Posted on 07/09/2017
Technology has wide-ranging applications.
Passive Eye Ltd has developed a self-powered, self-sustaining platform for GPS tracking and IoT sensors. CEO Jerome Rush says his innovation could protect billions of dollars’ worth of assets.
So who’s going to be using your devices?
They’re for the asset-tracking/asset management market – equipment that sits or is used outside (such as construction equipment, or oil and gas equipment). The oil and gas industry alone loses over a billion dollars worth of equipment every year. Our devices monitor assets that move and assets that shouldn’t be moving.
What’s different about them?
These things can sit there for years, completely unattended. But when they detect motion or vibration, they can send an alarm. They also detect increased levels of impact and tilt, so they’re very good for the container industry. A container passes through many hands from the supplier to the customer: if the contents arrive broken, it reports when and where the damage may have occurred, and by inference, what company was handling the container at that time.
So how are these things self-powered?
GPS works outside, so we harvest the energy that’s outside: radio and solar radiation, and we generate power from movement. There are tubes inside with high-intensity magnets, and every time a magnet passes a coil, it generates a pulse. Development of the device ran on two tracks: we were maximising the amount of power that it can generate, and minimising the amount it has to use to provide a commercial service.
There are hundreds of portable GPS trackers: GPS is the ideal technology for asset tracking. But portable units are hardly ever used, because companies would need a whole maintenance department to go out and recharge their batteries: the cost of that is prohibitive. Our devices remove that entire cost layer.
For the IoT sector, most IoT devices have to be connected to a power circuit, but a significant number will be out in the field, gathering information on the environment. Air quality, water quality, chemical spills: the same benefits that we provide for GPS tracking could also relate to environmental sensors.
Do you have particular customers in mind?
Once we get a near-production version, we have a field trial organised with the largest container shipping company in the world. At any one time, they have over a million dry goods containers in transit. We’re about to start another with one of the world’s top ten transport and logistics companies.
Also in South Africa, the electrical grid is very unreliable: each of the country’s 18,000 cellphone towers has a diesel generator attached, for emergency power, and they keep getting stolen. Our devices will detect movement, and report it.
Could the sensors be spotted, and disabled?
They’re secured to the asset either with high-security straps, one-way-headed screws or bolts, or a plate with high-intensity magnets. If someone tried to remove them, it would exceed the thresholds for reporting movement. We’ve also got a provisioning app that matches up each tag with the asset it’s on, so they can’t be swapped over without the owner being aware of it.
How sensitive are the sensors?
The thresholds for movement can be set. If an asset isn’t supposed to move at all, it will send a signal if there is continuous movement for thirty seconds, if there are three discrete motions within thirty seconds, or if a single motion is 2G or greater. Or it can send an alert if there is an impact of 8G or greater, or if there is a 12.5 degree tilt or greater.
It incorporates an accelerometer and a gyro, and a logging chip in case it’s out of range of communications. We use machine learning to determine what is normal for each asset, so that we can see if an asset is being treated too roughly. We can also put down spot, area or route geo-fencing, where a report is made if anything goes outside of a given location. We can even tell if an asset is spending too long in one location, if it’s supposed to be on the move.
How long could they lie dormant, potentially?
The limiting factor is the power reservoir. They can last for 11 or 12 years if they’re sending data 24 hours a day. Otherwise, we expect them to be around for 15 or 20 years without difficulty.
And what are you calling the device?
It will be called Supra, from the Latin for ‘to go.’ It just goes and goes.
What has your relationship been like with KTN?
One of the big problems that we face as a start-up is that ours is a B2B product: we want to deal with large companies. To do that, we need to give businesses the confidence that the technology works, that we’ll be able to service the product and our customers, and that we’ll be in business in years to come.
Building that confidence is a long and arduous process. But the association with KTN is very useful, because it gives us the ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,’ so to speak. It gives us some validation, which instils confidence. It also gives us exposure. Developing a product takes much more time and money than you expect, so it’s sensational to have access to events as a showcase.
What did you take away from IdTechEx?
At the IdTechEx event, we spoke to a lot of companies, and those conversations are ongoing. That included finding companies whose technology could help us going forward. We’ve been asked by Ericsson and Airbus Industries to provide a self-sustaining tracking product for indoors, and we found a company that has designed a PV panel tuned to the frequencies of the lighting in modern factories. We’ve calculated our power budget, and we can provide a self-sustaining product that works indoors; that can track objects as they move around in a factory.
Finally, where next for Supra?
Field trials are now underway, and we’re trying to raise the money to start commercial production. The big picture is that Supra is getting around one of the major limitations of IoT devices for outdoor use: the dependency on a fixed power source. No longer do we have play nursemaid to the tools that are supposed to give us freedom.
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