Developing energy harvesting products
For the last few years ASSA ABLOY has been developing energy harvesting technology to enable its products to be operated from external energy sources. With two new products, that use two completely different energy sources, now ready, a battery free and more sustainable future is right around the corner.
“Energy harvesting is basically about using free energy,” says Daniel Skarp, Concept Innovation Manager at ASSA ABLOY’s Shared Technologies. “The best and most well known case is of course solar power, but there is also heat, motion and using energy from radio signals.”
No cables, no batteries
Shared Technologies has been looking into these technologies for a few years. And now, by working with some of ASSA ABLOY’S product companies, two digital lock products, one powered by solar energy and one by kinetic energy, have been developed.
It’s an electromechanical lock cylinder that is completely powered by the insertion of the digital key
“The Abloy Pulse Cylinder, released in late 2018, is a movement based energy harvesting product, ” says Daniel. “It’s an electromechanical lock cylinder that is completely powered by the insertion of the digital key. There are no batteries in it at all. A small generator harnesses the kinetic energy. There is a chip in the key, and when that connects with the lock cylinder it checks your credentials and opens the blocking motor inside so that you can access the door.”
Shared Technologies helped develop the Pulse Cylinder with ASSA ABLOY’s Finnish business unit Abloy. “They saw a market opportunity and asked for our help to solve the issue of creating a product that does not need batteries,” says Daniel. “We used our understanding of electronics, which was the main focus of that project, and we used the mechanical knowledge of Abloy and an external partner to develop the very small generator inside the cylinder.”
In most cases we can prolong the battery life and in some cases, where we have good light conditions, we can eliminate the need for battery changes altogether.
The IN120 WiFi lock meanwhile, developed by ASSA ABLOY’s Americas division, and pending launch, uses solar power.
“In most cases we can prolong the battery life and in some cases, where we have good light conditions, we can eliminate the need for battery changes altogether”, says Daniel.
The IN120 WiFi lock has been produced by the ASSA ABLOY Group company Sargent, based on solar cell work done by Shared Technologies. “They saw the potential of what this could do for their product,” says Daniel. “And we supplied them with information and recommendations about different solar technologies.”
Lowering power consumption
One of the key challenges with energy harvesting is about finding the balance between the energy needs by the product and its features and the energy that can be harvested from the external source.
“If we have a solar cell with low efficiency and we have electronics in our lock with poor usage of the energy as well, we are not going to meet the demand of the lock with the available technology,” Daniel explains. “As well as improving the energy harvesting technology to be able to generate enough energy, we also need the technology for the lock components to be less power hungry, so that we can balance the consumption with the harvesting.”
For solar cells, another key factor is the light conditions that the product will be operating in, and in particular whether it will be used indoors or outdoors. Today well working solar cell technologies exist for both inside and outside usage.
Shared Technologies helped Sargent to investigate this. “We had light meters installed in different locations to deepen our understanding of the light environments. Then we supplied them with a recommendation about what solar cells they would need for the light conditions they are trying to operate in.”
This all means that while the energy harvesting technology is ready and useable, it is not necessarily ready to be applied to all products. “It is very difficult to take all the ASSA ABLOY products and just add on a solar cell,” says Daniel. “We will have different light conditions and use cases where we will not generate any energy. And then on the other side we will have products which are not designed for low power and will not work with the available energy.”
Sustainable and cost-efficient
Shared Technologies’ ultimate goal in this area is to develop products that never require batteries. This plays into the ASSA ABLOY sustainability agenda and ultimately helps the environment in a number of ways, such as reducing the need to dig up exotic materials from within fragile eco systems and reducing the need to dispose of batteries.
We can now see that the technology is there and it works, we can generate enough energy to power our digital products
But the immediate benefits to customers lie in the reduced costs of ownership. By eliminating the need for batteries, the costs of changing batteries, which for commercial operators can be very high, especially when labor costs are involved, can be significantly reduced. Uptime is also significantly improved. The self-energy generating Pulse cylinder for example should never stop working.
“We can now see that the technology is there and it works, we can generate enough energy to power our digital products,” says Daniel, who envisions now developing the use of the solar cell and Pulse technology for other ASSA ABLOY applications.
And the future of energy harvesting, he adds, looks very promising. “We have printed electronics, which could make printed solar cells much cheaper to use. Then the Internet of Things is driving the need for low power products, so electronics are becoming less power hungry, which is really good for this area. The future looks really good!”