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“The Internet of Things” is supposed to involve just about everything, but right now it’s fairly limited to remotely connecting people to devices such as security systems. For example, a vacationing family can use the Internet to unlock their home to admit a family member, then lock it up again when the home is empty once more.
British Gas, a subsidiary of the energy group Centrica, has nudged the needle forward a bit, spending nearly $68 million to buy AlertMe, the British tech start-up that features a “smart home” system that already has been empowering the utility’s customers – 150,000 of them – to adjust the hot water and heat in their homes remotely.
This is fully consistent with the Internet of Things, or IoT, as it’s often called: equipping an old-fashioned device with software and electronics that empower it to communicate with other devices. But it isn’t yet the Holy Grail of the IoT; that would be a refrigerator sensing that you’re milk supply is low and ordering a delivery from your local food store.
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Nevertheless, British Gas, Britain’s largest gas supplier with 11 million residential customers, said it plans to improve AlertMe so it could “put people in control of their homes in a way that’s simply never been possible before.” Details of the improvements haven’t been released, however.
British Gas isn’t the first energy company to partner with AlertMe. The technology company, which was founded in 2006 in London, now serves more than a half-million residential customers in the United States and Europe. Besides its London headquarters, it also has offices in Cambridge and America.
And British Gas’ interest in AlertMe isn’t new. It began investing in the company in 2010, buying 21 percent of it. Since then it has been using it to allow customers to have remote control of their furnaces and water heaters.
AlertMe, which sees itself as a pioneer in the Internet of Things, issued a statement saying, “The deal [with British Gas] will create the UK’s leading connected-homes provider by bringing together British Gas’s ability to innovate for mass market consumers with AlertMe’s next generation Internet of Things technology and expertise.”
One of the major benefits of buying AlertMe is that it’s not just about furnaces and water heaters. Already, according to British Gas’ commercial director, Nina Bhatia, it has deals with a variety of other enterprises.
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These businesses include Lowe’s, a chain of home-improvement centers in the United States, which sells everything from nails to electric screwdrivers to devices that are ideal for the ultimate Internet of Things: refrigerators and laundry machines.
“We’re very ambitious in this space,” Bhatia said. “We don’t just want this to be for British Gas and Centrica. We’re looking at other markets and other partnerships.”
Kassir Hussain, director of British Gas’ Connected Homes division, agreed. “This really demonstrates our commitment to this space,” he said. “It’s the final piece in the jigsaw.”
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com