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Smart Sensors Let You Monitor Your Home Any Way You Want

Notion's sensors can be thermostats, burglar alarms, leak detectors—or anything else you can think of.

Smart Sensors Let You Monitor Your Home Any Way You Want
[Photos courtesy of Notion]

Lots of smart home products are Internet-powered replacements for appliances you already have in your home: lights and air conditioners you can control from your smartphone or cooking appliances that know when you want dinner.

But instead of making replacements for existing appliances, Notion is developing sensor pods that work alongside what you already have in your home, monitoring their orientation and acceleration, along with ambient light, sound, and moisture.

That lets them trigger a notification when a door or window opens, a room gets hot or cold, a propane tank gets low or a smoke detector sounds, without having to replace lock, thermostat, fuel, or alarm infrastructure. Or, says Notion, the sensor pods, each of which is equipped with the full set of sensing ability, can be applied in as many other ways as customers can think of.

The company’s founders initially set out about two years ago to make a smart smoke detector, says CEO Brett Jurgens, after his cofounder Ryan Margoles came home from work to find his dog startled by a low-battery alarm.

"The battery was low, and there was that beep every 30 seconds," he says. "His dog was freaking out—destroyed some of the house."

Margoles, who has a background in engineering and is now Notion’s CTO, lived in walking distance from his workplace and could have easily saved his furniture and his dog’s peace of mind if the alarm could have texted or emailed him when its battery was running low.

"We actually set off close to two years ago to make the world’s best smoke alarm," says Jurgens. But, though he acknowledges Nest later had success with its Protect alarms, they quickly came to think it would be hard to enter the smoke detector market at a higher price than homeowners are used to paying, especially since most people wouldn’t even think to upgrade a working alarm.

"Making people replace their smoke alarm isn’t something they’re accustomed to doing," he says.

So, the two set out to make a more versatile piece of equipment. The current design, which has raised more than $100,000 in an ongoing Kickstarter campaign, consists of a power-adaptor-size hub and a set of sensors shaped roughly like hockey pucks.

The battery-powered sensors can be placed around a house or apartment to detect light, sound, water leaks, and other changes in the home, and the hub plugs in and communicates with Notion’s cloud servers via Wi-Fi or cell signal.

Cell connectivity—which will allow the hubs to send brief updates via SMS—helps differentiate Notion's systems from other home sensor products and is especially valuable to backers who want to monitor for leaks and other problems in vacation homes that sit idle during the off season, since wired Internet connections are often disabled when the houses aren’t occupied, he says.

Users would have to pay a monthly fee for the cell connection on a carrier to be determined, but Jurgens says the cost should be relatively low, since the devices will only need to send and receive text messages, not voice calls or cell data.

Notion plans to ship the first hubs and sensors to beta testers in April, then ship production models to backers in July.

"People are really understanding the value behind a really small sensor that you can place pretty much anywhere you can think of," says Jurgens, who previously worked in product development at UrgentRx, a startup making pocket-size packets of over-the-counter medication.

The sensors can send notifications to users through smartphone apps or trigger other actions through an open API. The company’s been accepted into Apple’s HomeKit smart home program, so for users who do have other smart appliances, the sensors should also be able to send them signals, Jurgens says.

For example, Jurgens says, some users have expressed interest in essentially using the sensors as second thermostats, placing them in rooms that get especially hot or cold.

And other potential customers have proposed uses the founders never would have thought of, he says.

"Somebody had horses, and they wanted to know if they could put sensors out in the barn to detect certain high-pitched noises to know that a horse is going into labor," he says. "That’s not something I’d thought about before."

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