A new $40 million joint venture called Phyn, announced this week by electronics maker Belkin International and plumbing supplier Uponor Corp., will operate a research and development lab in Seattle, working in partnership with University of Washington engineers to bring intelligent water technologies to market.
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.
Known previously as Wemo Labs, the group developed a device called Wemo Water, a sensor system installed under a kitchen sink that uses machine learning to monitor and analyze household water usage down to specific fixtures, and detect leaks. Wemo Water was announced last year but has yet to come to market.
Belkin says in a news release that the Wemo Water technology “will transition to Phyn and serve as the foundation of future Phyn products.” Phyn’s website says its beta program will launch in the fall.
The new joint venture reflects the technology industry’s broader push to use sensors and machine learning to connect and glean insights from everyday devices, commonly known as the Internet of Things.
Belkin and Uponor point to estimates that a household water leak can waste up to 10,000 gallons a year, along with a warning from the World Wildlife Fund that two-thirds of the world’s population may face a shortage of clean water by 2025.
“Water is a precious and vital natural resource, but there has been a fundamental lack of technology dedicated to protecting and preserving it – especially for home users,” said Chet Pipkin, founder and CEO of Belkin, in a news release announcing the new company. “With the creation of Phyn, we’re bringing water up to speed with the rest of the smart home, helping not only to protect consumers’ homes and wallets, but also do our part to solve the very real challenges facing our global water supply.”
Phyn’s R&D lab, in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, is starting with 10 engineers, and the company plans to continue expanding the team, said Ryan Kim, the newly named Phyn CEO, who was previously Belkin’s vice president of engineering. Kim said in an email to GeekWire that the company “continues to be committed to and invested in both our relationship with UW and our R&D office in Seattle.”
“We’ve found the quality of thinking as well as the quality of execution by the team at the lab, under Shwetak’s guidance, to be excellent, cooperative, and highly productive,” Kim said. “Phyn will absolutely continue to work closely with Shwetak and the lab as we move forward.”
Phyn, which like Belkin will be based in the Los Angeles area, is aiming to leverage Belkin’s consumer electronics expertise and Uponor’s connections and experience in plumbing technologies and other household systems.
The deal is expected to be finalized in July, according to an Uponor statement. Uponor, based in Finland, will invest $15 million for a 37.5 percent stake, valuing the company at $40 million, with an option to boost its ownership to 50 percent. Belkin will own 62.5 percent, transferring technology, intellectual property, employees and other assets into the new company. They will also set up a joint venture in Europe.