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21: Oasense Smart Shower - Fireside Product Chat with Ted Li

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

Ted Li is a nature lover, world traveler, and optoelectronic technologist who believes that the future lies in humans living in harmony with the planet, through the help of technology. Ted is the co-founder and COO of Oasense, a simple yet revolutionary sensor shower head that helps to save water, without sacrificing experience. Prior to Oasense, he led several projects at Apple and a nanotechnology start-up, InVisage Technology. He holds a master's degree in material science from USC and a bachelor's degree in material science and engineering from National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan.


Oasense began, like so many other ideas, in a shower in Oakland, California whilst the surrounding area was suffering from one of the worst droughts in State history. The idea was simple: Is it possible to make water saving in the shower easier and more enjoyable.


From this idea, Oasense started development and production in the founder’s garage. They have since scaled up with a much larger team of experts in product design, sensor technology, low power electronics, manufacturing, supply chain, software, and marketing. The Oasense Reva smart shower head is designed to conserve water while maintaining an enjoyable shower atmosphere.


At Oasense, they believe that with the right technology they can create better experiences, that will in turn encourage more people to live more harmoniously with the environment.



You can listen to this episode here:


You can also listen to this podcast at Spotify, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast or other major podcast distributors:



The Issue with Showering:

The average shower head has a waterflow of nearly 8 litres per minute (Source: https://www.epa.gov/ws-ourwater-shower-better-learning-resource.pdf)! For most European households a normal shower will use between 30-80 litres of clean water. That is 30-80 litres of water per person and per shower! (Source: https://cordis.europa.eu/article/id/422217-smart-shower-aims-to-get-europe-cleaner-in-a-greener-way). Up to 30% of shower water is lost in “warm-up waste”, which is the water being run from the time the shower is turned on to the time you step in, as you wait for it to rise to your desired temperature (Source: Oasense)



How does the Oasense Smart Shower head work?

The Oasense smart shower head has three main features:

(Source: Oasense)


A warm-up thermal shut-off valve → By measuring the increasing water temperature and observing the temperature plateau, the thermal sensor can detect when the water is approaching your desired temperature. At the time the temperature is reached, the valve will shut off the extra water flow, preventing additional warm-up water waste.

An adaptive motion sensor → The infrared motion sensor is able to detect when you are under the water stream, or when you have stepped away. It will adjust the water flow accordingly to prevent additional water waste. Using a machine learning AI algorithm, the sensor learns to adapt to the user, meaning each shower leads to a more sensitive sensor result.


Self-generating energy → When rinsing, water flows through a micro-turbine generator, which creates hydro-energy that then powers the sensor. Any additional energy generated is stored in a battery pack that powers the sensor in future showers.



Ted's Quote of Choice:

"Be in the present moment, forget about the past, if you want a better future, you create it, take the means in your hands, believe it, create it" - Djokovic 2023 Roland Garros



In this episode we address the following questions:

  • What has been your best and your worst shower experience? 1:50

  • Can you introduce yourself and explain why showering became your passion? 3:14

  • Product Features and Current Market 6:40

  • How do the thermal sensors work? 8:40

  • Does this work on all shower types? 9:30

  • What is the price? 10:45

  • Where is this product available? 11:15

  • Why is this product sustainable? 11:50

  • Any new product lines on the horizon? 15:50

  • How is Oasense funded? 18:20

  • What does sustainability mean to you? 18:52

  • How can people get in touch with you? 21:40


Memorable quotes from the episode by Ted:

"That 2-3 minutes that you are letting the water warm up before getting in, can be equal to the amount of water that you drink in a day. Why let that go down the drain?"


"Every time we get frustrated doing this work, we can look back and think this is something that would make an impact. It gives you the firepower to keep going."


"When I first started to use the shower head daily as the first product tester, I felt really good knowing that within just one shower I was saving a similar amount of water that someone could drink in a whole day or even two days, just by taking one step back."


"You do not have to spend that much; you can always do tiny steps. If all 8 billion people take tiny steps, it is collectively one huge step for the climate and for the next generation."




Website Oasense: https://www.oasense.com/


Want to try Oasense?

Use the discount code "SustainNOW" at checkout for $50 (USD) off your purchase!


Offer available until the end of October 2023.


 

Transcript:


Friederike:0:00

You are listening to Sustain Now. In this podcast, you will learn from successful entrepreneurs and scientists about the newest climate change solutions to address the climate crisis, from food and agri-tech over energy material innovation to circular economy. This nonprofit podcast is hosted by Friederike. She is a tech entrepreneur and climate enthusiast. You can find show notes and background information on www.SustainNow.ch. Enjoy the show.

Friederike :0:35

In today's episode, I'm speaking with Ted Li, co-founder of Oaense. Oaense developed a self-powered smart shower head that helps people conserve up to 60% of water and energy by switching off automatically when you step away. Ted Li has an engineering background and worked in different sensor-focused companies, as well as at Apple. He joined as co-founder in 2019. This will be our first product fire chat. In these fire chats, we will feature products which are helping consumers or businesses to live more sustainable. already today, I enjoyed this quick episode and learned a lot about how easy you can save water by stepping away. Ted Li, thank you so much for joining my podcast, Sustain Now today.

Ted Li:1:25

Yeah, my pleasure. I always admire your work and then really, really happy to be here.

Friederike :1:30

Fantastic. So we will talk a lot about showering today. I just checked. You know it's very early right now because you are in the Bay Area, so it's probably like 5 am in the morning.

Ted Li:1:41

Yeah, yeah, I got to go to shower after this.

Friederike :1:45

Very good, Okay, take the shower afterwards. So my first question is what has been your best and your worst showering experience?

Ted Li:1:52

I can tell you my worst showering experience. So during the development of our product, our smart showhead, the prototype, breaks down during shower, so it's basically exploded and you're slicking up and then it just literally exploded and parts falling off and it hits your head and the water is splashing all over you. So I think that's definitely the worst shower experience. The best shower experience it's hard to name one, but I guess after a very, very long day and stressful day and you really wanted to get relaxed. And then you go into this place where you find tranquility within yourself and, you know, immerse yourself in hot water. It's sort of really clean not just your body, you know, but also your mind. I think that's always the best experience after a long day and a stressful day, and so that is what we're trying to do here, and how do we balance this with all the sustainability push that everyone is working on?

Friederike :2:42

Fantastic, yeah. So also thinking about what's my worst and what's my best, I think my best shower is after really hot workout, having this cool shower and you feel like, oh, now it's really refreshing, you know, and you really feel energized after it. But then I also thought about bathing or showering. how much time you probably spend per week. It's not that little. Taking it now for serious talking about your product today, Can you please introduce yourself in a few sentences and explain why showering, despite your experience exploding over your head, became your passion?

Ted Li:3:18

Yeah, so my name is Ted. I'm the co-founder of Oasense. We provide the only smart shower in the world that had new presence sensing detection inside the shower head. This is a new product where, whenever you don't need water, we can minimize it for automatically for you. So it's a sensor built in shower that helps you save water but, at the same time, to preserve that same old good rinsing experience for you. The concept started during California drought in 2015, where we've been ordered You can't wash your car, can't have pools, you can't water your lawn, like everything needs to be shut down. You know, back then, one of my founders he was showering and he's like, hey, showering for you know, tens of minutes. I'm actually using a lot of water, but sometimes I really don't need the water, like, for example, when I'm battering soap, when I'm shampooing. I actually don't want the water to be on my hair at that moment because I wanted it to soak in a little bit. That time. You actually don't need active rinsing And most often people set back and stay away from the stream for a little while, but the water is still running free And it is morally correct in a way to, you know, turn off your water while you're doing that, because we're in drought by very bad. And so what if there's a device that helps you do that, so you can save some problem of turning on and off, because sometimes you know you want to do it, but you just sometimes you just get lazy. But what if there's a device that does it for you And you have these sensor faucets forever at the airport, like your hotel lobby? You have these automatic things going on like maybe for three decades or more, maybe more, but there's no sensor shower head. And he was wondering like why? And then that whole thing starts triggering, you know, silicon Valley style. We started in a garage gathered with friends and things like that, and so I was in as a third person of the company. The product is very interesting because it turns out that typical sensors will not work in a misty, moisture environment. You can imagine all these tiny water droplets flowing, flying in the air during showering. They act like a reflection wall for all of your IR photons. So basically you get a lot of reflection back from these waters, tiny moisture in the air, and basically jam your sensor. So typical sensors will not work very easily And that's probably why, as we speak, we're the only solution out there that works. And then, like, you have sensor faucets out there for 40 years but there's no sensor shower head. So, going in deeper, you sort of found that it's actually pretty hard to do but it should be doable. So previously I worked at Apple, you know, and another sensor start up, just basically, you know, typical Silicon Valley tech person. My view of this was like when they approached me, i was like, yeah, this product should exist, right, so everyone's showering, especially in the US. It's, you know, 10s of minutes, right, you use maybe 20, 25 gallons per shower And then there's probably 30% of the time you actually don't really need it, starting from when you start to purge all the cold water inside the water pipe. You start the water, you walk away, you go on your phone, you watch TV, you do whatever you want, and just like, oh, water's hot. You open the door, oh, it's full of steam.

Friederike:6:19

Right, You run water. run free for more than five minutes.

Friederike :6:23

Right So that part.

Ted Li:6:24

You really don't need that Right. And then just the scrubbing part. You know like you're or you're meditating, you're just thinking, you're whatever you're doing. There are times that in the shower you actually don't need active rinsing, but the water just goes anyways.

Friederike :6:37

Just to summarize it. I understood it correctly, it's a shower hat which you can put just on a normal shower. It doesn't need any additional electricity. I guess You just put it on and then you shower And as soon as you step back and I totally imagine that the same you know, when I shampoo my hair I'm not even seeing anything to switch off the tap. So and you step back sharing yourself in, and in that moment you know it's rinsing, it's rinsing, it's rinsing And what your solution is doing, it's actually recognizing. Oh, you step out of the water and then it turns it off and then it turns it on again. The difficult part is that the sensor I can't really imagine like because there's a lot of water, little water drops and humidity, which is making it so difficult. So have you managed?

Friederike:7:21

to create it.

Friederike :7:22

Like is it already? can you buy it already? Is it already on the market?

Ted Li:7:26

Yes, so we launched last year online through our website, so if you can now purchase one through our website. We won CES Innovation Award, we won Red Dot Award, we were Time Best Invention of last year Very weird, probably, what we did. And just to make sure we complete all the feature sets, there's a present sensing component to it and there's also a temperature sensing component to it. So when you first start the water, you're purging out all the cold water, right? So once the cold water is out of the pipe and the water is warm, we will minimize the water flow too. So before you step in, it's already in a reduced flow mode, which is only down to 10%. You actually hear it. You know that your water is ready, right. You start the water. You text your friend, you check your emails. You hear that sound. You know your water is ready. You can then go in and start your shower.

Friederike :8:12

Saying like beep, i'm ready, or what's the No?

Ted Li:8:15

it's just the water sound, right? You can hear full stream of water going fully, right? You can hear that sound and then all of a sudden it's silent and you know that is because the water is already warm. So it sort of like signals you and then you, so you don't have to do a lot of these again, right? Oh, i'm going to touch the outlet.

Friederike :8:29

So you also have, like as you just described, the temperature sensor in it, which is Can you individually adapt that, because I think women and men have very different temperatures?

Ted Li:8:39

We actually try to detect your tap temperature. So you set a temperature as normal and then we mathematically approach that once your temperature is closer to what you want it to be, the slope of the temperature rise will be stabilized. So we detect that stabilization point and then we turn it off for you. So you are setting it in the way you like it. We turn it off when you need it, exactly where you set it on the tap.

Friederike :9:05

Is it suitable only for a certain type of showering, because you know they're like the old ones where you have cold and warm separately, etc. Where is this need to be the new, modern ones where you can actually put the temperature on it?

Ted Li:9:19

Yeah, it works for both. We'll detect once the water, the temperature is stable for like maybe five seconds, ten seconds. It's not increasing sharply, it's not decreasing sharply. That's the temperature we'll shut it off for, and so you sort of have to have a stable plumbing system for that to work. And then, to finish off, one thing that's very important is that we wanted this to be a plug-in place solution, because you don't, if you're just changing a shower head, you don't want to tear down your wall or remodern a bathroom. That's a lot of work to do in modern day. You could want to make sure that everything is kind of composed inside the shower head, so the whole thing is powered by water. That means you have a limited power to work with by, you know, water-generated turbine. That's basically what's the limiting factor of the sensing and the computation power that we can put in in this complex device. So with that there's a sensor fusion component that we invented and the company integrated into a shower head that can help us to see through this foggy condition. So call it a sensor plus, and then that's a very, very low power sensor but pretty powerful, especially to suit the shower need.

Friederike :10:22

So kind of you create with a stream of the water, you kind of create like a water power plant a little bit inside the shower head where you create the energy for making sure that the sensors are working. Is that kind of an incentive?

Ted Li:10:34

Yeah, so all you need to do is to install it like a normal shower head and hear them.

Friederike :10:38

Fantastic. So what's the price point of that product?

Ted Li:10:42

Right now, our first product is priced at $350 USD. We are mid to high price point for a shower head, for sure, but it's all about tech components in it and we're also a started company. So in order to get the volume that we want to and then the new design that we want to to be more accessible, there's a lot more resources I need to put in, and then we also like to have. the product itself is pretty premium. We use very, very good materials. It's all filled by metal. There's like space grade materials integrated inside our turbines, so it did make sure it lasts us for 10 years, so it's worth the price, i would say. but you know we are also working on a more accessible version that will come out maybe in the next couple years.

Friederike :11:22

Okay, understood. Right now you can buy it in US, but you can also buy it in Europe, right? It's like worldwide shipping theoretically.

Ted Li:11:28

Yes, yes, it just said the shipping cost will be a little bit more, it will be different, and then there might be some tariffs associated with that, but yes, And regarding the sustainability you just said before, which I can totally imagine, like it's water saving part, can you explain a little bit more?

Friederike :11:46

what makes this product more sustainable? How do you track that? Can you get an app Like can I get an app and you just save 20 gallons of water? or how do you track that? and what makes the, you know, in comparison to a normal shower head?

Ted Li:12:02

Yeah, so we do not have an app. Maybe we'll have an app like later on, but I personally do not believe that that's the most important thing. The most important thing is, if you wanted to save water and you know you save water and energy especially, you know showers typically hot water, right, so it's a heated water. so that's water and energy. We've talked to a lot of users before we started to design. this product Probably enthusiasts people who really care about water. A lot of people said, you know, even guys who have solar installed, like I like to see my electricity, but I have an app. I look at it day one, day two, day three, and then a week later and then a month later and then a year later. So the app is like something fancy to start with, but then later on it becomes sort of obsolete. So for our first product, we really, really focus on making sure that the sense of owner works and, again, like we have very limited power generated from the water, right, so we have to use every resources to make sure that I would have the best experience and the most essential experience, which is actual water saving. then the data that you see on your phone Right, you know you're saving energy, you know you're saving water every day and I think that's the most important part. Later on, maybe we'll do something if we can plug into a bigger ecosystem. for example, it talked to a lot of hotels. they're interested if that can be plugged into some of their central system across, like all the water and utility and everything like that then And that would make a lot more sense. But I think for consumers it's good to have, it's also fancy and fun. But I think the most important thing is that you're using the shower every day. You take a step back and you feel that you're doing something good for the environment, for the future, for your kids, for the next generation. You feel that right there and encourage you to do it more and more and more, rather than like a code number on your app. I think that's the message that we want to deliver. And then to answer your second question, comparing to a normal shower head. So before us, typically, the shower water saving solution is so-called a low flow shower head. You basically cap the flow rate and make it lower and lower and lower and lower, and the problem with that is that at one point you will stop saving water because you will have to shower longer in order to dissolve the soap on your body. So the lower the flow rate, the longer the shower actually, and there's also a slower water flowing through the pipe, so there's actually more thermal losses to the whole piping system. So it's a less enjoyable experience and arguably not that effective, because you will offset the saving by the longer shower time. So what we do here is we want to use the water resource more efficiently. You just rinse the stronger rinse that you want and then you enjoy that moment.

Friederike :14:43

It gives you a proper pressure, kind of really too.

Ted Li:14:44

Yes, with normal flow rate, and when you don't want to, we minimize it down to only 10% of flow. So you're actually effectively like a one gallon per minute shower, but you're still enjoying the rinse when you want it to. So the warm up portion is like a no-brainer, like why would you leave water unattended? running all the time when you're not even inside the shower Makes no sense. So something smart there is very, very simple trick. It just helps you save 20%, 30% of water. There. There's a lot of people just turn on the tablet and start using the phone. That one minute, two minute, three minute is equal to the same amount of water that you drink per week. Why are you letting it go and start pulling out the drain? Because it's not your profit. You just wasn't designing it that way, right? So this product helps you save that right there And then, whenever you don't feel like actively doing it, don't use. You need the water. It's very intuitive. Just take a step back, water minimizes, and then that's the both world I would like to think.

Friederike :15:39

Ha, ha ha. What about like other product lines in Horizon I'm thinking about for brush my teeth. How often happens that you know, you learn maybe from your parents and you brush your? teeth you should switch off the tap, but how often? as well happens. You know, you have it under it and you brush your teeth and you're like oh, I need to stop the water, It's running. Is there anything like that? what are you thinking about?

Ted Li:16:01

as well.

Friederike :16:02

Or is there any like product variations you're thinking about in the future?

Ted Li:16:05

Yeah, yeah. So that's faucet, home faucet, kitchen faucet is definitely something on our radar. I think one thing that makes water tech hard is the electronics. right, you don't want to plug in your shower because it's terrible, right? So in people's homesteading, right, there's not a lot of plugs around the vanity and especially inside the vacuum. So the turbine is very essential. So we actually engineered our water turbine to be at least three times more powerful compared to the product we can buy with the same form factor on the market. Two-powered are more capable sensors, so with the same setup, right, we can put it in a faucet where, if your hand's not down there, it will not come out like the air flow faucet. but because installing all of those air flow faucets, you actually, if you wind up the cabin, underneath those, they actually they either have battery packs or they're plugged in, But in your home you might not have that infrastructure unless you're remodeling. So the plug-in-place solution enabled by our water turbine with N-electronics, can be something that enables a lot of more of these into every people's home. So we are actively looking at faucets, but again, that will come later. Hopefully you know this starts with making sure this combination of plug-in-place solution makes the endpoint of used water fixtures starting to be smart, smarter, smarter. Otherwise, you know it's something that hasn't changed for a very long time. So you can imagine like maybe 50 years ago, 70 years, maybe 100 years ago, people used the same faucets same shower, it did not change. And then you have your TV For your smart home, because water is too cheap.

Friederike :17:43

That's the core issue water was, was water was It's gonna get more.

Ted Li:17:47

And now it's gonna get more expensive. Yes, so hopefully this is the time, and you know, really Help people to use resource more efficiently.

Friederike :17:57

Cool. Yeah, just to get a feeling. How many customers have you already? or can you give some sales? I'm just to feel, how big are you already if you just started last year, etc. Just to get a feeling.

Ted Li:18:07

Yeah, we started to sell Q4. Last year was sold over hundreds of these.

Friederike :18:12

Okay, that's not very good. Have you taken any money in from externally, or have you funded it all by yourself?

Ted Li:18:19

We have a few angel investors, primarily its friends and families Support. We will go out. Are you planning to? yes, we are planning to go out and get some external funding to accelerate the market expansion.

Friederike :18:32

Yes, okay, cool. Yeah, maybe you know one of our listeners could be interested in actually. You know, yeah, who knows? who knows, What does sustainability mean for you personally?

Ted Li:18:44

Yeah. So I traveled a lot. I love nature. I visit a lot of national parks here and there I go to places of the world and it just Sad, in a way right. So we figured, you know, maybe 20 years from now my kids Probably wouldn't be able to see the same thing that I was enjoying. And you know, i can only imagine that maybe 50 years ago the nature was even more thriving. I get to enjoy this magnificent thing that you know went to Africa or place like that. Wow, this is Magnificent. But then you know, it's fading away faster and faster. So I have a background technology, you know, just studying, like sensors and all those electronics, constantly thinking about you know, what can we do. It's just something that I I can contribute to help. Might not be as big as you know, the nuclear fusion, something like that, that's out of my wheelhouse, but maybe it's just something that I can do. So when you know, the other founders of the company approaches me, i was like, yeah, there's something I'm really, really passionate about. I feel like whenever we're doing, you know, testing out showers, testing out the sensory performance, doing all these trials or trying to get a market push, every time frustrated doing work, look back and think that This is something that would make an impact, although it's, it's hard and, you know, working at a startup It's always lonely, limited resources and all those things. It's just the purpose. Just When you look back, it gives you the firepower to, you know, keep going and keep going. And I think one point where I can really feel Worth it was the first time. Well, there's a shower explosion story I just would mention earlier the pockets but and then there's also, you know, the first time we actually shut off the water. But I step away, the water stopped and I was like wow, it just stopped. And you know, when I started to work, it started to use it every day as a part first part tester. I I actually feel like I was doing something really good, because I know that just within one shower, i say, a similar amount of water of what people can drink for the whole day, or even two days, just by taking one step back. And then I was like wow, what was I doing for the last 30 years, you know, showering with water-free flowing. What would I do then? And so I stopped And by learning the fact that I actually was am saving a lot of water. I actually stopped, you know, the water flowing when I'm pushing my teeth Perfectly, i've never done that anymore. And then also when I do dishes, i also stop the water, like just after working out, and I used to just let the water just run free.

Friederike :21:10

And like ah, you know, there's a lot of little things you can actually change. Yes, and I think the little things really impact, because many are like, oh, this is an ability impacting my personal convenience, but there is a lot of things you can actually do without impacting that if you're more aware at all. Yeah, yeah And it was super interesting. That was like our product fire chat first time ever.

Friederike:21:33

I really enjoyed it.

Friederike :21:35

If people would like to buy the product or would like to get in touch with you, how can they do that?

Ted Li:21:41

You can always use our website at hello at always sincecom. if there's any questions You got to know by you know. ask that, as we can. If people want to get in touch with me personally, it's Ted at always sincecom. She may know I always reply. I think that's the best way. just get in touch with us.

Friederike :21:54

Fantastic, And we've got a voucher for you know our listeners to test it out.

Ted Li:22:01

Yeah, Let me do something. Yeah, of course.

Friederike :22:04

Fantastic, fantastic. So thank you so much. I really enjoyed that conversation And thank you very much. I'm looking forward to see where your water saving company is going.

Ted Li:22:15

Thank you very much And I really appreciate the work that you're doing too. The world needs more of you. There's the big project, the small project, but I think everyone needs to be on board, knowing that if you do not need to spend that much, you can always do tiny things and it will add up as a whole. If all someone people do tiny steps, it collectively is a huge step for the planet and for the next generation.

Friederike :22:40

That was a great last sentence. Thank you so much.

Ted Li:22:43

Yeah, thank you so much.

Friederike :22:47

Thank you for joining today's episode. You can find the show notes, background materials and contact details of our guests on our website, sustainnowch. Follow and share our podcast on any platform available. Do you have a comment or interesting solution to take a deep dive? Please don't hesitate to go to our website, sustainnowch, and write us an email.

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