British Gas plans to up its smart home game with its forthcoming Boiler IQ service, which promises to detect faults in your hot water system before they even happen.
By employing a Minority Report-style pre-fault detection system, British Gas says it’ll be able to queue up an engineer visit before anything goes seriously wrong, preventing you from being stranded without hot water for potentially days on end.
Trials with the Boiler IQ hardware involving over 700 customers has seen the system able to spot faults 19-24 hours in advance, which will normally enough time for British Gas to automatically set up provisional schedules and text customers, whether or not they want to confirm an appointment.
At a press briefing in London, British Gas personell successfully simulated a fault in a boiler located roughly 90 miles away in a British Gas test lab in Leicester, using our number in lieu of a customer’s. Over a Skype video link we watched engineers deliberatly impair a boiler’s flow rate, causing a fault message to flash up on a nearby command centre panel. Moments later we received the following text:
Hive’s next-gen Active Heating 2 thermostat is shinier, ‘appierRight now the company’s own figures say that last year its fleet of over 8,000 engineers visited roughly 50,000 homes a day on average, with 9/10 customers on the HomeCare insurance plan getting fixed on the day if customers call before 12:00pm. While British Gas is understandably happy about those numbers, it wants to speed things up.
As well as acting as an early warning system, Boiler IQ has also been designed to run over 50 different diagnostics, which will be able to tell engineers specifically which parts of the boiler needs repairing or replacing.
Kassir Hussain, director of connected homes at British Gas told Recombu that the British Gas national distribution centre holds over 40,000 different component for boilers, which means if it’s an uncommon part that’s gone kaput, it’s probably a good idea to know exactly what tools to bring to the job to prevent repeat visits and, more importantly, restoring hot water to shivering customers.
It’s not a million miles away in principle from the kind of trackside diagnostics that happen after a Formula 1 race, in that you have an army of boffins ready and waiting to analyse the ins and outs of a complex piece of machinery.
British Gas was cagey when we asked them how many people would be analysing the levels of data Boiler IQ would be feeding back from customers, but was able to tell us a bit more about how the Boiler IQ system came to be in the first place.
The Connected Homes team is a division within British Gas which now counts former NASA scientist and director of TechnoSophics Adi Andrei in its ranks.
When it comes to analysing data in order to spot upcoming failures, Andrei has some pretty serious past form. Andrei is a co-author of Information Display System for Atypical Flight Phase, a patented system that’s been used to detect anomalies in the flight logs of passenger planes and successfully link those to safety faults. Perhaps surprisingly, he says that your hot water boiler is more likely to play up than a Boeing 747.
“We look for a boiler’s consistency with itself, because everybody’s different,” Andrei said. “The variation is way bigger than with planes. Even with planes we all look at one type and compare it with the same type. So we could look at each individual fleet and find atypicalities within that fleet.
“Boilers, everyone uses heating differently, everyone’s home is different. People are creatures of habit, mostly. You start to see very regular behaviour within a boiler. When a boiler becomes inconsistent within itself, then it’s a good sign that something’s wrong.”
Andrei added that Boiler IQ has been tailored to pick up on things like irregularities in user behaviour – if you’ve left a window open or friends over for a party – and distinguish heating schedule variations from anything else that might point to mechanical failures. Another key thing to note about Boiler IQ is that over time, should more patterns emerge, the Connected Homes team will in theory only get better at spotting tell-tale signs of an impending blow out.
British Gas says that the Boiler IQ unit is compatible with a range of units made by Worcester Bosch, the types of boilers that are installed by British Gas as standard. The unit also communicates wirelessly with the same Hive Hub that controls British Gas’s Hive smart thermostat, plugs and other things in the Hive range.
In a cute political move, British Gas will bung in the Hive Hub for when you sign up for Boiler IQ. This means if you’ve got Hive installed already, you’re already partially set up for Boiler IQ. If not, then Boiler IQ represents a bridgehead for things like smart plugs, thermostats, motion sensors and whatever else British Gas may add to its Hive family in the future.
When Boiler IQ launches on March 21, the upfront cost for the hardware will be £49, which is a bit of a steal compared to the £249 asking price of the Hive Active Heating starter kit.
On top of this, there’s an additional £3/month premium in conjunction with a HomeCare plan. These start at £10/month. While over a year that works out at over £150, you should weigh up the fact that you’re covered for all and any callouts, parts and labour in addition to the peace of mind represented by Boiler IQ’s powers of precognition.