It’s hard to think of public restrooms — those at airports, hospitals, sports venues and casinos — as hubs of IoT innovation. But that’s exactly what they are. Significant innovation in public restrooms started several years ago with the introduction of battery-powered devices, like battery-powered automatic faucets, flush valves and soap dispensers.
Before devices that could be charged by batteries came along, the only other options were device models that would draw a low-voltage current from an AC transformer. In other words, a power cord would need to be plugged into an electrical wall socket to send power to an automatic faucet, for example. Running power cords in a restroom environment posed many challenges and risks. Restrooms are inherently water-rich environments, and public restrooms often undergo power washing, which poses an obvious risk to electric power cords and wall sockets. The other challenge that came along with devices that could only draw power from being plugged into an outlet, were on the installation side. Routing power cables through walls often require ripping up tiles and drywall and can take a significant amount of installation time and cost.
The introduction of battery-operated devices
When automatic restroom device manufacturers innovated and started introducing battery-powered device models, the risks and challenges went away. Bathroom equipment manufacturers worked hard to optimize these devices for long battery life. In a large airport where there can be more than 40 public restrooms, longer battery life meant less maintenance and battery replacement costs.
IoT changed everything
Over time, it made sense to turn simple battery-operated devices into more intelligent IoT devices that could provide information such as when a soap dispenser started getting low on soap. If such reporting capabilities are not available, the dispenser might run out of soap, leading to a poor visitor experience, or soap might be replaced too early, leading to undue time and cost of maintenance. For another example, facility managers can use IoT to closely monitor water use to detect major leaks and easily identify when products or fixtures need maintenance. If a faucet or a toilet reports that it is not being used, it might indicate a problem. A clogged toilet would cause visitors to use a different toilet, which would result in reduced usage of the clogged one, alerting the problem to janitors.
The problem with turning faucets and other bathroom products into IoT devices, however, is power consumption. IoT capabilities ––where the device is pulling and pushing usage information — requires much more power than traditional or even longer-lasting lithium ion batteries can produce. If the IoT device can’t properly rely on battery power, we then run into problems of inconsistent reporting or devices dying without notice, ultimately resulting in a poor user experience and an even greater headache and cost for maintenance crews.
Enter long-range wireless power
Long-range wireless power can solve all of these challenges and provide the steady power stream of a hardwired solution and the ease of battery installs without any of the associated drawbacks.
Here’s how it works. A wireless power transmitter sends safe infrared beams to a receiver that is typically embedded in the bathroom devices to be powered, and a small photovoltaic cell in the receiver converts the light to electricity. This concept is similar to solar panels converting sunlight into electricity. Infrared beams can travel with little degradation over a distance to efficiently, safely and reliably providing wireless power across a room to the device, eliminating the need for power cords or batteries.
Long-range wireless power can truly up the innovation game of IoT devices, such as those within public restrooms in the following three ways:
- Reduce maintenance and installation costs. By eliminating the need to install wires or replace batteries, significant time and expense is saved. The user experience improves because the devices that need to be on are indeed always on.
- Enable smarter devices. Adding smart capabilities to automated fixtures — such as those in public restrooms like data on how low a soap dispenser is getting or if a hardware fixture is malfunctioning — requires more than batteries can reasonably provide. Moving away from batteries toward long-range wireless power will be key for manufacturers to develop smart automated fixtures.
- Support sustainability. Despite advances in battery technologies, batteries require constant replacement in order to support the innovation of IoT-enabled fixtures and the increased power consumption that comes with them. Each year, we discard approximately 180,000 tons of batteries — more than three billion batteries — of which 86,000 tons are single-use alkaline batteries which cannot be recycled. Placed end to end, the dead alkaline batteries alone would circle the world at least six times. Much of this waste ends up in landfills, not only taking up precious land, but also allowing harmful chemicals to leach into the surrounding soil and waterways. Long-range wireless power significantly reduces the need for batteries, and thus is a promising solution to e-waste.
The Public Restroom of the Future has Wireless Power
Overall, long-range wireless power will support the public bathroom and other public services of the future by enabling vendors and facility managers to truly innovate, cut costs and reduce battery waste. Additionally, consumers will benefit as well. They’ll be able to experience clean, sanitary and well-stocked restrooms at all times because of the reliability that long-range wireless power provides.
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