Last week, I focused on smart cities, but this week I’m going to talk about issues associated with smart suburbs. In smart cities, the priorities tend to be safety, energy efficiency, and better transportation. In the suburbs, some concerns are the same, such as safety and energy efficiency, but others are different. Instead of smart parking, for example, suburbs are investing in smart pools and irrigation.
Common Sense is a company that was spun out of a California electrical contractor called Three Phase Electric. I’m less focused on Common Sense’s potential for success than what I learned in chatting with the CEO, Kim Weiss. Two years ago, she saw that the IoT was going to disrupt the professional lighting business, and commissioned Persistent Systems to build out a software platform that could take in a variety of sensor readings already deployed in many communities and create a dashboard for managers and service providers.
Her company had already been providing street and safety lighting for municipalities and home owners’ associations in Southern California. With the transition to LEDs, however, municipal lighting has changed significantly. Weiss wanted to offer customers a larger service, but she didn’t want to undercut other services providers that work with home owners’ associations.
The current version of the software tracks irrigation use, community Wi-Fi, pool chemical levels, and lighting. It has been in use since January in a test community. That test has helped Common Sense address glitches in the software, but it has also showed just how much humans matter during what companies call digital transformations.
Weiss told me that in the test community the pool manager had, as a matter of practice, been putting the bare minimum of chlorine into the pool. This wasn’t a nefarious move. However, the sensor data showed that when early morning lap swimmers were in the pool and when the swim team practiced in the afternoon, the chlorine levels fell to imperceptible levels. California has regulations about this, so the community was concerned. The HOA manager spoke with the pool manager, but he didn’t exactly appreciate being told how to do his job.
However, Weiss says he looked at the data, and after being assured he could charge for the additional cost of more chlorine, he came around. I hear these sorts of stories all the time. People often believe they are doing the right thing, so when a sensor that can take continuous measurements together with a computer program says you’re not doing a good job, it’s not welcome news. However, in this case, it also provides a bit of protection for the contractor because he can clearly show the HOA managers exactly how many extra chemicals he needs to do his job.
That is one anecdote from the trial period. Weiss says that the system will also detect leaking irrigation lines or burned-out light bulbs in street lamps, allowing contractors to solve problems as soon as they happen. Already the test community where the system was installed has agreed to sign on as a paying client. Weiss hopes that Common Sense will find customers far beyond Southern California. So far she’s planning to market in Northern California, Florida, and in Texas, where planned communities often have homeowners’ associations.
The company is also working hard on a second generation of the product, which would add security cameras and access control. The idea of HOAs having access to security footage gives me the heebie-jeebies given how petty some HOA board members can be, but Weiss says that the footage will go to the management company, not the boards. Plus, many HOAs already have cameras set up, and laws governing their use.
In my chat with Weiss I saw the suburb of the future. And much of it seemed reasonable and more efficient. We’ll see if that’s actually how it turns out.