These Startups Want You to Fire Your Pool Guy
If you own a pool or swim laps regularly at a resort (or just watched the green water fiasco at the Rio Olympics) you know it takes a lot of work to keep that water sparkly, blue, and clean.
Now there are a couple of companies applying the concepts of the Internet of things, which combines remote sensors that feed data back to a central location, to automate the often tricky maintenance of those pools.
First there is pHin, a product from ConnectedYard, a Palo Alto, Calif., startup with $4 million in venture funding from former Google (GOOG) Android chief Andy Rubin’s Playground incubator and others.
The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals estimates there are 14 million or so private residential pools in the U.S., all of which require maintenance to control Ph level, chlorine level, and temperature. Connected Yard’s pHin offers several service components to keep those pools up to snuff. First, it provides in-pool sensors that collect and transmit data on water temperature, hardness, alkalinity, and cyanuric acid levels.
Data is transmitted from the sensor via low-energy Bluetooth (BLE) to a bridge device that links the sensor feed with the home’s Wi-Fi system.
At that point the router “listens for our sensor results and sends them to our servers,” said Justin Miller, chief executive officer of ConnectedYard, which uses Salesforce’s (CRM) Heroku cloud to aggregate data.
What the customer actually pays for here is a subscription to the chemicals the company ships out in premeasured color-coded pods—sort of like those dishwasher detergent packets you pop into your machine: no muss, no fuss.
“Each chemical is its own color and our mobile app says, ‘you need to toss in two greens and a blue,'” Miller told Fortune. Chemicals ship every two months or so, depending on pool conditions, and pHin collects data over the course of the year to track usage. Basically, customers subscribe for the chemicals and get the associated hardware as part of that fee. As long as the subscription is active, the company will replace hardware as needed.
Miller said most pool owners pay $400 to $500 a year for chemicals, and if they hire a pool service person, that’s typically $2,000 a year. ConnectedYard charges $499 per year.
But for those times when customers need an in-person visit, it is also assembling a network of pool service technicians (there are now 800) who can be sent out at customer request (again from the mobile app). pHin competes with services from pool equipment suppliers Hayward and Pentair, but Miller said those systems connect into the homeowner’s plumbing and electrical systems and typically cost more than pHin’s $499-a-year buy-in.
Home pools are one thing; there’s also a booming market helping hotel chains and resorts automate their pool maintenance. That’s what VivoAquatics is going for. This Monrovia, Calif.-based company also packages up a chemical controller and remote-monitoring service that it sells as a subscription service.
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“We’re a bit of a systems integrator that puts together a chemical control system, a sanitizer to feed the required chemical into the water, the connectivity to get all that online,” Willan Johnson, founder and chief executive, told Fortune. VivoAquatics built its own proprietary software to manage the data and uses Amazon @amzn(AMZN)Web Services for storage. The idea here is not just to keep the pools clean but to help commercial properties save water and electricity. “We integrate with water meters and their heating systems as needed,” Johnson said.
Starwood (HOT) hotels, one customer, is using VivoAquatics as part of its 30-by-20-by-20 effort to cut electricity usage by 30% and water use by 20% by the year 2020, Johnson said. Marriott (MAR) is another customer.
“We provide metrics on water use, electricity and chemicals in a dashboard for these companies,” Johnson said. VivoAquatics typically installs its own hub, in some cases the properties want the company to tie into their internal IT network, but others prefer to run it as a separate system, he noted.
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Johnson said there are roughly 250,000 commercial pools in North America and 20,000 hotels with pools with huge concentrations in a few key areas: Orlando, Las Vegas, Southern California, and Hawaii.
These connected pool-monitoring offerings show the promise of the Internet of things in helping companies provide remote preventive maintenance and diagnostic services, and ensure that needed physical products are delivered on time.
This story was updated to add an updated esimate of the number of private pools in the U.S.