BrainBox raises $8.59 million to optimize HVAC techniques with AI

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Autonomous building technology startup BrainBox AI today announced the closing of a CA$12 million (about $8.59 million) convertible note round, which it plans to use to expand in North America (particularly its home market of Canada) and international markets such as the UK, Ireland and Australia. The cash infusion comes as businesses not impacted by lockdowns seek to stave off the economic impact of the pandemic. BrainBox's AI platform enables autonomous operation of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) in buildings, reportedly reducing overall energy costs by up to 25% and increasing employee comfort by 60%.

BrainBox, founded in 2017 by CEO Sean Neely and CTO Jean-Simon Venne, uses a combination of machine learning and cloud computing to optimize commercial HVAC control systems. The company first installs its system-agnostic, sensor-free solution to identify and catalog a building's operating behavior and energy flow by collecting data from internal and external sources, including hundreds of thousands of real-time data points such as temperature, sun/cloud position, fan speed, duct pressure, heater status, humidity, and occupant density. After six to eight weeks of data collection, BrainBox's AI engine can identify patterns to isolate each zone's habits and tendencies, as well as aggregate equations for each zone to create an overall profile.

After creating this profile, BrainBox's engine makes informed predictions about future power usage and sends feedback to the HVAC controller every five minutes to make adjustments. Neely claims that most customers see a 20-40% reduction in carbon footprint within the first few months of deployment.

AI for HVAC optimization isn't exactly new. Augury, a startup that develops sensors that plug into machines and record data that is then analyzed in the cloud, works with service companies to diagnose and optimize systems like industrial HVAC systems. GE Digital's Predix and startup Petasense offer similar Wi-Fi-enabled, cloud- and AI-driven monitoring sensors. Carbon Relay offers a product that uses sensor data to make predictions about data center cooling usage. And Google recently launched a feature on Nest-brand thermostats designed to detect HVAC problems.

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However, BrainBox says it is working with a number of notable partners and institutions to refine its platform, including the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Institute for Data Valorization, Montreal's École de Technologie Supérieure and McGill University. In the short term, the company hopes to develop an algorithm that maps all of a building's HVAC control points while meeting government and industry standards.

Another plus point for BrainBox is its market momentum. In the 11 months since the company launched in May 2019, its platform has been installed on over 4.5 million square meters of commercial space in 15 cities on three continents. Locations include airports, hotels, residential buildings, nursing homes and grocery stores. Installations are active in over 40 buildings, some of which are over one million square meters in size.

“The autonomous nature of our technology makes it truly scalable, and because we reduce energy consumption in buildings by over 20%, we are positioned to have a really positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions from the real estate sector, one of the largest emitters globally,” Sam Ramadori, BrainBox's chief business development officer, told VentureBeat via email. “It's very exciting for the entire BrainBox AI team to be building a global company that can make a real difference on climate change.”

Montreal-based BrainBox currently employs 50 people and expects to hire over 100 people by year-end. This latest round of funding, led by Esplanade Ventures with participation from Desjardins Capital, brings the company a total of over 19 million Canadian dollars (approximately $13.6 million).

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