NEW YORK — As some predict that New York's easy summer will turn into a hellish winter, a local startup aims to fix the freeze. Heat Seek, grand prize winner of this year's NYC BigApps competition in the live and connected device categories, wants to keep tenants warm with inexpensive temperature sensors.
Each year, the New York City government logs 200,000 complaints about improper heating, Heat Seek said. Battling for heat can be an arduous process; local laws require handwritten temperature logs. Heat Seek's system is designed to record apartment temperatures every hour and then present the data for lawyers, advocates, and inspectors.
The two-part system will feature a Digi Xbee-based sensor cell that will use an Analog Devices TMP36 temperature sensor to record an apartment's temperature every hour. Hardware engineer Harold Cooper said the company chose Xbee to power the cell because of its reliance on mesh networks.
"We want all the data to get to our servers so it can be stored and analyzed and used to make reports for lawyers," he told us. "But we don't want each sensor to have Internet access, because of cost, and we can't expect them to be in buildings that have wireless infrastructure."
Data from the temperature sensor cells will be transmitted over mesh networks to the second part of Heat Seek's system, the hub, which will be outfitted with an Xbee plugged into a Raspberry Pi, a Huawei 3G modem, and a 3G SIM card. Each apartment building will have one hub to relay data from dozens of sensors to Heat Seek servers.
"A cell doesn't have to be able to talk directly to the hub. That's if they can talk to some neighboring apartment cells. Eventually, they'll all work together to talk to the hub," Cooper said. "The amount of data we're sending is miniscule, because we're only taking measurements once an hour. A dozen sensors maybe use 1 megabyte, which allows us to get really cheap data plans."
Inside a Heat Seek cell.
(Image: Heat Seek/Kickstarter)
Eventually, Heat Seek hopes to move on from Raspberry Pis in favor of cheaper microntrollers, he said. The company wants to drop its price point from $30 to $10 to get the system in more homes. Though Heat Seek has a map of heating violations, it is still waiting to see tangible results from its system. Developers hope that the data will help city government work more efficiently.
"The government likes being able to see data to get patterns and help them know where and when to do inspection," Cooper said. Prosecuting violations will "still take a physical inspection, because it'll take judges a while to get used to new technology. I think this winter, the goal will be to help inspectors know where and when they need to be going."
In addition to the $25,000 won in the BigApps competition, Heat Seek is closing out a Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000 to put 1,000 sensors in New York City apartments. The company raised $15,567 and is well on its way to reaching its manufacturing goals.
Once the cells and hubs are manufactured, the first wave will be installed in homes working with housing advocates at Casa and the Urban Justice Center. Heat Seeker is also working toward nonprofit 501(c)3 status, Cooper said.
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EETimes