David Bambrick kept shrinking his shirts. It was a small annoyance, and one that had nothing to do with his job making laser components that were later sold to clients including various law enforcement agencies (they used lasers as an alternative to dusting for fingerprints). But as he was trying to build some kind of wireless toolset for measuring and tracking lasers in his lab, he realized that the IoT work he was doing for the lab could solve his laundry woes.
From there, he and two other colleagues built a $50 connected sensor designed to fit inside a dryer. The sensor uses Bluetooth to report the temperature and humidity inside the dryer and then make a determination as to when the clothes are dry. Once the laundry is dry, the hub sends a message to the user’s phone, which shows a notification. The result is a relatively cheap way to make a dumb home appliance smart, called SmartDry.
And Bambrick was able to stop shrinking his shirts.
Bambrick says that as the concept was built and validated he moved to create a new company called Connected Life Labs to build and market SmartDry. The company is self-funded so far and is still based in the same building in New Jersey where the laser business operates, but it’s now its own entity.
After spending the summer working on production issues, Bambrick is now selling the sensor and hub for $49.95 on Amazon. He’s sold almost a thousand devices since it launched widely in October and hopes to start raising outside funding in the near future as he continues to develop the business.
Bambrick’s initial goal was to help people turn older appliances into smarter appliances, but since releasing the sensor he’s discovered that it also helps people save on energy use and provides a bit of help for people who are older or unable to move around with ease because they don’t have to check to see if the laundry is done.
So far, he says that customers using the sensor save an average of 15 minutes of dryer time if they pull out their clothes when they get the notification. In my tests, I usually saved about 10 minutes, but I wasn’t always nearby and able to stop the dryer to take out my clothes. It was nice to know that my clothes wouldn’t get too hot without me getting a warning. It was also nice knowing when my laundry was done without having to check. For people who have their laundry room in a basement or who might be using shared facilities, the sensor would help them avoid unnecessary trips.
To install the sensor, you just pull out a tab to activate a battery, then affix the magnetized sensor to the dryer drum. After downloading the app to your phone you take the hub (it’s roughly 1.5 inches long) and plug it into the USB-to-power adapter. From there, simply follow a few steps laid out in the app. The hub uses Bluetooth to connect to your phone and get on the Wi-Fi network, which makes for a simple onboarding process.
The data travels from your dryer to the hub using Bluetooth, which means the hub should be plugged in within 10 or 15 feet of your sensor and the laundry room. My laundry room didn’t have any outlets, but there was one in the hallway outside. Despite a dryer acting as a large Faraday cage that traps wireless signals, there was no problem getting data from the sensor to the hub.
You can also link the SmartDry to your Amazon Echo device to let Alexa notify you when your clothes are done. Unfortunately, the default notification is that it will turn your Echo LED yellow, and you will have to ask Alexa what the notification means. I found that everything works exactly as promised, and after five cycles of laundry, the sensor has stayed in place and continues to perform as intended.
That said, I have two beefs with the product, although both are a function of it being very much an early-stage effort. The first is that SmartDry uses an Espressif ESP32 board, which has a significant security flaw that could allow someone to put malware on the device. Espressif has put out a patch, however, and Bambrick is aware of the problem and is working on a solution.
The second issue is a design complaint. The hub and the outlet attach in such a way that you’re stuck with a three-inch clump of gear sticking out of an outlet. My SmartDry is plugged into an outlet near the floor, which means I am waiting for someone to run into it and rip it out of the wall.
However, we get a lot of requests for exactly this type of device and I can pretty easily recommend it for people who want to extend the life of their dryer (and clothes) by making their machine a little smarter. It is also likely to make people wish they could remotely control their dryer once they get the notification, which means users will likely upgrade to a smart dryer during their next dryer purchase.
As a startup and as a business, Bambrick says the company is hoping to convince utilities to work with SmartDry on a rebate program since it can offer such significant savings. He also wants to build out a sensor for washers, and maybe a leak detection sensor for the laundry room, basically turning the company into a source of smart laundry room products.