Instruction, Power

Let me start by telling you, the $1 to $20 sensor COULD happen if produced in quantities of 100,000 units with limited sensing requirements (very basic sensor) and short-range radio.

Unfortunately, at this time the IoT industry is a ways away from achieving the $1 sensor. 

Time and time again we have heard from clients that they thought the $1 sensor was their anticipated price, and at best the sensor would be $20 dollars each.  Hence, this article was written to explain what goes into building a sensor and why we have a lot more work to do before achieving this.

What goes into building a sensor?

Step 1: (Creating a sensor)

Once a company decides to build a sensor, they must first start with building the team. This is a significant step and investment as product development cycles are anywhere from 12 to 24 months before a product is viable for resale. Industrial, mechanical, electrical, and firmware engineers have to be employed for that period and paid before work can begin on that sensor. Not to mention the manufacturing and supply chain issues that come with high volume electronic products. These upfront costs are required before you can start to develop a comprehensive sensor that encompasses all the requirements for your intended market. At the minimum, you can expect to pay $200,000 towards the development of your first sensor. 

Step 2: (Injection mold)

The second step is the injection mold, which is a capital-intensive investment depending on the volume of sensors you intend to manufacture. A plastic injection mold can cost between $5,000 to $10,000 and will yield up to 3000 to 5000 units. An injection mold built of metal will cost between $10,000 to $20,000 but it will help you produce north of 30,000 units. The key here is, can you sell enough sensors to recoup your investment?

Step 3: (Choosing the sensing capabilities)

Once a company has agreed on a product design that will be suitable for the marketplace, they must identify what they want to be sensing along with each additional element they wish to measure. Any add-ons will cost more money. For the purpose of this example let’s use our Water Sniffer/Water Sensor. After months of market research, we identified that we want the following from our sensor:

  1. Water detection (This is the primary value of the sensor yet again we needed both the flood contacts and the rope sensing to ensure it would fit all business cases)

  2. Tamper detection (This is as important to identify theft and vandalism which is more common than you think)

  3. Temperature sensing (This was important for clients worried about frozen pipes)

  4. A power button (This was important to simplify the installation process)

  5. A buzzer (This was important to us as a second line of defense to the dashboard and also to ensure we knew if the sensor was “live” once we pressed the power button)

Step 4: (Finding the right network for the product and/or solution)

Once a company has identified what sensing capabilities they want to achieve and what design they like, they will need to consider how the sensor will communicate with their application/dashboard. In this area, there is a range of chipsets and networks with varying limitations. For the purpose of this exercise let’s combine chipsets with networks and assume each network only has one kind of chip. For the record, many other networks exist but this paints a decent picture for the audience.

  1. Bluetooth: Amongst the most cost-effective chip

  2. Sigfox: A great option for certain long-range applications where the network provider manages the network cost for an annual fee. This chipset has a cost double the price of the Bluetooth chip.

  3. LoRa: Another great option depending on its application where the solutions provider must manage his or her own network. This chipset comes in at approximately 3 times the cost of the Bluetooth chip but offers more versatility.

  4. Behrtech: A new up-and-coming option that has many benefits for solutions providers in the proptech business who may not understand networks. The price point here is closer to 5 times the cost of a Bluetooth chip.

This is another important milestone a company needs to surpass as they build their sensor. Many nodes are not designed to be able to change chipsets after the company has landed on a specific chip. This further limits the company’s market segment/opportunity. 

In our case, we’ve chosen to spend a little more in step 1 to ensure we can be agnostic to the network our client wishes to work with however, our most common network and chipset is LoRa.

Stay tuned for another article about network comparisons!

Step 5: (Choosing how long you want the batteries to last and how many you will need)

At this stage, the company must choose if they believe the client will see value in evaluating the total life cycle of the product or if they will air towards the most cost-effective product. 

In many cases, companies will compromise on the power to help reduce costs for the client. However, in our opinion, this is the worst decision. The best products will have the most amount of energy to last as long as humanly possible. This is another additional expense for those who choose to view things the same way we do.

Simultaneously, the company will have to look at offering its sensor with or without batteries. At a minimum, a decent 1.5V battery costs approximately $2 each so you can do the math. 

In our case, we’ve opted for three 3.6V batteries with a cost of approximately $3 each as we see this as a game-changer for product versatility and for the life expectancy of the sensor.

Step 6: (The PCB)

We cannot forget the board that connects the sensors in Step 2 and the batteries identified in Step 4. This is effectively the brain of the sensor and the most capital-intensive piece of the sensor.

Step 7: (Certifications)

After the node has been assembled and has been tested, the certifications come in.  The water sensor then needs to be certified FCC & IC if you want to sell it across North America. The total investment for the certification is approximately $10,000. 

After the hardware development cost comes:

  1. Minimum inventory requirements and the costs to hold this inventory. 

  2. Cost of firmware development and software development where both are vital to the deployment of a comprehensive solution. 

  3. Import charges.

  4. Manufacturing and assembly costs.

As you can tell by now, the capital investment and the recurring inventory cost of producing a sensor is quite significant. Thus, it will require immense market momentum and substantial purchase orders to help drive the market towards the $1 sensor, or even to the to $20 sensor range. 

We hope that you have found this article valuable. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask as we are always looking to learn more from subject matter experts and looking to provide value to our clients.
Your Connected Sensors Team

Instruction, Safety

For those of you who have experienced a flood or simply want to reduce your building risk, we have put together a list of commonly asked questions about a leak detection system.

How does a leak detection system work? How do we recommend setting up a leak detection system, or as we call it “Flood Mitigation System”?

Step 1: (How many Gateways do I need?)  

Based on the size of your property, we identify how many gateways are going to be required to transmit and receive messages to and from the deployed solutions/sensors and where they should be installed. 

This is like the foundation of your home; you always want to make sure it’s done right from the start.

Step 2: (How do I connect the Gateways to the Cloud?) 

Once we have identified the quantity of gateways required, these gateways are then equipped with LTE SIM cards before they are shipped so that the data that the gateways gather can make it to the LoRa Network server in the cloud and then to our Monitoring Station/ Dashboard. 

You can think of this step as the SIM card you put in your cell phone, without a SIM card you won’t get very far.

Step 3: (Where do I install the Gateways in the building?) 

You can then install the LoRa gateways in your property based on our recommended strategic locations identified in Step 1. These locations are important as they ensure that the sensors that are going to be set up in Step 4 transmit and receive data consistently to and from the gateway. We do our best to recommend placements of these gateways in areas where they are not visible to everyone and where a power source is accessible. 

You always want to place the gateways close to a power source and hidden from the public’s eyes. It is also important that the gateways are spaced far from one another to ensure the building has full coverage.

Step 4: (Where should I put sensors) 

You can then install our leak detection system wireless sensors in key strategic areas as per the layout and design agreed upon between you (the client) and us (Connected Sensors). If you don’t know where you want to install them, you can always wait until install day.  Our platform allows for flexibility for when you decide “in the moment” where those sensors should be placed. 

This step always requires either access to drawings, building walkthroughs or someone that knows the building so that the sensors are strategically placed in high-risk areas. 

Step 5: (What sensors do I need? How many do I need and where should I put them? – Be Strategic!) 

5.1 – We have different ways of executing on your vision depending on your area of focus. For example, a BASE building solution will be structured differently than an all-encompassing in-unit and BASE building solution. At the end of the day, it boils down to
being strategic with our water sensors as to where the highest risk of leaks are in your building. For example the areas susceptible to high risk are: Risers, Mechanical areas, Water Closets, Penthouses below Mechanical Penthouse, Fire Suppression System, Fan Coil Units (FCU), Elevator pits, Washing Machine and the list goes on. 

5.2 – In conjunction with 5.1 we can also look at shut off valve options.  Our actuator that sits on top of an electric valve or an electric third-party actuator can operate both via battery or with a 5V adapter plugged into a 120 VAC. We always recommend plugging in the actuator to limit the maintenance/ battery replacements. As for the design and layout of where to shut off the water, there is also a long list of options. Here are a few options/examples: 1. In-unit shutoff is a great option for new or newer buildings as you limit tenant disruption in the event of a flood. 2. Riser shutoff is another great option for base building applications but this will disrupt many tenants/condominium owners in the event that a leak is detected and the water is turned off. 3. As a third option, which we often see in the retro-fit market where the existing infrastructure is getting old, we look for feedback from the facility manager or property manager to identify high risk areas and usually propose shut offs for the FCU’s and the hot water risers, more importantly the shower hot water riser.

5.3 – Finally, the last product we recommend including as part of your solution is what we consider as the “best bang for your buck”, our meter reader. This product provides water consumption data, as it learns the patterns of your water consumption and can help identify major floods. Our meter reader also helps identify slow leaks that go undetected such as toilet leaks, faucet leaks and many other fixtures and building infrastructures as it relates to water waste. The first step here is to identify what kind of check meter you have. Most buildings have what is called a pulse meter which is perfect for our agnostic pulse meter reader product. In the event that you have an ultrasonic meter, please send us a picture of your meter and we will have a custom ultrasonic meter reader built just for you. You may also have a dual head pulse meter reader in which case two of our meter readers can be installed to support you best. 

The above 3 elements are amongst the most controversial in the industry. Many individuals and companies believe that shutoffs are critical to prevent floods and reduce the size of a flood. If this is your case, we will be happy to help you execute on your vision however, it is our opinion that early flood detection generated by our products and software identified 5.1 and 5.3 far exceed the value for money of shut off valves. 

Step 5: (How can I install this myself?)

With the exception of the shut off valves, all other products offered by Connected Sensors do not require a licensed plumber or subject matter expert. We have a few options to help you install our solutions.

  1. You can start by reading our installation manual that is included in the box with each of our products.

  2. You can review our installation videos which goes into detail as to how you can install our product and solution.

  3. If you plan on installing our solutions in multiple buildings, we can prepare a “train the trainer” session for your facility manager.

  4. Finally, as a last resort, we also have the ability to connect you with one of our virtual technicians who will use a platform called ICwhatUC to walk you through the installation.

As for the shut off valve, all our products come with an installation manual so that the plumber is able to activate the actuator that sits on top of the valve.

All of our products come with a unique QR Code that you will use in conjunction with our app to activate the devices onto our dashboard as you start deploying the solution. In addition, depending on what adapter you’ve connected to our sensor the device will self assess if its purpose is to actuate a valve, detect water or read a meter. All of which will have pre-determined settings on our dashboard.

We’ve spent countless hours ensuring the simplicity of the installation process, so that we can help clients such as yourself install our solutions all across North America. If for whatever reason you are still having difficulty installing our solution, our support team will be at your disposal to help solve your problems. 

Step 6: (How will I know when there is a leak and who will be notified)

Our leak detection system solutions come with a dashboard, a mobile application and/or an automated robot that will send you a text message in the event there is a warning you should be made aware of. The communication can be relayed to many individuals simultaneously which we recommend for backup purposes. 

If you happen to be a client who wants the solution to be monitored by a third-party, we are happy to relay our warnings to a monitoring station of your choice.

At Connected Sensors, we understand that we cannot be everything to every client. With that in mind, we deliberately wrote this article using generic terminology such as sensor, meter reader and gateway because our vision is that by educating individuals to understand how these systems work, we can help create a more sustainable future for us all. Fortunately, we found out early from our clients the reason why they were hesitant to initially invest in our products, it was because they did not understand how the technology worked. We hope through this article and subsequent articles that we were able to provide you with content and knowledge surrounding leak detection systems and how they work. 
Your Connected Sensors Team