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Amazon Invests Big Money in Smart Thermostat Startup

Amazon EchoAmazon Echo

Ecobee, a maker of smart thermostats for the home, just snagged $35 million in funding from Amazon’s Alexa Fund, Thomvest Ventures, and Relay Ventures. This is the largest single investment yet from the Alexa Fund, which Amazon (AMZN) set up to speed up the creation of software and hardware that works with its Alexa virtual assistant.

Ecobee competes with the Google (GOOG) Nest smart home thermostats, with one key difference: Its devices work with Amazon Alexa as a sort of hub. That’s not something that Google-owned Nest is likely to do given that Google and Amazon (AMZN) are vying to become the “brains” of next-generation smart homes. Google previewed an Alexa-like Google Home device in May

Toronto-based ecobee claims that use of its connected thermostat can save consumers 23% on home heating and cooling. This latest investment, which is the biggest to date for the Alexa Fund, brings total funding for the company to about $51 million.

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Amazon created the Alexa Fund last year to provide up to $100 million to invest in new software and hardware that could endow the Alexa home speaker with the ability to perform new tasks which include turning on lights, ordering groceries, getting directions, requesting music, and checking bank balances.

In early June, Amazon claimed there were 1000 Alexa “Skills” or applications for the Amazon Echo device, which debuted in November 2014. Late last month, Capital One (COF) said its customers could now ask Alexa questions about their credit card, banking, and mortgage accounts with the bank and even direct Alexa to make payments. Citibank (C) is also testing Alexa’s voice recognition technology as part of a planned upgrade to its mobile banking app.

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The connected home, as enabled by hubs like Alexa, is a subset of the Internet of things, which comprises millions sensors or small computing devices embedded in appliances, exercise trackers, cars, factory machinery. These connected gizmos collect their own data, share it with others as needed, and can feed it into a central system for analysis. Using that information, appliance makers, for example, can tip off customers about when to get their equipment fixed.

For example, if your connected dishwasher has some technical snafu, its maker would automatically flag the glitch and tell alert you to schedule a technician to visit before things get ugly.