Notion IoT Sensors Let Homeowners Design Their Own Home Intelligence

Travelers Insurance is the latest insurance company to offer home monitoring from the technology startup, at a discounted rate so users can select what they want to monitor when they're away from home.
Published: August 31, 2018

Traveler’s Insurance is offering its clients a discount on Internet of Things (IoT) technology that enables them to track conditions within their home, automatically and remotely, at a cost of $50. The home-monitoring system is provided by technology company Notion. Travelers is one of a handful of insurance companies to provide the Notion system, which offers cloud-based wireless sensor data to automate homes.

The Notion Home Monitoring System leverages IoT technology consisting of multiple sensors that transmit data to a single hub that, in turn, uses a home’s existing Wi-Fi network to forward the data to a cloud-based server. Users can then access or receive alerts regarding data from the sensors using a Notion app on their Android- or iOS-based devices.

While Travelers will offer the Notion kits, consisting of a Wi-Fi-connected hub and five sensors, for $50, the kit will cost $199 online for the general public. Access to the cloud-based data on an app is provided to users at no charge.

Notion was conceived approximately four years ago when one of the company’s co-founders (Ryan Margoles, now Notion’s CTO) experienced a problem with a smoke alarm in his home. Unbeknownst to him, the alarm had been triggered while he was out, and the sound, which continued until he returned home, was distressing his new retriever puppy, Apollo. The incident predated Google’s NEST thermostat, smoke alarm and security system, and there were few technology solutions available.

Margoles met with Brett Jurgens, who co-founded Notion with him. Margoles has a background in sensor technology and data analysis for the golf industry, while Jurgens has a finance background with experience in launching consumer technology startups. When the two men launched the new company, they began speaking with potential users and found the demand was for a more extensive home-awareness system with the flexibility to allow homeowners to set up and manage sensor data that was uniquely of interest—such as water leaks, thermostat changes, the opening and closing of doors or windows, and the triggering of a smoke detector.

Since the Nest home-automation system was available by that time, Notion sought to offer an alternative, with more sensor data, that might also include Nest-based information if a home owner were using the Google-based system. Jurgens says the users they targeted wanted to know about more than just triggered smoke alarms or security breaches. “Our users find value in knowing when a cleaner or dog walker comes and goes,” he says, and want to be able to act on those alerts.

After joining the Techstars accelerator program in Boulder, Co., Notion opted to leverage home-insurance companies as a vehicle to get the product into the hands of homeowners at a low cost. The Notion system consists of sensor devices the size of Oreo cookies, which can detect eight different events: acceleration (movement), moisture, sound, temperature, light, orientation, natural frequency (which detects changes in frequency, such as the movement of water through a pipe) and angular rate to detect when something like a door changes its angle by opening or closing.

The sensors can detect such incidents as water leaks, furnace failures or break-ins. In the case of water leaks, amoisture sensor can be attached near toilets, water heaters, air-conditioning units, sinks, showers, bathtubs, pipes or appliances. The same device could be attached to a home door, or to a cabinet that requires security, such as a liquor or gun cabinet.

The Notion hub, known by the company as a “bridge”—a rectangular device measuring 2 inches by 2 inches by 3 inches—captures signals from the sensors using a proprietary 802.15.4 transmission. A single hub can receive transmissions from 25 to 30 sensors; in a home measuring 1,800 to 2,000 square feet, Jurgens says, one hub would provide full coverage, while a larger home might require two. Most users start with about five sensors. The company sells Notion packages with either three or five sensors and a hub to get started.

First, users attach the hub to a wall or ceiling in a central location and connect the hub to the Wi-Fi network. They can then install sensors where they need to capture specific information. Users can access the Notion app to begin programming the kind of information they want to collect. For instance, they may want to know when the front door opens each day, indicating a child has returned from school or a delivery person has arrived. They may want to use one sensor to identify if a pipe is leaking, or if the furnace has stopped working (which would be detected by an unexpected change in temperature).

The users can also select whether they want anomalies sent to them as an alert, or simply stored for historical data purposes. When viewing the data for historical reasons, users can identify such issues as windows that allow cold air into the house, or weather stripping that needs to be replaced. The technology also works with homeowners’ existing Nest thermostats so they can view changes in temperature with their existing system on the Notion app.

In the future, Notion may consider enabling other wireless networks to connect the system with a server, such as LoRa. In addition, Jurgens says, “We’ve taken a serious look at Bluetooth, but range and power consumption are an issue.”

The product was launched in 2016, then a second-generation version was released in November with a AAA battery to power the sensor (a replacement of the shorter-lived coin cell battery). Since its release, Jurgens says, there have been tens of thousands of customers using the hub, and hundreds of thousands of sensors in use. The announcement by Travelers brings the insurance company into a group of six of the top 10 home-insurance companies endorsing or offering the technology.

Since its release, Jurgens says, the users have helped devise more use cases for the technology. Temperatures for the comfort or health of pets are a key focus, he adds, noting that one customer is using the system to protect pet chinchillas that are sensitive to temperature changes. Gun safety and liquor cabinet management are also applications that homeowners have identified. Some users are utilizing the system at vacation properties, as well as on their boats.

Notion is also testing the technology for elder care. For instance, if sensors detect the length of time between actions in an elderly person’s home—such as the opening of a bedroom or bathroom door—the system can measure when an individual is slowing down and could thus have a greater risk of falling, or may need more in-home assistance. “We’re really just scratching the surface” of what the technology can provide, Jurgens states.