This $800 device uses machine learning to help you avoid a catastrophic flood

Attached to a home's main water valve, Buoy detects water waste and can cut off the flow in the event of a flood. As water prices rise, it could pay for itself, especially if it helps avoid home damage.

A mission of Buoy, one of the latest startups to attack the smart home, is "to enjoy water without worry." For the vast majority of Americans, that seems like a solution in search of a problem. Water usage may be the least top-of-mind concern of the modern US homeowner, so much so that it is often held up as a model of a nearly-free commoditized modern convenience.

But that may be changing. A Michigan State study this year has found that water prices have risen 41 percent since 2010 and are set to rise dramatically in the next five years. It predicts that the percentage of US households who can't afford their water bill could triple from 12 percent to 36 percent.

Buoy seeks to ameliorate this by detecting wasted water. According to Buoy's (fittingly named) founder Keri Waters, the average home wastes 10 percent of its water. Buoy, which becomes available nationally today after two years of development and testing, cleverly detects the source of this wasted water without the use of moisture detectors in such likely water problem areas as bathrooms and basements.

Based off data it has already collected in its test cities, it can hit the pipes running with a good sense of what a household's normal water consumption in different rooms should be. And after two weeks, it should know enough about your water usage that it can alert you (via its companion app) in the event of a leak or flood. Far more importantly, Buoy allows you to remotely shut off your main water valve in the event of a flood.

Flood damage avoidance would be Buoy's killer app, particularly if it can help justify a break on homeowners' insurance. But recouping wasted water costs via Buoy will require investing time and money. Buoy retails for $799 and, unlike the $699 Otto smart lock I discussed back in September, the large capsule isn't something intended to be shown off as a design piece.

That said, Buoy has something in common with Otto beyond price range. Both are bundling their product with professional installation (by a licensed plumber, in Buoy's case). Buoy's initial target market will be the affluent environmentally conscious, the same kinds of folks who rushed to buy Priuses in the early days.

Following last year's announcement of the Aquanta smart water heater that also learns your household's habits, Buoy addresses a facet of the digital home that is literally far below the surface. It should be a transparent presence most of the time, but the same could be said about many home security options.

Water usage is a fundamental point of infrastructure that may represent the last frontier of the smart home monitoring. It will take a significant education effort to make Buoy's benefits resonate. However, the space is attracting more attention with Buoy rival Flo announcing availability yesterday via an early adopter price of $399 that is expected to rise to $699. Over time, such intelligence may become something offered as a more standard offering in new home construction. That is where new buyers are increasingly expecting new homes to be smart homes and where the cost of a device such as Buoy would be a nominal addition.

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