Greenville startup Sencorables' bold IoT venture finds its footing with FloorX
Mar 04, 2019 11:59AM
By Kathleen Maris
By John Jeter
Tucked in the back of an out-of-the-way Greenville office building deep in an industrial cul-de-sac, a concrete-floored space, maybe a third the length of a football field, is busy with walls of tools and wires and cables, computers, and rolls of striped plastic. Around a vast plywood table, roughly the area of a small conference room, a couple of guys walk a visitor over sheets of a futuristic motion sensor with seemingly unlimited possibilities.
Talk about starting from the ground up.
FloorX is the first brand-name product from a technology startup called Sencorables, launched here in 2015 to develop flooring sensors. The inventor is one Andrew Clark, 40, a native Greenvillian who holds a Ph.D. in engineering from Clemson University and is now one of only five employees, all of them investors.
Clark points to a 10- to 15-yard sheet of his patented project: “It’s probably the only sensor this big that can sense pressure without costing a fortune.”
So what does this stuff do, exactly? Walk on the thin sheet, which Clark says is made with a polymer similar to that of a garbage bag, and you can watch your footsteps move across a large computer screen against the rear wall.
Over at the keyboard, Clark scrolls through a drop-down menu and selects “Microsoft-Netherlands.” The screen shows the outline of an actual conference room in, yes, the actual Netherlands. He clicks over to a whole mess of analytics about where people moved in the room just a few hours ago. Of course, you can also go real-time.
FloorX, in fact, may itself be what flooring people call the “underlayment” of the Internet of Things, the global revolution that’s just about here.
“This is a good example of what the Internet of Things means,” Clark says. “Like the refrigerator is a thing—if it’s connected to the internet, that’s the Internet of Things.”
Robert Fields, a self-described “manufacturing guy” and original investor in Sencorables, joins Clark in talking about the product’s mind-boggling potential applications. With the material, you can:
Track foot traffic in retail stores and gather enormous amounts of data to determine how long a customer stays at a certain display, among other valuable data points.
Line helmets, combat boots, and flak jackets to know where a soldier is, or fell, and even how he or she is wounded.
Apply under Astroturf to detect if a player’s out of bounds or if the ball hits the ground before his knee does.
Line a saddle to make sure the horse isn’t pinched.
The product could also be used to underlay carpeting or wood flooring in smart buildings and homes to do anything current automation can do, only a lot cheaper; the large sheet on the warehouse floor costs about $1,500, roughly a tenth of the price for an array of motion sensors, Fields says.
While the possibilities appear endless, Fields and Clark are excited about nursing homes, which, like retail, are another sought-after market.
“This would tell you how hard you hit the floor or if you were laid out on the floor. And if you just laid there for a certain amount of time, an alarm would go off,” Fields says.
All of it comes without the intrusiveness of one of those I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up medical pendants—while the product also alleviates increasing public concerns over cellphone, GPS, and online tracking.
“This can do all those different things with the one floor,” Clark says, while Fields adds:
“The floor is the one place in a home that can be a direct interface with the rest of the house. You cannot avoid the floor. The floor can eventually dictate everything else that goes on in the house.”
For any startup, especially in tech, the most crucial dictate is financing. While Sencorables has several investors, FloorX now needs to turn its prototype into sheets considerably bigger than the rolls hanging in its 4,000-square-foot workshop.
While FloorX works with Microsoft and has interest from Disney, among other customers, Sencorables generated about $30,000 in revenues last year—if only because it doesn’t have large-scale manufacturing. Yet.
“It’s the right technology at the right time,” says Lee Stogner, a Sencorables board member; consultant at Vincula Group, a Greenville-based international professional-services firm; and a “digital transformation” expert. “This has a market that’s all over the place.”
Stogner adds, “Automation is seen as the key to empower companies to not only innovate but to survive. You can’t do those sorts of things unless you have raw information from the ground up.”