Aiven Blog

Mar 25, 2024

Max Pagel, SensorFlow: Amplifying Advancement with AI

SensorFlow’s Co-Founder and CTO on using technology to do more with less and why the platform approach will always win

Florian Engel, Director, Customer Marketing at Aiven

Florian Engel

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Like many entrepreneurs, Pagel’s step into business was borne out of a desire to do things differently. His founder journey began in 2016 in Singapore — a place he still calls home today. While working as a research associate at a university, he became frustrated with the science ecosystem and how it all worked.

Despite a solid level of technical knowledge and knowhow, Pagel was seeking the best way to apply it. It was at this point he decided to join Entrepreneur First (EF) — an accelerator program that brings technically skilled individuals together on the basis that shared passions will create the technology-based businesses of tomorrow. This is where SensorFlow was born, though the driving force behind EF is very much mirrored in how we operate at Aiven.

Pagel says, “I met my Co-Founder in the program. We gravitated towards doing IoT for buildings because we both had an IoT background. We figured out that hotels are a very underserved, niche market that could benefit from automation because of the dynamic usage of energy in those buildings.”

SensorFlow’s family of IoT devices

Based on AI, SensorFlow combines wireless IoT solutions and automation to make smart buildings a reality. It enables individual buildings to be adapted, helping to unlock benefits in relation to sustainability, energy efficiency and cost savings.

He continues, “One of our early learnings was that, in the retrofit market, no two buildings are the same so you have to be adaptable. It’s why we built an entire family of IoT devices that can serve different use cases. It’s a modular-based approach which means we are able to quickly fit sensors into locations without a building needing to be shut down for any period of time.”

The sensors detect whether a room is occupied, if the windows are open or if the ambient temperature needs adjusting and make changes accordingly. Not only that but, with analytics and AI in the back end, it can inform bigger picture decision-making in terms of energy strategy or investment into building upgrades.

Sustainability and doing more with less

When it comes to the broader impact of technology on sustainability, Pagel believes it is an amplifier, rather than a solution. He says, “One piece of technology isn't going to solve the world’s climate woes. It’s more about helping to make more of the good stuff and reduce the bad in the process.”

This is exactly our approach at Aiven. We want to find ways for both ourselves and our customers to become more sustainable by democratizing access to technology so new solutions can be created. You can read more about our sustainability vision and objectives here.

Max Pagel, Sensorflow

He goes on to say, “If you look at the big contributors to carbon emissions, buildings are right up there. For us, it’s about continuously looking at where the inefficiencies are and trying to do more with less. That’s where technology shines.”

A point that brought us nicely on to the increasing role AI is playing in Max’s world.

Conversational AI models lowering barriers to entry

AI is pivotal to SensorFlow and a topic that Pagel is particularly excited about. For example, Pagel expects that today’s conversational AI models will unlock big benefits, especially when it comes to training and development. He says, “Rather than people having to read through manuals and invest time in memorizing all the intricacies of how something works, I would love to see a product that explains itself to me and does the things I need to do.” Pagel sees it as the natural progression in the way in which we interact with machines and one that will lower the barriers to entry.

He goes on to say, “Big hotel chains have engineering teams and spend weeks training them up, only to see people leave and have to start the process over again. Institutional knowledge drops and huge amounts of time and money are wasted. Having the ability to make systems more accessible in a much shorter time will enable people to leverage the benefits of technology and do more with less.”

Pushing technologies boundaries to do more with less
Fireside Chat between our CTO and Co-Founder, Heikki Nousiainen and Max Pagel, CTO and Co-Founder, SensorFlow

Open source: democratizing technology and making the world a better place

Just as AI will help democratize access to technology, Pagel believes open source also enables businesses to access ways of doing things that may otherwise have been out of reach. This is a sentiment that many Aiven customers reflect. Pagel believes that one of the biggest accomplishments of open source is that it has democratized technologies without the control of privately owned companies. He says, “Open source has managed to create standards in certain areas and encouraged interoperability. It has made the world a better place.

Max Pagel, Sensorflow

“In a way it has given rise to a different corporate model — somewhat for profit, but generally for the greater good. Though it still needs to be run like it would run for a corporation because otherwise it's not going to be able to constantly deliver a software product that satisfies the requirements that are needed for a specific production.”

The advantages of a platform approach

Pagel also reflects on the advantages of looking at a platform approach in the technology sector, describing it as a ‘chicken and egg problem’. He cites an article which looked at what approach a start-up should take — best-in-class in a specific field or create a platform with a more broad offer? The conclusion was that the platform always wins because otherwise, businesses cannot keep up. They can only be best-in-class for so long so any advantage will shrink over time.

This is exactly the approach we take at Aiven by creating a platform that is more than a collection of open source services for streaming, storing and analyzing data. The platform ensures that all services run reliably and securely in the clouds of your choice, are observable, and can easily be integrated with each other and with external 3rd party tools. More on that here.

Max Pagel, Sensorflow

He says, “I subscribe to the idea that the platform always wins. That doesn't mean that all businesses need to be a platform but they do need to find a platform to access the technology they need because it is incredibly hard to build a platform out of nothing. Finding strong partners is critical.”

The perfect platform partner to set a new standard in hospitality

Reflecting on technology specific to his industry , Pagel points to the challenge the hospitality sector is facing when it comes to finding the perfect platform partner. He says, “In the hospitality industry, technology moves faster than the assets that they are managing and there are so many areas for these businesses to manage — everything from finance, product, purchasing, asset management, property management, staff management, engineering management and many others. It means we’re in the middle of a platform war to see who emerges and sets the new standard.”

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