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Computer Science alumnus kick starts new, energy-saving technology

Elisabeth Weems and Colleen Carow | Feb 19, 2018

Computer Science alumnus kick starts new, energy-saving technology

Elisabeth Weems and Colleen Carow | Feb 19, 2018

When Ben Lachman, BSCS ’05, graduated from Ohio University, the computer science student had already cultivated a passion for software development, an interest that would lead him to success as a serial entrepreneur years later.

Lachman is now co-founder and chief executive officer of Potential Labs, a hardware technology startup that aims to help homeowners monitor and reduce their energy consumption, for lower electric bills and greenhouse gas emissions. Their motto: “Track energy. Save money. Make a difference.”

He and Robin Kinney, co-founder and chief transformational officer, and an electrical engineer with 25 years of experience in the Silicon Valley medical device industry, have developed Glow, an energy control system. It uses a magneto-resistive wireless sensor that attaches to a home’s utility meter box, to measure magnetic fields created as energy flows through a patent-pending in-home unit. Users can then view the data on a phone app.

“Robin and I had some history in energy efficiency, and what we both realized and started having conversations about was that your average homeowner really could monitor their energy if they wanted to,” Lachman said. “At the same time, we realized that the cost of energy has gone up, and more and more people feel like they’re paying more for utilities and want to be aware of that energy use.”

Lachman and Kinney worked with TechGrowth Ohio (TGO), a partner of the Leveraging Innovation Gateways and Hubs Towards Sustainability (LIGHTS) program, to design the product and begin the prototyping process. Jennifer Simon, executive director of the Regional Innovation Network, said the company is a culmination of everything Lachman gained from his education, the LIGHTS entrepreneurial program, and his campus connections.

“I’ve seen Ben grow significantly in his entrepreneurial mindset and endeavors. He has always been entrepreneurial,” Simon said. “He just continues to execute on those ideas he had as a student and following his time as a student,” she added.

David Juedes, chair of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, said Lachman is a great local success story and has returned to speak at several university events.

“He’s one of the former students I point to as someone who has made a living as an entrepreneur. He started by writing and selling software for the Mac. Then, he transitioned his business to smartphone applications,” he said. “I’ve been following his current business endeavor related to smart home systems. I’ve been very impressed by Ben’s willingness to try new things and to be innovative.” 

Lachman explained that similar products on the market often may require a professional to install, whereas homeowners can set up Glow in about 15 minutes – the time it takes to plug in the sensor and fully calibrate the in-home unit. The entire system uses less energy than a single LED bulb and can be integrated into smart-home technologies like Amazon Echo and Google Home. The app enables users to set spending goals and forecast electricity costs.

Glow is also unique in that it displays colors to indicate consumption levels instead of the number of kilowatt hours consumed: red signifies excess and green denotes efficiency. Lachman said this method more effectively teaches users how to track and reduce energy use.

“Most people don't know what a kilowatt hour is,” Lachman said. “Color gives you qualitative feedback about how much you’re using right now. Color is something humans understand really quickly,” he added.

And, Glow creates for good.

“There is a cost to any energy source,” Lachman said. “If we can control how energy use grows and use energy in a smarter and more efficient way, that makes the transition to sustainable energy sources that much easier.”

According to a study about using monitoring and control systems technologies to mitigate home energy consumption, 40 percent of energy used in the average American home is wasted via air leaks, empty rooms, inefficient appliances and more. Electric bills skyrocket, and the environment suffers, because as natural gas is combusted during the process of converting to electricity, greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) are emitted.

“As we transfer to renewable energy sources, it presents us with a two-sided problem,” Lachman explained. “How do we transition away from short-term sources to long-term sustainable sources, and can we make our use more efficient so we don’t actually have to produce as much energy?”

Glow’s Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, launched last August, surpassed its goal of $75,000, acquiring more than $100,000. The Potential Labs team, who has been testing Glow in homes for more than a year, are finalizing the internal mechanical design and electronic aspects, plan to do a pre-production run in the spring, and will be shipping the product this June.

“With Glow, Ben and the rest of the team are on the path to success – they’ve done well with Kickstarter, and been thorough with market research – we’re proud to have them as a client,” Simon said.

Potential Labs is also hiring permanent staff for mass production. They’re currently seeking a hardware engineer with an electrical engineering background, and a manufacturing manager. For inquiries, contact

For more info, visit Glow’s website, on Twitter, and on Facebook, and connect with Potential Labs on LinkedIn.