Justin Miller believes the connected home should mean more than just thermostats, lights, alarms, and washing machines. Why not extend the Internet of Things to your backyard too?
I asked Miller, the CEO and co-founder of ConnectedYard Inc., to discuss his idea for a smart, connected swimming pool; and how he and co-founder Mark Janes turned this idea into a service called pHin, which they believe will disrupt the $5-billion-dollar pool-care industry.
How did you come up with the idea?
Last summer I was hanging out with my friend Mark in his backyard and we got to talking about how time consuming and difficult it is to maintain a pool. And pools are kind of intimidating in many ways. You feel like you want a chemistry degree in order to understand what you’re doing.
Pool- and hot-tub maintenance also take a good deal of time, or you pay someone else which takes a lot of money. We thought there has to be a better way.
What is the concept?
Our concept was to develop a service that makes taking care of your pool simple and easy by linking it to the Internet. It starts with a device that floats in your pool or hot tub; this device has sensors in it that monitor your water chemistry.
The device just floats in your pool, monitors your water chemistry 24/7, and communicates with your smart phone. Your smart phone app will notify you whenever you need to add chemicals to maintain your pool.
We’ve also partnered with chemical manufacturers to create single-dose, pre-measured water-soluble pods – think of them like the detergent pods for your laundry, but filled with pool chemicals.
So, the mobile app tells you when it’s time to add chemicals to your pool, and says, “Hey, toss in one red pod and two green pods.” And so, you toss in one red pod and two green pods, and you’re done.
We’re just bringing this service to market now, and we’ve called it pHin.
What are the benefits to the consumer?
When we talk to people and we ask them, “What’s the problem you have with maintaining your pool?”
One of them is, “I don’t like touching the chemicals,” that’s certainly one we hear a lot. Another one is, “I never know if I’m doing it right.” And, a third is that it’s tricky to do the titrations; “I fill up these test tubes of water, and drop little drops of chemicals in, I’m trying to see what color pink it is – it’s a pain.”
What information do the sensors gather?
We’re measuring the pH levels, the chlorine levels, the ORP – that’s the oxidation-reduction potential of your pool. And then we’re also measuring your total alkalinity, your total hardness, things that change less frequently as well, like the Cyanuric Acid level. We also measure the temperature of the water.
The sensors are constantly monitoring 24/7, so you can look at your phone at any time and say, “Yeah, my pool is in good shape and this is what the temperature is.”
The IoT allows us to bring the smarts to your pool, and enables a smart pool. It enables everything we’re doing.
What did you have to think about from an engineering perspective for this IoT device?
Well, first of all, we’re using Bluetooth. We’re using BLE to do the communication, like most IoT devices. So, we had to be thoughtful about a few things, for example, how far out of the water the antennae sticks so that we can get range into the house.
The other thing we’re doing is we’re actually going to be shipping a BLE to Wi-Fi bridge. So, this is something you can just plug in at your house near your pool. It will connect to the device, and it will actually put the device on Wi-Fi. So, no matter where you are in the world, you’ll have access to your pool.
So, you could be out at dinner. You could be on vacation. You could be on the other side of your house, and you’ll still have access to the device – the device and the phone app will still talk, and you can always check on your pool.
Would you say the smart pool is an extension of the smart, connected home?
I actually think it’s more than that. I see the pool as the center of the connected backyard. So, we expect to see the IoT extend into the backyard to the same degree as it has grown into the home. And I think the challenge for those companies that are trying to do that is that the physical space is just more spread out and connectivity can be more difficult.
But we have an upgradable device floating in the pool in the middle of the backyard and we think that because the device is going to be well situated, it will become the center of the connected backyard.
Our company name is actually ConnectedYard Inc. so we’re thinking about what we can do for you over time in your backyard.
What is your funding model?
It’s a combination of crowd funded and venture capital funded. The crowd funded part is from our early sales; we’re in pre-order mode right now.
We have also been funded by Tandem Capital. They’re the same venture capitalists behind Tile and Cuff.
Through Tandem Capital, we have access to a 3D prototyping lab, Tandem Hardware, and they helped with prototyping and fabricating the pHin IoT sensor.
What does pHin cost?
We’re actually going to give away the pHin floating sensor for free. We don’t want our customers to feel like they are taking a risk. So, our revenues will come from the chemical subscription service, which is very reasonably priced.
Based on the information from the sensor, we’ll send you those water-soluble pods as needed. So, each month we’ll essentially send you a shipment. We know what you need, we know what you’ve been using, and we can anticipate what you’re going to need in the coming month.
So when does your product hit the market?
As I mentioned, we’re in pre-order mode right now, but we expect pHin to ship in Q1 2016.
We’re very excited to launch this service. The Internet of Things is simplifying our lives, and we decided it was time to bring smart technology to the backyard.
Photos courtesy of PHin.