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Sensor startup senses golden opportunity

Courtesy photo
The Sensordone's "face" tracks facets of its environment, including light and gas levels, color, humidity and more.

Are we on the verge of a “sensor revolution?”

Sensorcon hopes so. The Buffalo-based tech startup envisions a world where the average person is empowered with a small device that reads temperature, carbon monoxide levels, dew point and more.

"A sixth sense"

The company’s flagship offering is the Sensordrone, a keychain-sized gadget that is designed to look like a 8-bit cartoon face. The mouth and each eye detect and measure an aspect of the outside world.

“The left eye is color and light sensing,” says Mark Wagner, founder of Sensorcon and one of its three employees.

The Sensordrone’s mouth measures humidity, air quality and alcohol vapors. These raw abilities have been harnessed by software developers who have created apps that linkup with device's many sensors. For instance, one Droid app uses the Sensordrone as a breathalyzer and another turns it into a carbon monoxide monitor.

To demonstrate, Wagner loosens the top of a large steel tank of carbon monoxide in the company's offices, located in a mostly vacant airport hanger. The Sensordrone, wirelessly attached to an HTC tablet, picks up on the poisonous gas. The tablet’s screenflashes the warning “Unhealthy” in gloomy red letters.

“The problem with that particular gas is you can’t smell it. So you don’t know it’s a problem until you already have a problem,” Wagner says, as he turns on a ventilation hood to circulate the air. "The device can be your sixth sense."

"Oh, I'd love to have this on my cell phone"

Sensors aren’t new. But Sensorcon’s business model bets on the fact sensors have not been gathered together in one gadget before and equipped with smart phone interactivity.  

“There’s so many gadgets out there today, right? Instead of buying a single purpose sensoring device or some kind of gadget. Our idea is that more integration is going to allow you to do multiple different things.” Wagner says.

In June, the company introduced the Sensordrone to the world on KickStarter, a website where anybody can invest in a product, project or company. They set the goal at $25,000 and raised it within a matter of days. As of July 10, the company has quintupled its original ask, taking in over $126,000.

While Wagner admits the Sensordrone has made a splash online selling for $199 apiece, he is already looking ahead to the company’s next phase.

“Virtually every device that you’re buying today could potentially be operated off of your smart phone,” says Wagner. “Some people have actually pointed out, ‘Oh, I’d love to have this on my cell phone.’ We know how to do that, actually.”

Convincing smart phone and tablet manufacturers to include sensor technology in future models will be Sensorcon’s biggest challenge yet.

Wagner admits the key to his company’s future likely hedges on the outcome of this effort. Larger and better-funded competitors are also eyeing the potential market value of such deals with Google and Apple.

Wagner does not yet have a sense of how the situation will turn out. And despite its versatility, Sensordrone does not, either. 

Follow reporter Daniel Robison on Twitter @robisonrobison.