For 17 years, Matt Thompson anxiously drove to and from Cobb County to check on his house at Lake Lanier.
The entrepreneur was one of thousands of people who have a home on the lake but don’t live there full time. He says he spent much of that time working near Atlanta worried about his investment parked on the shore in Dawson County.
“My focus was taking care of that dock that I spent $40,000 on, taking care of my boat lift that I spent another $10,000 on. I’ve got a Sea Ray sitting on top for another $30,000, and I’ve got two Wave Runners sitting over there. If you add all that up, you’re looking at $100,000,” Thompson said. “That’s what I was worried about: how to protect that.”
So at first he turned to cameras.
With a background in tech and app development, Thompson wasn’t aiming for a live security feed or to record the goings-on around his dock, but for an on-demand view of his lot.
He wants to unlock his phone and, with a tap, see his dock, his boat and the lake level.
Then he saw a way to make some cash and a way to make life easier for everyone on Lake Lanier.
Half of the homes on the lake aren’t the primary residences of their owners. There are more than 10,000 dock permits on the lake, and not every lake home has a dock. That’s an entire city’s worth of homes and millions of dollars of investments — in docks and other equipment alone — left unattended on the lake.
If the lake level drops and a dock gets grounded, the homeowner is out of luck unless they have a backhoe ready to help get the dock back into the water or they’re willing to pay someone who does. For seniors who have retired to Lake Lanier, moving a dock on their own is almost always out of the question.
Thompson wants to help homeowners have some peace of mind about their property and make life easier for dock builders and service companies, whose work monitoring docks requires them to drive or boat around the lake burning gas and wages.
“I’m always looking at technology to solve problems, right?” Thompson said. “I’m looking at this problem, this challenge, that everyone is having. What can we do to try to solve the problem?”
He’s developed Watch My Dock, a mobile app that will turn conventional docks into smart docks able to alert owners and dock managers before they ground on the lake bottom.
Thompson is hoping the Army Corps of Engineers lifts the ban on cameras on docks so that homeowners have an easier time keeping them from grounding.
He wants to work cameras into an an app he’s developing to monitor docks on Lake Lanier. The comment period on whether cameras should be allowed on Lake Lanier ends on Friday.
Cameras are only a part of the system, which includes a communications box and a depth gauge fixed to a dock that will feed information to anyone registered to that specific box.
“The whole concept is to work with the dock dealers and provide them with what we call a remote dock management system,” Thompson said. “… We can add a depth gauge and communications to the dock and alert them what specific docks need to be moved.”
The app is in testing stages now, but much of it already works.
Thompson and engineers have already set the system up to send notifications to owners via text or email about lake levels. One of his partners has connected Thompson’s app to a camera above his front door. On Friday, Thompson showed how he could control the view of the camera, shifting it among preset positions looking down the driveway or close to the entryway — all from his phone.
He started playing with the idea in January.
The Lake Lanier Association believes the technology could help keep the lake clean.
Joanna Cloud, executive director of the association, said on Friday that the group’s annual Shore Sweep cleanup event collects about 30 tons of debris each year. A large portion of that comes from docks damaged by storms and by repeatedly grounding and refloating as the lake level rises and falls.
The app can be used by both individual property owners and management companies to stay up to date on water levels and prevent that damage.
Along with alerts, Watch My Dock would allow users to control dock lights, cameras and — if they’re connected to a dock manager — request a service or a move for their dock.
“They can decide if they want to move themselves or just pay when it needs to be moved, not pay a big fee whether it needs moving or not,” Thompson said. “It’s going to save the dock owner money and also the dock dealer says I’m not running around full time paying guys to figure out what docks I’ve got to move.”
The entrepreneur hopes to attract “a few hundred thousand” dollars in capital from Atlanta investors for the project and said he believes he could launch the app at the end of this year.