Business & Tech

IRobot invests in a Cambridge ‘smart home’ startup, Sense Labs

(Sense)

This devince from Sense Labs analyzes a home’s energy consumption.

Sense Labs Inc., a Cambridge startup developing an Internet-connected home electricity monitor, has added the robotic vacuum maker iRobot as an investor, raising another $1 million to help expand manufacturing and sales.

The new cash adds modestly to the roughly $14 million investment round the startup closed last fall, led by investors from the electric utility and oil industries. Sense Labs has now raised a total of $20 million.

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The company’s device, which sells for $299, attaches to a home’s main electric panel to analyze the electricity consumption patterns of appliances, lights, and household gadgets. Sense started selling the product online last year.

The company is also beginning to connect its gadget with other Internet-enabled “smart home” devices, such as remote-controlled lights and software-enabled appliances, a growing consumer category.

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Its focus on blending complex hardware and software in a consumer-friendly device made iRobot a good match for it, said Sense Labs’s chief executive, Mike Phillips.

“It’s a really hard technology underneath. It’s a consumer-facing bit of hardware. And it’s a new product category. All three of those things are hard — hard to the nth degree,” Phillips said. “IRobot’s a good example of that, too. They did the same thing.”

Sense has about 25 employees and recently added new leaders for its sales and manufacturing operations, Phillips said.

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Its device measures a home’s electrical pulses about 1 million times per second, and sends the data over a wireless Internet connection to the company’s software, which helps decode the electricity-use “fingerprint” of each device.

A heating element, for example, has a fairly constant pattern of electricity use, compared with a refrigerator motor, which draws a distinctive spike of electricity when it first starts spinning.

Sense’s software can help homeowners compare energy-use patterns by deducing how long the TV has been on each week, or noticing when the garage lights were left on. The company says its device will become even more desirable when it can connect with other smart-home products.

“There are very few opportunities in the home that actually have true platform-like potential,” said Hanns Anders, an investment manager for iRobot Ventures. “It has the potential to both inform and feed off a lot of other products, including robotics.”

Sense is taking a first step toward that by integrating its device with IFTTT, an Internet service that lets people create simple connections between devices. For instance, a user might use IFTTT to instruct Sense to send someone a text message when a load of laundry is done.

Widespread device integrations are likely to depend on appliance and software manufacturers settling on common technical standards that allow devices to more easily talk to each other, Phillips said. But the company can still work with individual gadgets and manufacturers, he said.

Curt Woodward can be reached at curt.woodward@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @curtwoodward.
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