BrainBox raises $12 million to optimize HVAC systems with AI

Autonomous building tech startup BrainBox AI today announced the closure of a $12 million convertible debt round, which it plans to put toward expansion in North America (particularly its home market of Canada) and international markets like the U.K., Ireland, and Australia. The cash infusion comes as companies unaffected by shelter-in-place orders aim to head off the economic impacts of the pandemic — a need BrainBox would appear to be well-positioned to meet. The company’s AI platform enables the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) in buildings to operate autonomously, netting up to a claimed 25% reduction in total energy costs and a 60% boost in employee comfort.

BrainBox, which was founded in 2017 by CEO Sean Neely and CTO Jean-Simon Venne, taps 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 gathering data from both internal and external resources, including hundreds of thousands of real-time data points like temperature, sun/cloud positioning, fan speed, duct pressure, heater status, humidity levels, occupant density. After 6-8 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 creates makes educated predictions about future power consumption, writing back to the HVAC controller every five minutes to make adjustments. Neely claims that most customers see a 20% to 40% reduction in carbon footprint within the first few months of deployment.

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It’s worth pointing out that HVAC-optimizing AI isn’t exactly novel. Augury, a startup developing sensors that attach to machines and record data that’s then analyzed in the cloud, works with service companies to diagnose and optimize systems like industrial HVAC. GE Digital’s Predix and startup Petasense offer similar Wi-Fi-enabled, cloud- and AI-driven monitoring sensors. Carbon Relay boasts a product that leverages sensor data to make predictions about datacenters’ cooling usage. And Google recently rolled out a feature to Nest-branded thermostats that’s designed to detect HVAC problems.

But BrainBox says it’s collaborating with a number of prominent partners and institutions to refine its platform, such as 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 near term, it hopes to develop an algorithm that will map all building HVAC control points while abiding by government and industry standards.

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Another point in BrainBox’s favor is its market momentum. In the 11 months since the company’s May 2019 launch, its platform has been installed in over 15 million feet of commercial real estate across 15 cities in 3 continents, including airports, hotels, residences, long-term care facilities, and grocery stores. Over 40 buildings have active installations, some of which are larger than a million square feet in size.

“The autonomous nature of our technology makes it truly scalable, and as we are reducing energy consumption in buildings by over 20%, we are in a position to make a real positive impact on GHG emissions from the real estate sector, one of the largest emitters globally,” BrainBox chief business development officer Sam Ramadori told VentureBeat via email. “For the entire team at BrainBox AI, it is very exciting to be growing a global business that can truly make a difference on climate change.”

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Headquartered in Montreal, BrainBox has 50 employees today and expects to employ over 100 by year-end. This latest funding round, which was led by Esplanade Ventures with the participation of Desjardins Capital, brings the company’s total raised to date to over 13.5 million.

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