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This tech can cut your water bill, save energy, oh and stalk your cat

October 2, 2015, 12:39 PM UTC

The coolest things about the Internet of things are not the things themselves (though those are undeniably awesome) but the services they enable.

Imagine a connected showerhead that would not only keep you from being scalded, but prevent plumbing disasters and cut a good chunk out of your energy and water bills. That can pay off at the one-off residential level, but the real opportunity comes in institutional settings.

If you own a hotel or a hotel chain, imagine that same showerhead, paired with another sensor in the tub, can alert the facilities staff that a tub is about to overflow before it happens? And what if the data from connected showerheads shows water usage spiking between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. because people are steaming their clothes? How much could that hotel save on energy and water bills if it offered a free pressing service instead?

Or if sensors placed in public water mains could tell the utility where a break is about to happen before it actually does and provides GPS data so digging can be localized to minimize excavation?

Those are scenarios that Tim O’Keefe, president of Symmons Industries, said are on the cusp of reality. Symmons is a family-owned plumbing supply company in Braintree, Mass.

The beauty of connected devices for companies like this is that they enable a range of subscription services that can save the customer money while adding to the supplier’s revenue stream, according to speakers at Xively Xperience 2015, a LogMeIn (LOGM) event in Boston this week.

Innovative Foto, a company that is revamping the traditional “photo booth” concept, already runs more than 2,500 connected booths located at zoos, theme parks, or other child-friendly venues.

The company already monitors its connected booths remotely and uses that connectivity to deliver the photos after they are taken. But, going forward, it will be able to offer more real-time services so that customers can print their photos from Instagram or text or receive pictures from their phones, said Casey Cammann, vice president of business development for the Salem, New Hampshire-based company.

Another intriguing scenario, at least for pet owners, is connected pet doors that only open for authorized (aka microchipped) pets and not for “enemy cats,” or other unauthorized food poachers. As someone who came face to face with a raccoon in her kitchen not all that long ago, this is indeed of great interest.

A few years back, Dr. Nick Hill, a U.K.-based quantum physicist, had a problem with cats other than his own coming into his house. To remedy that, he came up with the connected cat door and founded Sureflap to sell it.

The company now also offers a connected pet feeder that ensures that the right pet gets the right food, helping ease the not-all-that-unusual problem of an obese cat and a malnourished cat existing in the same household. It can also keep the dog (or baby) out of the cat’s food. Oh come on, you know it happens.

There are other products that let pet owners remotely watch their animals. If a storm is coming and you see that the pets are inside, you can remotely lock down the pet door to make sure they stay put, he said.

The whole notion of connected pets also opens up other scenarios. For those who wonder just where their cats wander, there are a variety GPS enabled tools to find out. (Brace yourself though, Tabby may have a second family.)

Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research, said the add-on services made possible by all these devices and the data they generate, are myriad. Although not even he is sure of the revenue potential that comes from shadowing your pets.

The gist is that any time a manufacturer can convert a product sale to a recurring service sale, it’s a big win, he said.

Pet care aside, the biggest opportunity is probably in energy. “In the U.S. each person uses 302 BTUs of energy per year, energy usage costs $1.3 trillion per year,” LogMeIn CEO and chairman Mike Simon told attendees. “With connectivity, is it too ambitious to think that adding intelligence to the product could save us 20% in coming years? I don’t think so.”

Xively, which is a LogMeIn unit focusing on Internet of things, claims to connect 400 million devices ranging from computers to power meters to lighting switches. At the show it also announced new identity management software that Simon says will help Xively’s customers which manufacture connected devices have more visibility into what their customers are doing with those devices.

For more on the Internet of things, check out the video.


This story was updated at 11:08 a.m. EST with details on Innovative Photo’s plans.

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