What does the future of batteryless IoT look like, and how will it impact the industry? Professors, Doctors, and Co-Founders of Everactive, Dr. Ben Calhoun and Dr. David Wentzloff, discuss just that on the Podcast. Ben and David start by sharing what batteryless IoT is, the current landscape, and where it is currently being implemented. Ben and David also share insights into the top applications of the technology, challenges in scaling, and how you know batteryless IoT is suitable for your application.
Ben Calhoun (Ph.D., MIT) is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Virginia and co-Founder / co-CTO at Everactive. Ben’s research breakthroughs in ultra-low power integrated circuits have enabled a new category of continuously active, batteryless wireless sensors. He continues at Everactive to build toward a vision of pervasive monitoring by trillions of self-powered devices.
Interested in connecting with Ben? Reach out on Linkedin!
David Wentzloff co-founded Everactive in 2012, where he is currently co-CTO. Everactive produces data intelligence for the physical world. Operating without batteries, the company’s always-on wireless sensors deliver continuous cloud-based analytics at a scale not possible with battery-powered devices. David received a BS degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 1999 and MS and Ph.D. degrees from MIT in 2002 and 2007, respectively. He is also an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor and the Faculty Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan. His research focuses on ultra-low power radio integrated circuits for self-powered systems and mm-scale sensors. He has published over 150 papers in peer-reviewed conferences and journals, including the first sub-100nW wake-up receiver. He serves on the program committees for the IEEE RFIC and ISSCC conferences.
Interested in connecting with Dave? Reach out on Linkedin!
Everactive delivers the most sustainable, scalable, and cost-effective Internet of Things solutions. The company’s proprietary low-power energy harvesting and wireless technology enable batteryless and always-on IoT systems powered entirely from micro-renewable energy. By opening its groundbreaking technology, Everactive is allowing the developers to build suites of innovative hyper-scale IoT applications that continuously analyze an explosion of new data across a wide range of applications and throughout entire environments.
Everactive’s self-powered IoT platform is built upon groundbreaking advances in ultra-low-power circuit design and wireless communication that allow the company to power its Eversensors exclusively from harvested energy. The company also offers a managed data network to seamlessly and reliably deliver developers self-sustaining data streams. Everactive has offices in Santa Clara, CA; Charlottesville, VA; and Ann Arbor, MI.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(01:59) Introduction to Ben, Dave, and Everactive
(03:39) Founding story of Everactive
(05:33) What is batteryless IoT?
(09:47) Top application of batteryless devices
(12:04) Biggest scaling challenges in IoT
(15:36) The future of batteryless IoT
(19:13) When is batteryless IoT a fit for an application?
(23:45) Industries to adopt batteryless IoT
– [Ben] So we think that, for the roadmap, IoT developers can make use of this platform to start proliferating this technology into places that are not currently digitized, that are mainly operating clipboards and manual kinds of operations rather than technology. So we think that there’s a real opportunity to start deploying it.
– [Ryan] Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the IoT for All Podcast, presented by IoT for All, the number one publication and resource for the Internet of things. I’m your host, Ryan Chacon. If you’re watching this on YouTube, we would truly appreciate it if you give this video a thumbs up and subscribe to our channel. If you’re listening to this on a podcast directory like Apple Podcast, please subscribe as well so you get the latest episodes as soon as they are out. All right, on today’s episode we have Dr. Ben Calhoun, the Co-Founder and Co-CTO of Everactive. They are a company that is delivering a sustainable, scalable, and cost-effective Internet of Things solutions with a focus on low-power, energy-harvesting, and wireless technology that enables completely batteryless and always on IoT systems powered entirely from micro-renewable energy. So we’re gonna talk a lot about that. We’re gonna talk about what is batteryless IoT, how does it work, what’s the current landscape? Where is the tech? How far has it come? What does it really enable? Other scaling challenges that they’ve seen from their side of things, advice on how to overcome those scaling challenges, and then the overall future and technology roadmap for batteryless IoT for the industry’s benefit and kind of understanding where we are, where it’s going and so forth. But all in all, ton of value that I think you’ll get outta this episode, but before we get into it, any of you out there are looking to enter the fast-growing and profitable IoT market, but don’t know where to start, check out our sponsor, Leverege. Leverege’s IoT solutions development platform provides everything you need to create turnkey IoT products that you can white-label and resell under your own brand. To learn more, go to IoTchangeseverything.com. That’s IoTchangeseverything.com. And without further ado, please enjoy this episode of the IoT for All Podcast. Welcome, Ben and Dave, to the “IoT for All Podcast. Thanks for being here this week.
– [Ben] Our pleasure.
– [Dave] Thanks, Ryan. It’s good to be here.
– [Ryan] Yeah, it’s great to have both of you. Looking forward to this conversation. Let’s kick this off by having you both give it a quick introduction about yourselves. We’ll start with Ben and throw it over to Dave. Just kind of overview of kind of background experience, anything you think could be relevant for audience to get a better sense of who they’re listening to.
– [Ben] Sure, thanks. So my name’s Ben Calhoun. Along with Dave, I’m one of the technical Co-Founders of Everactive and Co-CTOs. I’m also a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Virginia. My research at UVA is in low-power circuit design and my training for that was as a PhD student at MIT where I met Dave, so I’ll turn it over to him.
– [Dave] Yeah, thanks Ben. Hey, everybody. I’m Dave Wentzloff, and Ben and I have very similar backgrounds. We actually met in graduate school at MIT and then once graduating, we both went back to our respective alma maters as professors. So Ben’s at at UVA and I’m at the University of Michigan. And as Ben said, we’re both, you know, the technical co-founders and co-CTOs of the company. And my research or area of expertise is in ultra low-power radios and wireless communication. And we, both Ben and I, develop or do research in integrated circuits and low-power radios dovetail really well with the digital systems and power management that Ben’s group has been working on for years and we’ve put those two things together to form complete SoCs and that’s the technology that we spun out into Everactive.
– [Ryan] Yeah, I love that. Can you, because I have both the co-founders on here, which is not always a thing I get the pleasure of speaking to on, or speaking with on these podcasts, is I’d love to hear about the founding story a little bit more. Kind of what prompted the start of the company? What opportunity do you see in the market? That kind of side of things would be great.
– [Ben] Yeah, sure. Well, it follows onto the story Dave started telling. After we went back to become faculty members and started research groups in low-power chip design, we stayed in touch and talked about what it was like to grow our research groups and to be in the faculty setting, but then we started working together and we were doing that across the two universities, writing grants together, getting funded research and then having students in Dave’s group and students in my group working together as one big team to build these systems on chip or SoCs that were ultra low power and we were tackling applications that were batteryless. And initially, those applications were mostly in the wearable device space, so we’re part of a large national science foundation-funded center to build batteryless wearables. So we built a chip that could operate entirely from body heat with no battery in the system. And measure signals like your electrocardiogram or electroencephalogram and then do processing on the chip and a lot of sophisticated signal extraction and then use radios that Dave’s group built to communicate back that data. So building those kinds of systems, we started to talk about putting them out into the world and having an impact on real products and that led us to working together to co-found Everactive really for that reason. We had a vision for bringing batteryless device.
– [Ryan] That’s awesome, yeah. I actually, I don’t have tons of exposure into the batteryless IoT space. I’ve talked to a few people who have brought it up and we’ve chatted about it here and there, but one of the main reasons I was really excited about this conversation is ’cause this is a topic we haven’t had a lot of time to dive into. So I think what would be great is if you all could explain to our audience a little bit more about what it means or what does batteryless IoT really mean, what does the current landscape look like? What are some of the leading use cases for batteryless IoT? Just kind of how it really is different and what it offers to the industry.
– [Ben] Sure, yeah. I can start and then Dave, feel free to jump in. So the basic idea with a batteryless device is that you still need energy, so you harvest that energy from the environment. So you have some sort of a transducer that converts energy in the environment into electrical energy. So one that everybody’s familiar with is a photovoltaic cell that converts light into electricity. But there are other options. For example, thermoelectric generators that convert differences in temperature into energy. You can also harvest from motion, electromagnetic energy, RF energy, a lot of other sources. So you take that energy from the environment, which is, by nature, intermittent, you know? Sometimes you have more available, sometimes you have less, sometimes you have none, depending on the environment. You convert it into usable energy, you wanna make that conversion efficient, And then you store that energy locally in a capacitor, which is like a battery in the sense that it stores energy, but unlike a battery in the sense that it behaves different and has some other good features. And then you use that energy to do useful work. The work that you do is similar to what you might do with a battery, you know, and the sensor, you’re sensing something, processing it, communicating it. You can do actuators. But the difference is the energy source, which sounds maybe at first like it’s troublesome and in ways, it is troublesome. You don’t have a constant source of power. It comes, it goes, it varies, but it’s also far more plentiful overall than a battery, in most cases. So with the battery, you basically have a fixed amount of work you can do and if you want a longer battery life, you just space that work out over a longer period of time, which means you’re doing less work at any given moment. With a batteryless device, because you’re harvesting energy, sometimes you have to back off to accommodate poor conditions, but a lot of the time you have plentiful conditions and you can do way more work way more of the time than in a comparable battery-powered system. Dave, what would you add?
– [Dave] Yeah, the one thing I would maybe add to that is if you think of a system that has to run from a finite amount of energy like a battery, every operation, every task you do is gonna take some energy from that battery and you size the battery so that you can do, you know, some number of tasks before the battery dies. And it’s a game everybody plays with battery-operated devices to trade off lifetime for the amount of work that you can do or the number of operations you can support or, you know, depending on the application, but the main advantage as Ben said is we basically have an abundant and unlimited source of power and for that reason, we actually leave a lot, a lot of the components in our devices, we leave them on all the time. We never shut them off. Even when harvested energy goes away, we have local energy reserves in capacitors, not batteries, in capacitors, that is sufficient to keep those things alive for hours or days at a time, so we can actually keep a large fraction of our system on all the time and that is truly game changing for many IoT applications because for so long we’ve been building these devices in this constraint, in this battery-operated world where we’re just constrained in what we can do from a fixed amount of energy and it basically unleashes, you know, removes all of those restraints, which has really enabled us do a lot of really cool stuff with our platform.
– [Ryan] Yeah, and so you mentioned some of those applications, I get how, you were mentioning how the applications benefit, what are some of those applications that you found really you can utilize batteryless devices and which ones are, in a sense, leading the way and that this is really a fit for?
– [Ben] Yeah, great question. Well, we have some applications where we’ve deployed sensors and actually have over 10,000 sensors deployed and operating in the industrial space right now, but we looked for those applications by trying to think about places where you needed to get to more data. You needed data in lots more locations than you would be willing to place battery-powered devices and once you got to those locations, you needed data way more of the time than you could possibly achieve with a battery. So to give the examples, where Everactive has started deployments, those are in the industrial space and they deal with pieces of equipment that are highly numerous that, when they’re working, it’s great, but when they fail, it’s a real problem. So for example, motors. There are lots of motors all over the place in many different kinds of use environments and there are large amounts of money and effort spent on trying to monitor motors and other vibrating and rotating equipment, and there are a lot of solutions that use batteries to monitor vibration in motors. But typically, people only deploy them on a small set of the total number of motors in a particular setting in the industrial space. With a batteryless vibration monitor, Everactive can monitor vibration essentially continuously, do fast form transforms right on the device, extract frequency information, and have a continuous solution for knowing exactly what’s going on with that motor and because it’s batteryless, it means nobody needs to go back and maintain it later, so people will deploy them in thousands. A similar example that we’ve also deployed is for steam traps, which are valves in a steam distribution system that let condensate out of the system but keep steam in. Like motors, these are highly numerous and when they fail, it’s a real problem, costs a lot of money ’cause you’re pouring steam down the drain or you’re backing condensate up into the system.
– [Ryan] Mm, fantastic. And let me ask, so with… From a little bit higher level here, with your experience in the space, what do you feel like are some of the biggest scaling challenges that companies are having in the IoT industry? And kind of what is your advice for kinda overcoming those challenges? I’m sure some of that has led to the development of this technology, obviously, and how you kind of view the space, but just outta curiosity, where do you see the biggest headaches and issues for companies right now?
– [Dave] Yeah, I can take that one. You know, for some of the industrial applications that Ben was mentioning, the biggest hurdle is really, our biggest competition we sometimes say is a clipboard, you know, where before plant managers or facilities groups would go around and manually inspect these devices and the reason they aren’t deploying devices on them to continuously monitor is because they know that if those devices operate on batteries, they’re just setting themselves up for another maintenance problem, which is to go out and change a bunch of dead batteries. So, you know, we find that people will do that on the order of tens or hundreds maybe, but if you have thousands or tens of thousands of devices, and this gets to your point on scale, that’s just a non-starter. It’s a non-starter to go put 10,000 batteries out in a facility if you know that the lifetime is about a year. And anecdotally what we hear is battery lifetime on IoT devices, in particular in industrial applications, where it’s often high temperature or harsh environments that these operate in, in particular, those battery lives never achieve kind of the stated spec. And so, they’re often changing batteries more frequently than they thought. So, you know, that’s certainly one thing. We get over that by not having any batteries, by being completely maintenance-free. Our devices are completely maintenance-free. But a second part is the actual deployment of it. So, how do you attach this device to an asset or how do you, you know, what does it attach to, and what does that process look like? And then how do you connect it back to the internet and authenticate it and attach it to your, basically to your account and what does that process look like? And those are things that we’ve actually put a lot of, invested a lot of effort into simplifying. And our goals are usually to get that process down to less than five minutes, but we’re typically in the two to three minute range for complete installation and authentication of that device and attachment to your account. And that’s enabled by our Evernet, we call it, our wireless network and how we deploy those devices and how they securely authenticate and communicate to that network and then eventually, you know, get provisioned back to the user’s account. And so I think that’s another key, you know, because we’ve all gone through the process of pairing a Bluetooth device to our phone or pairing a Wi-Fi device to our home network and then gone to try and change the password on that network and then have to that wrestle that. This is a process, right? So, and it takes far more than a couple minutes. So it’s something that doesn’t really scale.
– [Ryan] Fantastic, yeah. So tell me a little bit about, I guess, what does the roadmap look like for this area or this technology, I guess. Kind of, what does the future hold for batteryless IoT and just outta curiosity, kind of wanna learn more about where this could go, you know? What should people be getting excited about? What should they really understand about this technology and kind of where it can potentially lead the industry?
– [Ben] Yeah, great question. We think that the industry is an opportunity to start taking advantage of this batteryless technology and Everactive wants to play a role in that. We are opening up our technology stack and enabling developers, IoT developers, to build their own batteryless devices, batteryless devices that generate new data streams that they’re interested in. And you were asking about what applications this makes sense for. I think scale is a good way to think about it. Lots of places you wanna put devices and for which batteries are a problem, or you wanna get lots more data than you can get from a batteryless device way more of the time, that’s a perfect application for batteryless and Everactive’s technology stack, to Dave’s point, helps with the ease of adoption and does all of the batteryless device management for you. It does the data stream generation and back-hauling that data back into the cloud and making it available through an API for you. It does all the provisioning and all the over-the-air updates, all this stuff that you would like to have in the system, it makes that easy. So we think that, for the roadmap, IoT developers can make use of this platform to start proliferating this technology into places that are not currently digitized, that are mainly operating clipboards and manual kinds of operations rather than technology. So we think that there’s a real opportunity to start deploying it. It comes from the confluence of a few of these technologies. You know, the ultra low-power system-on-chip is a key piece of this. It does the energy harvesting efficiently, it does ultra low power computation right on the node efficiently, we have an always-on receiver that lets the device stay in communication with the network continuously for power as low as 300 nanowatts. That’s 0.0003 milliwatts, compared to Bluetooth, that’s like four or five milliwatts. So that’s critical, but it’s not enough. You know, in addition to the chip, we have technology that puts that chip together with the batteryless node to allow our developers to bring their own sensors into that platform or to bring their own computation into that platform. And then we need to have a network that can connect lots of devices and bring data back to those devices. So Everactive’s network has devices for one gateway with a range over a kilometer, even in an industrial environment and allows that data to flow backward into the cloud where it can be delivered as a data stream.
– [Ryan] That’s awesome. Yeah, very exciting stuff. And that was one of my next questions was gonna be around how developers can build their own batteryless IoT products and kind of what makes that even possible to be able to build this out into other applications, other use cases to get to scale. So you kind of nailed that question without even having, or without me having to even ask it. So I appreciate you kind diving into that a bit more. When a company is out there trying to get started on their IoT journey and they’re looking to kind of decide which route they should go with all the different elements that come into an IoT solution and batteryless IoT kind of comes up in discussion as an option, what should they be thinking about in how they can decide if batteryless IoT is the right thing for them to explore for the solution they’re looking for? Like what are the- We know we talked about some of the limitations and the advantages, but like, how can they really start to draw a line whether this is the right fit for what they’re doing, but if their solution requires X, Y, and Z, then this probably won’t be a fit, at least for now, maybe in the future, yes. But just kind of how does that, how do you kind of advise companies to think about that? And when you’re maybe talking to companies about it, how do you help them decide if it’s a fit or not?
– [Ben] Yeah, great question.
– [Dave] I could take that one. I think Ben hit on a couple things, like, you know, applications where maybe you weren’t monitoring already, but you want to, you know, you want to generate a data stream from that device or for that application. So maybe areas where sensors don’t exist. But I’d say on the, specifically on the batteryless aspect, we had lots of questions like that ourselves. You know, is there enough energy in this location where I want to put a monitor? Can I power the sensor that I need in order to get the resolution or the accuracy of the data that I need for my application? These are the… We had all these same questions and we actually have built several tools to help us answer those questions in the field, for sensors that are deployed in the field. And we are planning to make all of those things available to the developer community essentially as a knowledge base or a suite of, you know, knowledge base plus tools to answer these questions for their specific applications. So yes, we’re building that up as we speak. A lot of that is coming soon, but yeah, we completely get the question. We get that from developers and people who have deployed these already and yeah, I think the thing I would just tell people is it is something, it’s an engineered solution. It is something that we can engineer our way around. It’s kind of, it helps to kinda open up what you’re thinking about and the possibilities that you’re thinking about to not start with, “oh, I don’t think there’s enough energy for my application, therefore…” You know, yeah. But instead think, “oh yeah, this is possible and Everactive’s platform can help me do it.”
– [Ryan] Absolutely, yeah. Ben, anything to add there?
– [Ben] Yeah, I love that Dave. Great answer. Just a couple thoughts to add. I would remind people that the total amount of energy over the lifetime of a device available in a self-powered batteryless solution is actually way, way, way more than for a battery. In fact, you have an infinite amount of energy if you’re willing to wait, you know, to harvest in the batteryless solution. And then I’d say the one word answer to, when is batteryless the way to go, is scale. If you want way more devices or way more data or way more of the time, data streams, you aren’t gonna be able to pull that off with a battery. It’s gonna be way too big or the lifetime’s gonna be too short. Something gives. And so that is the kind of application that could benefit from batteryless. If you have an application where a battery is working well for you, keep using it. Like, don’t replace it. It works. Don’t fix something that’s not broken. But if you’re struggling to get the data streams you want, battery, a viable option with our platform.
– [Ryan] Yep. No, that’s a great way to put it. I think, you know, a lot of companies come in and they’re like, you know, don’t do this. Do this, do what we do. But you’re kind of approaching it from a very realistic standpoint. It’s like, look, if you have something that works, it’s great. It’s solving your problem. That’s what IoT’s all about. But if you’re not, this is another path that you can explore that may solve a lot of the problems that you’re encountering with your current application and it’s something that, like you mentioned, was not really that viable until recently and it’s definitely enabling more IoT solutions across different industries. And I guess one of the last questions I have before we wrap up here is, what are some of the industries, like, if we’re looking, let’s say 12, 18, 24 months down the road, what are some of the industries that are kind of on the brink of batteryless really working for them, but maybe not there yet that you see will kind of be, like, the next frontier for batteryless IoT to really take off?
– [Ben] Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean my kind of tongue-in-cheek, kind of serious answer is we want our developers to figure that out. You know, find those applications where you want to achieve scale where you can’t, those are the next frontier. I mean, I think the number of opportunities could just explode. For us, we’ve been mostly focusing on industrial and I think that’s an obvious place where there’s a lot of value because they’re, industrial space has lots of stuff that needs monitoring that currently is not digitized. So the opportunity to bring digital to places where it is not is really high. But we also look at other applications like asset tracking. We look at commercial setting, food and beverage. We look at even consumer kinds of settings, devices in smart homes or smart cities that provide far more information about the environments and the people in them than we can currently achieve. And maybe it’s a little further away, but I’ll circle back to Dave’s and my initial research on this topic. We’re still passionate about wearables that don’t need batteries and think that eventually, again, it’s maybe a little further away, that’s a great opportunity to integrate these devices into clothing and just have them disappear into the things that we put on every day.
– [Dave] Or expand that to healthcare, you know. Not just wearables for consumer, but healthcare. You know, healthcare is ripe for disruption with these types of devices, right? You know, patient compliance, for example, is a big issue and patients get discharged and you know, are asked to do certain things, but they’re, it’s not necessarily known if they’re following those procedures or not, or prescriptions and that can have significant impacts on their care. So it’s useful information for medical professionals to know, too.
– [Ryan] Absolutely, yeah. I think the applications across industries just continues to grow by the day and like you said, you know, the more tools you can build out, the more resources you have for developers to really utilize this technology in a seamless way, the more we get to learn together as to what’s possible with it. And I think that seems like the real power here, which a lot of other companies maybe are not taking that approach and I think it’s, especially with a new technology or a newer technology like this, it’s something that is great to just get more minds working on, working with the technology, making it easier for them to do so to then figure out what are the true applications that are gonna take this technology even further into the future. So all very, very exciting stuff, for sure. Last thing I wanted to ask you is, for our audience out there who wants to learn more about what you all do, kinda your technology or offerings, follow up with any questions, potentially, from this discussion, what’s the best way they can do that?
– [Ben] Yeah, well they can find us at everactive.com. They can order development kits right now to start exploring with what we have to offer for building their own batteryless devices to generate data streams and they can find Dave or me online and reach out by email with Ben@Everactive or David@Everactive.
– [Ryan] Fantastic. Well, thank you both so much for your time. True pleasure to chat with both of you about what you’ve built. Obviously, your experience and background carry a lot of weight in this one and I think it’s really impressive what you guys have kind of put your minds together to create and the industry’s gonna benefit from this. So thank you both so much for taking the time to kind of educate our audience and share your experiences with them. I think they’ll get a lot of value out this and love to have you back at some point to talk further about batteryless IoT and the state of the industry and kinda how things are continue to move forward.
– [Ben] Yeah, that’d be great. Thanks so much for having us.
– [Dave] Thanks Ryan, appreciate it.
– [Ryan] Absolutely. All right, everyone, thanks again for watching that episode of the IoT for All Podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please click the thumbs up button, subscribe to our channel, and be sure to hit the bell notifications so you get the latest episodes as soon as they become available. Other than that, thanks again for watching and we’ll see you next time.