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Powering the Internet of Things

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22 January 2019 | Mark Sorsa-Leslie

Beringar’s IoT device uses machine vision technology to optimise the way buildings are used. Proptech pioneer and Beringar CEO, Mark Sorsa-Leslie, gives us his thoughts on powering IoT devices, and wonders how far away we are from designing the ‘perfect’ IoT battery. 

While undertaking the R&D work to develop Beringar’s new IoT product, we wanted to find ways to minimise the management headaches that IoT devices can create; and powering the device was very close to the top of that list. To gauge the size of the issue, we listened to potential customers that had used battery powered devices in the past. Many had believed the battery life estimates they were given by suppliers, only to discover that, as one put it “we should have invested in Duracell – we seem to be constantly buying batteries!”.

In the end, we opted for a powered device, based on the power-hungry nature of machine vision and the premise that our goal was for our data to become part of the operational model of a building. To do this it needs to become part of the building structure, so power shouldn’t be an issue. That said, we have a number of cases where battery powered devices are in demand. These include trials, proof of concept deployments, short term surveys and unit testing. So we are still looking for the ‘perfect battery’ that can provide long deployment potential and be easy to manage.

I read an article recently on ‘10 things the perfect IoT battery should do’ and wondered just how far away we are from that perfect battery. It needs to:

  1. Pack a lot of power into a small space
  2. Efficiently deliver that power quickly, and/or incrementally, as needed for a particular application, without degrading battery capacity
  3. Be easily recharged in a variety of ways, including wirelessly, such as over WiFi networks
  4. Make it simple to remotely monitor battery output, remaining battery life, as well as overall battery health
  5. Avoid self-discharge to hold their charge for extend time periods, even under adverse environmental conditions
  6. Be able to be recharged many times, in a variety of ways, without affecting battery capacity
  7. Avoid emitting waste heat that could cause problems
  8. Last a long time to avoid the need for premature disposal, and be environmentally friendly when finally retired
  9. Be inexpensive enough to allow for widespread deployment in many kinds of IoT devices
  10. Use a flexible design that makes it easy for IoT device makers to incorporate in a wide variety of products

Given we are all experiencing peace dividends from the self-driving car revolution at the moment, perhaps that battery might emerge in the next 2-3 years?

Well, with advances in materials such as graphene, we can deal with #1, #2 and #3 – pack a lot of power into a small space, efficiently deliver power, be easily (and quickly) recharged without affecting battery capacity (#6). Indeed, from our discussions with some of the world’s most eminent graphene specialists, we are going to see a huge increase in battery capacity and longevity (#7 and #8) coupled with a reduction in weight and an ability to sculpt units to match the device design more closely (#10). With advances in cloud technology and connectivity, such as LoRaWAN networks, we can easily monitor overall battery health (#4).

That leaves just #5 and #9 to deal with, so perhaps we will see that perfect battery sooner than we think?