Energy-harvesting devices, which draw tiny amounts of power from sources like the sun and vibration, have slowly started to appear in industrial and commercial applications, like wireless sensor networks. But battery-free consumer electronics have mostly remained out of reach (see what happened to M2EPower). However, two-and-a-half-year-old Netherlands-based startup GreenPeak is looking to change that, and this morning the company says it’s raised a second round of funding to help it significantly expand its industrial and commercial-focused business into the consumer electronics space.
Up to this point, GreenPeak has largely been selling battery-free wireless chips and network hardware that can create wireless sensor networks for industrial and commercial buildings. Building owners that install sensor networks based on GreenPeak’s technology (for energy management, temperature monitoring, security) don’t have to replace the batteries in the network and can save money and time.
But with these funds — $19 million from Gimv, Robert Bosch Venture Capital, DFJ Esprit, Motorola Ventures and Allegro Investment Fund — GreenPeak is aiming directly at the consumer electronics market, specifically in home entertainment and automation. Elderd Land, Partner at Gimv, said in the release that GreenPeak’s technology could be used for remote controls for consumer electronics and wireless applications for home automation.
If you’ve ever had a series of remote controls that stop working and constantly need batteries, then you can see the need to develop a system to either significantly extend their battery life or even turn remote controls battery-free. I could envision a remote control that draws small amounts of power from the user picking up the device and changing the channel. GreenPeak tells us it is also developing “Self Powered Switches” for lighting (energy is generated by flipping the switch).
Energy-harvesting hasn’t really broken into consumer electronics for several reasons. First, much of the technology is still too expensive in terms of upfront costs for the low cost consumer electronics market. An industrial building owner might spend extra to install a battery-free wireless sensor network and avoid the cost of replacing thousands of batteries, but its a different proposition for a single sub-$100 remote control.
Second, the amount of power that devices have previously been able to draw from energy-harvesting technologies to date has been very small, so often not enough to provide enough power for the device. That was one of the problems with devices like the shaker flashlight (a novelty device where the flashlight is powered by shaking it). We don’t know all of the details of GreenPeak’s tech, but it’s a difficult problem.
For a startup it can also be hard to score big consumer electronics manufacturing partners. M2E Power, which had developed a movement-based energy harvesting technology, wanted to partner with cell phone makers to extend the battery life in phones. That market turned out to be too hard to break into, and M2E Power ended up switching courses (and being sold).
In terms of connections, GreenPeak’s backers could help the young firm. Involved in the round were Motorola Ventures (the VC arm arm of the cell phone maker) and Robert Bosch Venture Capital (the VC arm of electronics maker Robert Bosch). We’d all like to end batteries — GreenPeak’s slogan is “No More Batteries” — but it’ll be a long road before these products become mainstream in our homes.