Feature Story

Startups embrace the Internet of Things

by Anne Field

startups embrace IOT

More startups in a wide range of markets are using IoT technology.

As the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes more popular--and its capabilities an increasingly normal part of how the world works--more startups are incorporating the technology in their platforms. Wearable pain relief.  Pet monitoring. Remote temperature control. You name the market and there’s probably a fledgling tech company tapping IoT capabilities to capture it.

Here’s a look at three startups using the technology for wildly different purposes:  

Preventing catastrophic fires in slums

In 2013, three major fires erupted in Cape Town, South African slums--known as informal settlements-- displacing 5,000 people in one day. As it happened, Francois Petousis, an engineering student at the University of Cape Town, was working on a thesis about low-cost, sensor-based fire detection designs.  Appalled by the disaster, he and a small team got to work commercializing his concept. 

Now, their company, Lumkani, sells an easily installed heat detection monitor that can communicate with similar devices in nearby homes through radio frequency, warning residents if there’s a fire in their home or close by. The system detects heat, since informal settlement dwellers usually cook with open flames, thereby generating a lot of smoke in the normal course of their day. 

A central device, one per 100 households, sits on top of a centrally located residence. It not only sends out text messages to the community and the GPS coordinates of the fire to local emergency responders, but also collects data about such factors as time of day or weather for later analysis.

See also: Air Quality and the Internet of Things

Such systems are especially important in densely-packed shanty towns. Fires can spread quickly, so warning residents immediately is essential to avoiding a tragedy. “The community can mobilize to meet the challenge,” says David Gluckman, one of the company’s four full-time team members who joined in 2014. “We’ve seen a big decrease in deaths in places using the technology.” According to Gluckman, he knows of about 20 fires that were contained thanks to the device, and many more stopped in their tracks. 

As the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes more popular--and its capabilities an increasingly normal part of how the world works--more startups are incorporating the technology in their platforms.The company has about 6,000 customers now. Both its team of community liaison officers and a network of NGOs can distribute the device and explain to residents how to install it. Next step: exporting to other emerging markets, like West Africa and India, as well as the United States. 

Connecting every little thing

It’s not always easy for your typical tech –savvy, connected consumers. Sure they may be able to control the temperature of their house remotely and track how many steps they take each day, but connecting all those capabilities, along with other online services, and using them all together seamlessly, is another matter. Similarly, developers must deal with a plethora of standards and manufacturers. “It’s a mess,” says entrepreneur and tech industry veteran Dave Evans, who also is the former chief technologist of Cisco. 

With that in mind, two years ago, he co-founded Stringify, a startup that aims to make it easy for people to use multiple capabilities and online services in different combinations, regardless of the manufacturer. 

See also: The Internet of Things gets a ledger

Perhaps you need to make sure that, two minutes before you arrive home, your door is unlocked and living room lights are turned on. Or, when you’re nearing a particular city, you may want to see four-to-five-star Chinese restaurants within two miles of your hotel. In Stringify lingo, these connected triggers and actions are called “flows.” And whatever you want to do, you’d drag and drop choices from about 250 options, ranging from Nest to Yelp, then draw a line with your finger to connect selections and schedule activities. Consumers who need inspiration can check the site, where there are hundreds of flow ideas to peruse. 

For now, according to Evans, the company isn’t disclosing its revenue model. But it raised a healthy seed round of $9.3 million last year from a group of venture capital firms and private investors. 

Wearable pain relief

Back in the ‘70s, scientists introduced a technology called Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or TENS. Tiny electrical signals transmitted through the skin to nerve endings block pain signals before they reach the brain, as well as releasing endorphins, natural discomfort-fighting chemicals in the body. But they’re not portable and require lots of wiring.

Enter iTENS, a recent spin-off from Akron, Ohio-based Pain Management Technologies. It sells a wireless, wearable pain management device controlled via an app that uses TENS technology to block pain. 

How does it work? You stick a small, thin, flat butterfly-shaped device on your body, wherever the pain point is, with a reusable gel pack that conducts current to the nerve; the product is connected to an app on your smart phone. You then choose from a variety of settings controlling factors such as the body part involved and the specific malady, making adjustments as needed. 

“You can plug and play based on the condition and feedback,” says Josh Lefkovitz, CEO and founder. 

You can also report your level of pain to determine how much relief you’re getting, and track results. Usually, the discomfort returns when you remove the device, but sometimes, you can experience longer-lasting relief, according to Lefkovitz. He has used the device to help with back of the leg discomfort that he experiences during stretches after his daily run, in combination with the application of ice. “With pain management, there’s never a single silver bullet,” he says.

He plans to sell the $99.99 iTENS through pharmacies, electronic retailers and technology catalog companies.


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