Startups Dive Into IoT for Backyard Pools

Is the swimming pool ripe for disruption? These companies think so.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jun 19, 2015

There exists today a gulf between the systems that commercial entities use to maintain swimming pools and those that homeowners use, and Alvaro Alliende, the head of a California startup called Drop, is trying to close that gap via a solar-powered, Wi-Fi-connected temperature, acidity and chlorine sensor designed for use in residential pools.

"For commercial [or institutional] pools, sophisticated equipment is used that measures chemistry levels and injects chemicals into the pool automatically," Alliende says. "It takes a lot of space—the main control unit is the size of a big couch—and these systems cost around $1,500 and above."

Drop unit and phone app
Maintaining family pools, on the other hand, generally means using a small chemistry set to analyze water samples to determine the mix of chemical inputs needed to balance the pool's chemistry. It's a cumbersome process and one that Alliende, who is currently finishing his MBA, as well as a master's degree in public policies, at Stanford, says is far from foolproof.

Alliende co-founded the Bay Area startup with Stanford cohort and engineer Fernando Zavala and Emmanuel Laffon de Mazieres, an industrial designer with Lab126, a technology-development group at Amazon. The company is a third of the way through its effort to crowd-fund the pool-management system on Kickstarter—though not quite a third of the way to its $100,000 goal.

When a homeowner purchases a Drop unit, Alliende explains, she places it in the pool and installs the Drop application on her phone. The app detects the unit's unique ID number and authenticates it so that both the phone and the unit are paired and their identities are transmitted, through the Internet via the Wi-Fi network, to Drop's cloud-based servers. (Each additional user in the household must also download the app and pair his or her phone with the Drop unit in the same way.) The unit then begins transmitting temperature, acidity and chlorine readings to its cloud-based server, via the Wi-Fi router. Whenever the user opens the application, she can access the current readings, along with Drop's suggestion for what quantity of each chemical she should add to the pool water.

Drop is not wading into empty waters. ConnectedYard , another Silicon Valley startup—this one backed with an undisclosed amount of venture capital from Burlingame, Calif.-base Tandem Management, and whose name hints at ambitions to connect more than just swimming pools to the IoT—just launched its own connected pool sensor, known as pHin. It does roughly the same things that Drop does, but connects directly to a user's smartphone, via a Bluetooth connection.

Then there's San Francisco-based Sutro, which launched earlier this year through Bolt, a combination venture-capital firm and technology incubator. Sutro takes the third option to connectivity: cellular. It sends sensor readings directly to the cloud, rather than through a Wi-Fi router or to a smartphone. In addition to measuring pH, chlorine and temperature levels, the Sutro device contains a salinity sensor, making it useful for people who have saltwater pools.

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