Cleantech Startup Teaches Old Homes New Tricks

Janice Cheam, CEO of Energy Aware Technology Inc., on the cover of BCBusiness in August 2011

A successful Kickstarter campaign gives one company and its circuit breaker ‘brain’ a second chance

Imagine your thermostat automatically dropping your bedroom temperature when you kill your bedside lamp for the night. Or your phone getting a text if the dryer doesn’t get turned on soon after the washing machine shuts off. It sounds like an episode of The Jetsons, but—following a successful Kickstarter campaign—local cleantech firm Energy Aware Technology Inc. is looking to make the smart home a reality as soon as next April.
“All the devices we have are connected via wires to a central place. It’s almost like a nervous system that brings everything together to the electrical panel,” Ali Kashani, VP of software development at Energy Aware, told BCBusiness in a phone interview from his office in Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood. “Except there is no intelligence there. There is no brain.”
Enter the aptly named Neurio, a small WiFi-enabled sensor that sits in a home’s main breaker panel and uses algorithms and machine learning to demystify energy consumption and communicate its findings to the home’s occupants through a mobile interface, enabling energy conservation and the kind of home automation previously limited to Hanna-Barbera cartoonists imagining life in 2062.
“We’re calling this a learning home, a home that can learn new tricks and learn about your behaviour,” said Kashani.
The company started up in 2005 with a combination of family money, angel investors and a round of VC funding. Its initial product was a wireless display for electrical meters and led to a “most promising startup” nod from the B.C. Technology Industry Association in 2009. The firm has since become profitable and grown to 11 staffers. Funding its latest device is taking a different route: a 30-day Kickstarter campaign was seeking $95,000 by November 15th, but raised more than $130,000 in the first two weeks. Kashani said the approach was also useful to crowdsource ideas for potential new functions for Neurio.
Founder and CEO Janice Cheam said another round of VC funding will follow, along with debt and equity financing to raise more capital. Pending safety certification, Cheam hopes Neurio units will be ready to ship next April at a retail cost of $229.