Six months ago, I interviewed Jens Eliasson, associate professor at Luleå University of Technology (LTU), and co-developer of the Smart Rock Bolt, a vibration-sensor-based device used for instrumenting tunnels in mines to detect potential catastrophic collapses. He had just accepted the IPSO Challenge grand prize on behalf of his team. That story is here. I caught up with him after IoT World for an update. It turns out that winning the IPSO Challenge was quite a game changer for him. In his words, it “opened the floodgates” of opportunity.
Eliasson says all the publicity on Reuters, the IPSO Alliance website, 3D InCites and others resulted in a number of inquiries from Swedish mining companies. It also led to entering a second contest run by the Swedish mining industry to support smaller companies and their ideas, and ultimately fund product development. He won that as well, and added €40K to the coffers to fund his company, ThingWave and started to actually manufacture Rock Bolt sensors and focus on real mining installations for a Swedish company, Boliden. Previously, field tests had been performed with the device. Every component had been tested in the lab or a mine, but a complete system had never been tested in a mine. “We are learning what works and what needs to be to be changed. By the beginning of next year, we plan to have a mine-tested working solution ready to go.” He added that there are teams working to improve the enclosure, which needs to be watertight if it is going to be in a mine for 5-10 years. They are also working on the software.
Shifting focus so rapidly from R&D to manufacturing has been somewhat of a wild ride, but Eliasson is enthusiastically embracing the challenge. “Most everything we see around us comes from mining activities, so the potential market is huge,” he explained. “Resources are finite, so we keep on digging deeper. The deeper we go, the higher the risk of collapse and the more we need to monitor and secure tunnels/mines.” Interest is primarily in using the Rock Bolt platform for a vibration sensor, but there is a huge potential for adding many other functionalities and opening this up to different markets. Other applications for the vibration sensor include seismic monitoring and ball bearing monitoring to perform condition marketing on rotating machinery and protect against damage. Additionally, other sensors, such as VOC, pressure, light and humidity, can be integrated to provide other capabilities.
While the focus is now on manufacturing the Rock Bolt system, Eliasson says there is still research to be done. In collaboration with Eistec, co-developer of the Rock Bolt, the team at ThingWave is developing software system on Eistec’s Mulle platform. They’ve also been able to outsource certain steps, such as the electronics.
Beyond winning the IPSO Challenge, Eliasson says complying with IPSO Standards has made it easier for third party companies to work with them because they can access more information from the system. Working with the companies within the IPSO Alliance has allowed him to establish credibility because they are all very important people in the industry. Additionally, being IPSO compliant means that new sensors added to the system are immediately identified and appear on the network.
“By winning IPSO Challenge, we got approval from IoT market,” said Eliasson. “From the mining award, we got approval from the mining industry. It’s been a really nice journey since December.” ~ F.v.T