MaxMon is a UK manufacturing startup based in Oxfordshire. It develops and sells a low-cost product that enables owners to watch over their valuable remote properties from anywhere in the world. It's an interesting story for two reasons: firstly, because it was invented in the UK by boat owner Dr. Martin Lambert, to monitor and prevent damage to his Beneteau sailing boat, and secondly because of its unusual approach to reducing the cost of remote monitoring.

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Martin took up sailing in California, while working for Oracle (of America's Cup fame). When he returned to the UK he bought a Beneteau sailing boat and kept it in a marina two and a half hours away from his home. But the first British winter proved less clement than California. Despite installing a heater and a dehumidifier his boat suffered over £2000 of humidity and battery damage. The window seals on his (second hand) boat had perished, letting in rainwater, and despite regular metered electricity bills from the marina the shore power was always off when he did visit his boat, leaving him with damaged batteries and mildewed furnishings.

Being an engineer, Martin searched for a product to remotely monitor his boat's security, shore power, temperature and humidity from home. He found some but, like many 'marine' products, they seemed unjustifiably expensive. One was almost £900 with all the sensors useful for boat monitoring, the other had up front costs PLUS a £20-30 monthly subscription. Surely, in this day and age of the Internet and cheap smartphones monitoring technology should be more affordable!

That's where MaxMon began. Martin wrote a simple app and left it on his boat, running on a £50 Android phone plugged into shore power and connected to marina WiFi (with a pay-as-you-go SIM as backup). Twice a day it sent him a reassuring email that shore power was still on. From this he was able to infer that his heater and dehumidifier were still running. But then he started to wonder about the effectiveness of his heater and dehumidifier, so he designed and built a Quatropus accessory that plugged between the phone and its charger and added temperature and humidity sensing, and a passive IR motion sensor (to detect intruders or to confirm that the marina had sent someone round to his boat to reset his shore power after an outage).

The interesting consequence of the phone-based architecture that Martin designed is that companies like Samsung sell hundreds of millions of incredibly functional Android smartphones at very low prices. The companies that build specialised 'marine' monitoring systems must include WiFi, bluetooth and cellular modems, GPS, cameras, accelerometers and software platforms into their product, all of which are very expensive at modest volumes – which is why their monitoring products are so expensive. By putting most of the brains of the MaxMon system into a low-cost Android smartphone Martin hit upon a novel way of making remote boat monitoring both affordable and highly functional, with prices ranging from £0 to £360.

Want to find out more? See Watch over your valuable remote property.