2014-06-05

Co.Labs

A New Brain For Your Old Air Conditioner, And It Thinks Cheap

This maker’s add-on shows that the coming of the Internet of things will be a lot messier (and cooler) than just Nest.



With summer on the horizon, we’re already gritting our teeth in preparation for a few of our not-so-favorite things: the sweat, the 20-minute wait before you cool off after your commute, and most definitely the energy bills.

Omer Enbar has been thinking about these problems for almost 10 years; he just had to wait for the world to catch up with him to properly execute his solution. It's called Sensibo, and today Enbar is the CEO of a small company that is producing them for public sale.

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While there are plenty of smart-air devices on the market these days, end-to-end solutions like Nest aren't really the ideal solution for most people, who already have appliances and controls that work perfectly well. They simply don’t do a lot of thinking.

"There were projects like smart thermostats—but most of the world does not have thermostats," says Enbar. He wanted to build something more adaptable. It’s solutions like his—the stopgaps—that are the real harbinger of change when it comes to the networking of all our appliances. In this case, the bottom line of converting all those machines could be huge.

"We put a couple of sensors on the prototypes, and we started analyzing the data from the sensors," says Enbar. Using algorithms to schedule when the machine turned on and off, Enbar says, "we discovered that you can save a lot of energy."

Expect More "Things" Like This

Ideas for things like Sensibo have been popping up for years, well before the technology was ready for it. "It was before the iPhone and before Android and smartphones—and it was hot," Enbar says, setting the scene for his brainchild, which first occurred to him eight years ago. He came up with a solution fit for the times: "Back then I sent an email to the computer and it listened to the subject. That means the subject was 'switch on,' and the air conditioner switched on."

This year, the Sensibo team gave more advanced prototypes to friends and family and tracked both responses as well as data gathered from the early pods. Unlike the early prototypes, what the team has built eight years later is something viable for wide distribution. Best of all, it's low-waste.

"I would say that air conditioners are already good at what they're doing, they're very efficient at cooling, but they just don't know how to do it smart because they don't know what's going on in the world," says Dror Bren, the creative director of Sensibo. "'We didn't want to replace one billion ACs in the world."

The open-source nature of the project is crucial. While out-of-the-box it only works to control ACs, Enbar says people are already trying to improve upon it. "It's possible to control the TV if you want, for example, with the API. This is not what the purpose is, but people want to make it better. So we decided to open the API and make it cooler."

How They Designed Sensibo

When the team started out with their prototype, the device was connected to electricity and placed near the AC.

"From the responses we got from users, we understood the few flaws in that design, of having a single unit placed in the room," Enbar says. The first was that not all users had a direct line of sight from the unit to the air conditioner. Another was the annoyance of mounting something to the wall. A third followed with difficulty syncing with the regular remote.

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"Let's say that I'm at home and my mother comes for a visit, and she doesn't have a smartphone," says Enbar. The unit had to be accessible even for people who weren’t technophiles (but still wanted their house cooler, for less money).

Another hurdle the team took into consideration was the use of Wi-Fi. We’ve all got it, but as anyone clinging to their iPhone battery knows, it’s a huge drain on the battery. When they made the decision to power the pods with batteries, the team had to consider other alternatives.

"We decided to go with another technology called ZigBee, which is different from Wi-Fi, very efficient for power, and actually creates a meshed network that the pods can communicate with each other, so it can reach a very long distance," Bren says.

Sensibo recently completed a $72,000 Indiegogo campaign, and is available there for preorder for $99. Sensibo uses a small pod that can be mounted to any existing air conditioner and controlled using the Sensibo app.

[Photos courtesy of Sensibo]



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