Monnit Looks to Grow with the Internet of Things

Salt Lake City—Why can’t our appliances just talk to us? Anybody who has ever woken up to, say, a warm refrigerator or a freezing house in the middle of winter has probably wondered that very thing. Why can’t your fridge warn you it’s broken long before you have to throw everything in it away, or your heater tell you it could be on the fritz before your house is 50 degrees?

Now, imagine you work in pharmaceuticals or food service. While it’s beyond annoying to have to throw everything in your fridge away, it’s devastating for a restaurant to have to toss out its stock. Local restaurant Café Zupas had to contend with those problems, as well as a San Francisco’s Ben & Jerry’s. While there are sensors in the fridges at both businesses, the sensors are dumb—they send out an alarm for any variance in temperature, leading to a lot of false positives (and headaches) for the owners.

Enter Monnit. The Salt Lake City-based monitoring solutions company is looking to help make that dumb technology smarter, said Brad Walters, CEO and founder of Monnit.

“In 2010, we started Monnit wanting to create low-cost sensors for businesses. Businesses have things in their environments or assets where they want to see what’s going on,” said Walters. “Traditionally, that’s done with a clipboard. We wanted to put an end to clipboards, globally. Walking around with a clipboard will be replaced by putting a piece of electronics on something and dynamically learning from it.”

It’s the ‘learning from it’ part that makes Monnit so attractive to companies like Café Zupas and Ben & Jerry’s. Monnit’s sensors can be programmed to be more flexible than a normal sensor, and to make out reports within given time frames for its users. For instance, if a pharmaceutical company needs to know the temperature of its drugs every 15 minutes, those reports can be logged every quarter-hour and saved. These reports can be accessed on a PC, on tablets, on cell phones—anywhere you can get data.

“There have been solutions out there that monitor temperatures, but they’ve been dumb systems. They may put a device on there that has a setting for high or low. If it goes high, they send out an alert. But that might be a temporary high,” said Walters. “Some of our people, they tell us they have a defrost cycle, so [we need to] be flexible within a degree or two. Or [they say,] ‘Don’t alert me, but check back in five minutes.’ We’ve got extensive reporting capabilities.”

That way, Café Zupas or Ben & Jerry’s can be alerted not only if there’s a variance in temperatures, but rather if those temperatures continue to rise, signaling a true failure in the refrigerators. Steps can be taken long before the restaurant needs to throw out its food.

Monnit’s system is used in a variety of ways. While restaurants use it to monitor cooler temperatures and server rack temperatures (which can vary as much as 20 degrees from top to bottom), other properties have begun using the system for more creative uses. Walters says a cattle company in Dallas uses the sensors on their cattle as ‘fever tags.’ A probe touches the cow’s tympanic membrane and monitors whether the animal is running a fever. If so, a red light goes off.

“If they see a field of cattle and if that light is on, the cattle is sick,” said Walters.

The company can then quarantine or remove the animal before it infects others.

Another company that uses the Monnit system is a bedbug extermination company, which uses the sensors during extermination. They put industrial heaters into a room and heat everything to 130 degrees for two hours, drawing out the bedbugs, all the while wirelessly monitoring the situation from afar.

Walters says the uses for Monnit’s offerings are endless. As the Internet of Things—a concept of connecting any electrical device to the internet—grows, Walters said he believes that Monnit can be at the forefront of that growth.

“Monnit’s mission is to become one of the dominant players in the Internet of Things,” he says. “People want to be able to talk to our things. They want an answer. They want the evolution. This evolution is going to be a thousand what the IT industry was. I use 88 diff sensors in my personal life, but I have one phone and one PC. At any given time, I know what’s going on in my home. I have a farm. I know what’s going on there and I know what’s happening in the office.”