With the rise of smartphones, the Internet of Things (IoT), electric vehicles and renewable energy, there are more and more batteries out in the world.
Yet we still struggle to get the best out of them, knowing how long they will last, when to change them, and what to do with them after they’re replaced.
“We are basically not using batteries properly, and we don't use them to their full potential,” says Michal Sastinsky, chief executive and original founders of BatteryCheck, a Czech startup focused on battery lifecycle analytics.
Czech your battery
In the European Union alone, 191,000 tonnes of portable batteries were sold in 2018. This doesn’t include all the other types of batteries, such as those used for industrial and automotive purposes.
And while people rightly tout the technological leaps in areas like lithium-ion battery production, which have led to massive decreases in cost and have made electric vehicles and energy storage commercially viable for the first time, our knowledge of how to get the best out of batteries is still lagging.
BatteryCheck, which was founded in 2018, is among those aiming to use artificial intelligence analytics and data science to accurately calculate best usage, prolong battery life and reduce e-waste.
We are basically not using batteries properly, and we don't use them to their full potential.
The initial idea behind the Prague-based startup was to create cheap energy storage systems from used batteries. “Batteries are very expensive and so is energy storage,” says Sastinsky, who spent eight years working at Microsoft, his last role running IoT operations across 22 countries (he left to focus on lithium energy and energy storage batteries, before moving on to data analytics. “Combining everything, it's basically BatteryCheck,” he says today).
However, Sastinsky quickly came across a major issue; it was almost impossible to predict and calculate how long a used battery would last. Potential customers would therefore be unlikely to buy into such solutions.
Instead, he thought, it would make sense to develop a software analytic solution which manufacturers can easily integrate into their battery-powered devices to provide alerts and recommendations for their internal operations and also for their B2B, B2C customers. Within three months of founding, the company had pivoted in this new direction.
Black box storage
Understanding the lifespan of a battery isn’t as easy as counting the hours, or number of recharges. Sastinsky points out that batteries come in all different sizes, chemistries, to work in different devices. “And it's just basically a black box, so it's very unpredictable, because each chemistry is different,” he says.
To counter this, software-as-a-service solutions allow real time monitoring of batteries in their usage environment. This is particularly key for manufacturing and industry, where huge numbers of batteries may be in use and where the consequences of battery outage can be far reaching if a specific device stops working, even for just a minute.
“If a sensor is underground, or in a remote location, you still need to know what's happening, because if there is no battery there is no sensor. In case of IoT devices there is a golden rule, the life of an IoT sensor equals battery life,” says Sastinsky.
Battery powered world
Operating via Microsoft Cloud, BatteryCheck aims to make the process as simple as possible for manufacturers, so as not to create any additional hassle on the manufacturing side.
“We just need the data, we don't have to visit, we don't have to go anywhere,” says Sastinsky. “We just integrate with the existing platform, and we take the data. No hardware, no software, just data.”
He adds that all personal data stays on the manufacturer side. “They keep all the information, we are just enabling additional services, like predictive maintenance, predictive replacement, second life recommendation, recycling recommendations, alerts if there is a problem.”
In addition, Sastinsky believes BatteryCheck’s software solution can be a real enabler of the second life marketplace, where batteries with less than 80% capacity are often seen as end of life and replaced.
Fee per battery
BatteryCheck is still pre-revenue, but that will change beginning this year. Three customers will convert to commercial customers early in 2021, and they’re talking to 15 others, says Sastinsky, adding that these discussions are taking place under non-disclosure agreements. “Some of these customers have millions of batteries out there,” he says.
While electric vehicles are an obvious market, he adds, there are established companies like Bosch already focused on them. “We focus on the different devices, we focus on power tools, on industrial robots, off-road vehicles, specialised devices, sensors. There is a huge market,” he says.
The business model is a fee per battery per month, but the company also offers a prepayment option for certain scenarios. The startup has bootstrapped to date, but is in talks with investors about a funding round.
We focus on the different devices, we focus on power tools, on industrial robots, off-road vehicles, specialised devices, sensors. There is a huge market.
One of the main challenges is raising awareness. “People don't know what they don't know,” says Sastinsky, adding that they’re preparing an awareness campaign for 2021 targeting manufacturers of various battery powered devices.
Even so, Sastinsky sees big opportunities.
“There are gazillions of the batteries being shipped and used by people for various reasons,” he says. “We have IoT almost everywhere now, 5G is going to make a huge difference as well. Electric vehicles, electric scooters, electric bikes,” he says, each one a potential opportunity.
At Microsoft Central and Eastern Europe, our vision is to help the region advance as digital hotspot, by enabling local entrepreneurs and businesses to innovate and scale globally. The Microsoft for Startups programme is part of that vision, partnering with B2B startups in the region to provide technology and business support and help them realise their ambitions for growth.