Smart water venture with ties to University of Washington unveils $850 leak detection device

Phyn’s smart water assistant. (Phyn Photo)

LAS VEGAS — Phyn, a joint venture between Belkin International and plumbing products giant Uponor that grew out of technology developed at the University of Washington in Seattle, debuted a smart water sensor today at CES that has been nearly a decade in the making.

The $850 product, called Phyn Plus, includes a sensor that hooks up to a water line and an accompanying app for homeowners to monitor their water usage. The water sensor can spot spot tiny changes in water pressure and catch leaks early on before they can do major damage. It uses machine learning to adjust to water usage habits in the home.

Shwetak Patel
Shwetak Patel. (UW Photo)

Phyn’s product will be available through Uponor starting this spring in 30 markets, including Seattle, with a future national rollout planned. Phyn picked the first 30 markets based on high water usage and prevalence of leaks. Uponor will train and certify plumbers in those markets to install and maintain Phyn’s products.

Phyn is based in Torrance, Calif., but has a research lab in Seattle. The lab was originally formed through Belkin’s 2010 acquisition of clean energy startup Zensi, which was led by UW professor Shwetak Patel, the serial entrepreneur and MacArthur Genius Award winner who continues to serve as Belkin’s chief scientist.

While the sensors and algorithms powering the product have been changed and rewritten over the years, Patel’s vision still forms the backbone of Phyn’s work.

“There was an idea with Shwetak’s early work that suggested that in all these different environments that if you are sensing the right things, any kind of irregularity in the system can be detected, analyzed and identified, and so everything we’ve done is based on that initial idea,” Phyn CEO Ryan Kim said.

Phyn has been testing the water sensor, which is an evolution of a previous project called Wemo Water, for the last year. To make sure it works, the team wanted to test it in every climate and environment imaginable, so they deployed the device to 300 homes in 19 states. During that process, the company said it collected 10 billion data points by monitoring more than 12 million water events.

Phyn’s app accompanies its smart water sensor.

“That’s 12 million people brushing their teeth in the morning, taking showers, toilet flushes, sprinklers, pool fills,” Kim said.

And in those tests, Phyn found the most common sources of leaks came from toilet flappers, those little rubber covers in the upper part of the toilet that open and close to let water in and out when it flushes. Though small, and mostly unnoticed, those leaks can pile up water losses equivalent to weeks worth of flushes every day.

Kim says spotting leaks is just the beginning of Phyn’s long-term plan. New features will roll out throughout 2018, and the company is already working on a second generation of hardware.

“We have a long term strategic plan, a model that starts with protect and grows into conserve and ultimately an enhanced experience around water,” Kim said. “We’re hyper focused on protect. We want to be the most accurate, most reliable leak detection solution out there in the residential environment.”