When you run big real-life industrial operations, there’s always a gauge or readout somewhere deep in the facility that your engineers or field teams need to check in person. Lilz is a Japanese startup that builds devices you can set up to read these meters remotely, and the company just raised $4.1 million as they enter the North American market.
Lilz’s devices are basically battery-powered smart cameras that can last for years between charges, while monitoring something like a pressure gauge 24/7.
It may sound a little odd in this modern era — why not just have a smart steam gauge in the first place? The simple truth is much infrastructure and heavy industry doesn’t have that option, or retrofitting may be prohibitively expensive. Yet for safety or efficiency reasons, some simple readout needs to be looked at regularly.
Sending a human down is the simplest solution, or was until Lilz made its devices available a couple years ago. Their robust but low-power computer vision stack analyzes images of the gauge and relays that information digitally.
Now the Okinawa-based company has about 3,500 active cameras at 500 locations, and has raised 590 million yen (approximately $4.1 million today) to fuel the next phase of their business. Its investors include: JIC Venture Growth Investments, Mitsubishi UFJ Capital, Tokyo Century, Dimension Fund, Okinawa Development Finance Corporation, Okinawa’s Science and Technology Development Center, and Dogan Beta. That’s a B round, about twice their $2.2 million A round in 2021.
The company has received FCC and ISED certification for its devices and is preparing to launch in the U.S. and Canada. They plan to double their camera deployments and then rapidly expand afterwards.
As far as the hardware, Lilz has been working on getting “intrinsically safe” certification as well, meaning the cameras pose no risk of creating safety issues, for example shorting out and causing a spark that could ignite inflammable fumes. This frequently involves large enclosures for devices, but Lilz designed for it from the start, and its intrinsically safe cameras will only weigh 550 grams.
They’re also planning on releasing a thermal camera with similar qualities to the RGB one; thermal monitoring is important in uncrewed power stations, where a person would simply have to visit with a handheld thermal camera to check. Naturally automating this process is desirable. Like other widely distributed businesses like gas storage and delivery, removing the need for these checks is not only safer, but saves money, time, and fuel.
Although it would be a stretch to call Lilz an AI company, it’s certainly close enough to claim kinship while the AI market continues to expand. Though it regularly improves its computer vision algorithms and the methods of accessing the data, Kuba Kolodziejczyk, the company’s CTO, said they’ve seen interest beyond meter-reading, since the devices are often at key locations in facilities.
“While we focus on analog gauges, with our cameras clients can also capture other aspects of their processes they couldn’t track before, and are asking us for capabilities to detect events of interest,” he told TechCrunch. “Some examples we see now are abnormal temperature changes (which ties back to our thermal vision camera offering) and leaks, for both equipment and surrounding environment.”
Lilz devices could learn to detect outliers with very sparse data, he said, but cautioned that “this project is still in exploration phase.”