to Lefkovitz. He has used the device to help with back of the leg discomfort that he experiences during stretches after his daily run, in combination with the application of ice. “With pain management, there’s never a single silver bullet,” he says.
He plans to sell the $99.99 iTENS through pharmacies, electronic retailers and technology catalog companies.
A wearable for pregnancy
Many women who are expecting, face the same frustration: finding answers to their questions. They don’t get a chance to see their obstetricians that often and research online often yields inaccurate information.
Julian Penders and Eric Dy, who met while working at the Leuven, Belgium-based research institute IMEC, developing advanced clinical grade wearable technologies, figured there had to be a better way. So in 2014, they founded Bloom Technologies, a women’s health startup, to develop and sell a wearable device and app for measuring and tracking in real-time, a pregnant woman‘s contractions. Later updates will allow users to monitor for frequency of baby kicks and fetal heart rate. Called Belli, the device looks like a Band-Aid and sticks on a woman’s stomach, an inch below the belly button. It measures electricity created by, say, a baby‘s heartbeat or a woman’s contractions.
While the product targets consumers, according to Dy, it also can provide doctors with intelligence to help detect potential complications before they get out of hand. A decrease in a baby’s movement, for example, can be an early warning sign of fetal distress. Plus, as more information from devices is pushed out to the cloud, the company will create a crowdsourced data set about prenatal health. “There’s no consumer tool on the market that can provide longitudinal data to better understand what a normal pregnancy looks like,” says Dy. “We were blown away by how little innovation there’s been in this area.”
The startup started shipping early versions last fall and is planning a soft launch for later this year. At the moment, the plan is for women to rent the system, with a reusable sensor and disposable patches. “Women aren’t pregnant their whole lives,” says Dy.
Smart devices that communicate—and respect your privacy
There’s a cacophony of Internet-connected devices on the market: a wealth of products that can do everything from counting your steps, to monitoring your glucose level -but lack the ability to talk to each other.
Enter Neura. Earlier this year, the three-year-old startup introduced an app that allows more than 55 devices and software channels to communicate. Then it takes that capability one step further—collecting physical data like location and networks regularly encountered by users, analyzing that information to build a contextual understanding of their behavior patterns and suggesting automated actions. For example, a coffee maker starts brewing when a connected alarm goes off, or a smart lock detects when a family has gone to sleep for the night and bolts the door.
The company, which is based in Sunnyvale, CA, and Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, also focuses on privacy. Knowing when you wake up or what particular health problems you suffer from may be information you don’t want widely shared. So customers choose the specific data that can be linked to each service. Thus, a smart thermostat may set the temperature in your home at a certain level before you come back from the gym, but only with your permission.
Co-founder and CTO, Triinu Magi, got the idea from personal experience several years ago, after doctors misdiagnosed an illness. Because conventional tests didn’t provide enough information, Triinu, a data scientist, devised a way to gather blood sugar readings and correlate them with her fitness and nutrition history. The result: She was diagnosed as having diabetes –and she decided to turn the basic technology into a product.
It took three years for the 30-employee startup to produce the app. “By the beginning of this year, we felt it was good enough to release to the public,” says Dennis Vitchevsky, vice president of strategy. The company also raised $13 million in two rounds of venture capital funding.
In January 2014, Per Ljung started an Oakland, CA company with the germ of an idea: sell a smartwatch-like bracelet that would display anything from meeting updates to notifications from friends, at a glance. He discovered the most enthusiasm came from women, who liked the concept of jewelry being able to show digitally transmitted patterns and photographs that could be changed as often as they wanted.
Thus was born Looksee Labs, and its Eyecatcher family of bracelets. With a built-in mini USB port, the jewelry connects via Bluetooth to an app, which lets users change the design. They can also transmit anything from maps to boarding passes to be shown on the bracelet.
The display includes a laminate of printed electronics and E Ink film, which is a paper-like display technology with low power requirements. It contains tiny black-and-white-charged balls that can be moved by applying an electrical field. By creating many pixels, you can display high-resolution images; every element is controlled by the printed electronics on a plastic substrate. The result: a flexible, thin and always-on display.
Used with permission of http://thenetwork.cisco.com