Sherlock “Homes”

A trio of former OnStar developers introduces a home-monitoring device.


Published:

HouseSetter, a monitoring device for homes, boats, and other facilities, was laucnhed last summer in Northville. Since that time, the company has sold several hundred units. It works on the Verizon wireless network. 

After being on the launch team for OnStar, the advanced in-vehicle communications platform operated by General Motors Co. in Detroit, Chet Huber, Walt Dorfstatter, and Debbie Frakes retired from the automaker — but they didn’t go quietly into the night. Rather, the trio decided to “get the band back together” to develop a home-monitoring system.

The product, called HouseSetter, is a portable device in the shape of a dog named Sherlock that monitors and provides alerts to homeowners. The unit uses a built-in camera set in the neck of Sherlock, along with an integrated backup battery, to ensure continued monitoring of a home’s temperature, power status, and humidity.

The device sends the information it collects through a built-in connection to a cellular network, which is then used to create reports or email alerts that customers receive on their computer, tablet, or smartphone. All the technology is housed in the nearly 6-inch-tall dog, which is plugged into an outlet.

Plans for the monitoring services from Sherlock, which costs around $120 upfront, are available starting at $5 a month. HouseSetter, based in Northville, uses the Verizon wireless network to connect the device.

“We started talking about HouseSetter in 2011 because I had a house in Florida and wanted to keep track of the home when I was away,” says Huber, who spent 37 years at GM and is a mechanical engineer. “If my AC went out in the summer it would be like a mold farm in my home, so Sherlock alerts me when there’s a problem.”

The backup battery lasts for three or four days, and the device will alert a subscriber if the electricity goes out. “We wanted to keep the device super simple and super inexpensive,” Dorfstatter says. “If the power goes out, you don’t have Wi-Fi service. Plus, if you live in a second home for six months, you don’t want to pay for Wi-Fi year-round. The cellular antenna connects with distant towers.”

Frakes says the target market for Sherlock is seasonal homeowners, but it’s also recommended for boat owners who want to monitor an electrical connection. They’ve also sold the device to restaurant owners who want alerts in case a freezer or a wine cellar starts to heat up.

“I call it Walt and Chet’s excellent adventure,” Frakes says. “We have a team of five people, and we project revenue will quadruple this year.”

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