Austin’s Curb Monitors Energy Use, Aims to Be the Smart Home’s Brain
There’s a lot of talk about smart homes, but Erik Norwood, founder of Curb, says our residences are a long way from true intelligence.
Look, for example, at our cars, “which are packed full of technology,” he says. Warning lights remind us to put on seat belts, check engine fluids, or if our gas tanks are low—helping us to avoid problems before they happen.
“None of that information is around to make homeownership better,” he says. “Bills are backwards looking. The only way to find out if your AC breaks is if you get hot air pumped into your house.”
Curb has a device that when hooked up to a home’s circuit breaker box—“the nervous system of the house,” Norwood says—it can tell homeowners which appliance is requiring the most energy. “It’s like a brain that allows you to make decisions on where you’re potentially leaking energy,” he adds.
The Austin, TX-based startup says its software uses algorithms to analyze the “electrical signature” of each home appliance and then calculates how much energy is used by those appliances. The monitor can detect when devices are turned on and off and when equipment starts to fail, Norwood says.
The upshot is a homeowner would be able to track in real-time energy hogs, and mitigate for that, as well as discovering which devices are on the verge of breaking down, saving money on electricity bills and purchasing new appliances.
Neelan Choksi, president and chief operating officer at Tasktop Technologies, is a mentor at Capital Factory, where he met Curb’s founders. The home is, for most of us, our biggest investment, he says. Yet, it doesn’t do a good job of leveraging technology to run more efficiently. Curb helps to change that, he adds.
“The visibility you get can almost be addictive, say, ‘let me turn up my AC three degrees and turn on two fans and see what that does to my electric consumption,’” says Choksi, who is also an Xconomist.
It’s still early days for the cleantech startup. Curb was last year spun out of an Austin-based solar power company called Circular Energy, where Norwood was the chief financial officer. Although he says that Curb’s device can work with a solar power system, he thought there might be other more incremental ways to reduce energy consumption.
“We had all these customers coming to the solar company, frustrated with their electricity bills,” he says. “It costs $15,000 to put a solar system on the roof. Maybe there’s a simpler solution.”
About 150 devices are out “in the wild” at residences, and about 14 commercial customers who are testing it out, Norwood says. About half of those are paying customers.
Curb has a partnership with Samsung’s “Smart Things” platform and has had “lots of conversations” with Nest, Norwood says.
The hardware and software for the Curb Energy Monitor costs from $249 to $399, with discounts for purchasing multiple units for use in larger homes. Norwood says the company is in the middle of raising a seed round of funding to expand partnerships, and it plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign later this month to sell devices and generate buzz.
“We will ship early units as soon as the campaign is completed,” he says.
In the meantime, Norwood says the company is talking to large national retailers and retail energy providers to sell Curb’s devices. The company has a manufacturing facility in Austin where it can build 1,000 devices a week.
Choksi says the startup’s relative youth is mitigated by its executives’ experience and “hunger.” “That has gotten them to build a product and test it in the real world, which has allowed them to quickly iterate and improve the product,” he says. “That real-world experience is why I have confidence that the product works.”
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