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Public Bathrooms and the Future of Power

09 December 2019

It’s hard to imagine public bathrooms – those at airports, sports venues, and casinos – as hubs of innovation. But that’s exactly what they are. Truth be told, I didn’t care about these bathrooms before I joined Wi-Charge, except when I needed to use one. Now, I developed a different perspective.

Significant innovation started several years ago with the introduction of battery-operated devices. Bathroom devices including automatic faucets, flush valves, and soap dispensers run on batteries.

These touch-free devices are attractive for sanitary reasons. They run on batteries because routing power cables in public bathrooms is complex. It’s a water-rich environment. Very often, operators retrofit existing bathrooms with battery-operated devices. Using batteries avoids the need to rip up and re-tile the walls to run the cables.

Vendors for these battery-operated devices worked hard to optimize for long battery life. In an airport with thousands of devices, longer battery life means less maintenance. Less maintenance means more savings both in hours as well as in battery costs.

Then, the IoT revolution showed up. Suddenly, a faucet is not only a faucet. It is also a sensor. Faucets want to report how often they were used. Soap dispensers report how much soap they dispensed. Facility managers can view how well these devices are doing without visiting each bathroom.

Why is this useful? It is for several reasons:

  • For devices that use a disposable product – such as soap or towels – reporting usage tells when to refill. Otherwise, the device might run out of soap. Or, an overzealous janitor would replace the soap cartridge before it needs replacement. Reporting allows just-in-time refills.
  • If a device reports that it is not used, there might be a problem. A clogged toilet, for instance, would cause visitors to use a different toilet. This would result in reduced usage of the clogged one.
  • Usage statistics are also useful. For instance, bathrooms might be heavily used during halftime in a sporting event. Knowing the real-time status of the devices helps deliver a better experience for visitors.

The problem with turning faucets into IoT devices is power consumption. IoT requires more frequent reporting. It requires communication channels that did not exist before in the faucet. More frequent reporting means more power. More power for battery-operated devices means more frequent replacements. We run into a conflict between functionality and power consumption.

Wireless power is the solution. It delivers plenty of power to the power-hungry devices and can do so without routing wires. It is the perfect solution to the next wave of innovation in public bathrooms.

 

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