Everactive, a company that has been making energy-harvesting sensors for industrial uses, has launched its first development kit as part of a strategic shift for the 10-year-old company. The kit will be available for sale next month and will let others use Everactive’s proprietary chips and wireless communication protocol to build their own battery-less sensing devices.
The company’s technology is twofold. Everactive has pioneered a low-power wireless chip that can operate at 20 microwatts of power, and it has also created a proprietary low-power wireless networking protocol to send sensor data to a gateway. The combination of the two low-power processes enables the Everactive silicon to operate a sensor using energy-harvesting technology such as solar or temperature differentials.
Its clients appreciate the ease of installation and maintenance associated with the sensors and gateway because they can affix the sensors to equipment and essentially forget about them. Everactive has customers who use their sensors to measure vibration, track the health of steam traps, and more.
But with its $599.99 development kit, Everactive hopes to find new audiences for the technology and let developers create new applications. The dev kit contains a solar-powered temperature, humidity, pressure, and movement sensor that sends data to a gateway. For the dev kit, the gateway is a dongle that attaches to a computer so as to keep costs down.
The sensor is capable of sending data every 15 seconds, which is actually much more often than many current industrial sensors transmit their data. And while the dev kit currently has a solar sensor, in the future Everactive plans to release one that is powered by changes in temperature. One way or another, all of the data collected at the gateway gets sent to a client’s cloud or local servers via MQTT, or to Everactive’s servers, where it is accessible via an API.
Everactive — and other companies trying to create these easy-to-deploy sensor networks — have to make the hardware simple, the connectivity simple, and getting the data from a gateway to the customer’s application simple. They also have to make it easy to build something usable from that sensor data.
With the dev kit, Everactive has focused on the first three necessities, believing (for now) that the end customer will be able to take the raw sensor data and make use of it. However, Brian Alessi, VP of sales and marketing with Everactive, told me the company is still deciding if it should go further and build out an application that can relay sensor data to end users. It’s basically a difference in the end market. Most industrial and even mid-sized customers will have existing software that will make use of the data provided by Everactive’s hardware. But if it wants to target the SMB market, it will have to go further.
Whatever it chooses, it’s not alone. Earlier this year, Wiliot, a competitor in creating battery-less Bluetooth devices, released a development kit of its own. And Nowi, a competitor making energy-harvesting chips that can be paired with a variety of wireless technologies, has seen several partners create development kits that enable battery-less devices in the last year. Plus, for devices that still require batteries, there have been a surge of approvals for over-the-air charging technologies that could power IoT devices from several feet away.
Years ago, I gave a presentation on the challenges associated with getting the IoT to a trillion sensors. One of the biggest challenges was that many of these devices require cords or batteries. Cords limit flexibility while batteries add costs and contribute to e-waste. But this year has been a big one when it comes to advancing beyond those limitations.
Thanks to efforts like Everactive’s, in the next three to five years we’re going to see a world where the internet of things truly becomes untethered — from wires and from batteries.