When you’re running a large real-world industrial operation, there’s always a gauge or readout deep in your facility that your engineer or field team needs to check in person. Lilz, a Japanese startup that makes devices that can remotely read electricity meters, just raised $4.1 million when it entered the North American market.
Lilz’s device is basically a battery-powered smart camera that can last for years on a charge, while monitoring devices like pressure gauges 24/7.
That might sound a bit strange in this modern age – why not have a smart steam watch in the first place? The simple fact is that many infrastructure and heavy industries do not have this option, or retrofitting can be very expensive. However, there are some simple readings that need to be looked at periodically for safety or efficiency reasons.
Sending someone down was the easiest solution until Lilz introduced its device a few years ago. Their powerful yet low-power computer vision stack analyzes images of gauges and digitally communicates that information.
The Okinawa-based company now has about 3,500 active cameras in 500 locations and raised 590 million yen ($4.1 million in today’s dollars) to fuel the next phase of the business. Its investors include JIC Venture Growth Investments, Mitsubishi UFJ Capital, Tokyo Century, Dimension Fund, Okinawa Development Finance Corporation, Okinawa Science and Technology Development Center, and Dogan Beta. This is a Series B round, roughly double the $2.2 million Series A round in 2021.
The company’s devices have received FCC and ISED certification and are ready for launch in the US and Canada. They plan to double the number of camera deployments and then expand rapidly.
As far as the hardware is concerned, Lilz has also been working towards “intrinsically safe” certification, meaning the camera cannot create safety issues such as shorting out and creating sparks that could ignite flammable fumes. This usually involves large equipment enclosures, but Lilz was designed for this from the ground up, with an intrinsically safe camera weighing just 550 grams.
They also plan to release a thermal camera with similar qualities to an RGB camera; thermal monitoring is important for unmanned power stations where people just carry a handheld thermal camera for inspection. Naturally, automating this process is desirable. As with other widely distributed operations such as natural gas storage and transportation, eliminating these inspections is not only safer, but saves money, time and fuel.
While calling Lilz an AI company is a bit of an overstatement, it’s certainly good enough to be called a kinship company as the AI market continues to expand. While the company is regularly improving its computer vision algorithms and methods of accessing data, Jakub Kolodziejczyk, the company’s chief technology officer, said they have seen interest beyond meter reading because the devices are often located at key locations in facilities.
“While we specialize in analog instrumentation, through our cameras customers can also capture other aspects of their processes that they could not track before and ask us for the ability to detect events of interest,” he told TechCrunch. “Some examples of what we’re seeing now are abnormal temperature changes in equipment and the surrounding environment (this has been linked to our thermal imaging camera products) and leaks.”
The Lilz device can learn to detect outliers with very sparse data, he said, but cautions that “this project is still in the exploratory phase.”