How computing giant Intel teamed up with a British technology company to bring the Internet of Things into the washroom. Nick Peters reports.
We all lead very busy lives, so busy and so frenetic that it sometimes feels as if we are developing the attention spans of hyper-caffeinated gnats; eyeballs and minds distracted every second of the day. No wonder life is so exhausting.
In the middle of this mind-racing maelstrom, however, there is one moment, at least once a day, when we have a whole ten seconds during which there is literally nothing to do. A whole ten seconds – imagine that!
Worked it out yet?
It is when we are standing in front of a hand dryer in a communal bathroom. Our hands are busy – it’s impossible to dry them and check Facebook – therefore, for this all-too-brief interval, we are doing nothing, which makes it the perfect opportunity to watch a micro-video on a screen embedded in the dryer. (OK, if you really enjoy that ten-second burst of freedom, you can always close your eyes…)
Putting a video screen on a hand dryer is the brainchild of Savortex CEO Syed Ahmed, an entrepreneur who clearly believes in thinking out of the box. If you’re asking yourself if this is a box that perhaps deserved not to be thought about at all, then consider this: the idea caught the imagination of no less a partner than chip-making and computing giant Intel, who saw in this application a small slice of the future of the Internet of Things (IoT).
This is because Savortex hand dryers will be IP-enabled so that advertising messages and (very) short films can be served to individual dryers, responding to location, time of day and local events. It can, of course, also take advantage of having uniquely segregated audiences.
“We partnered with Intel to combine digital brushless motor technology with the Internet of Things (IoT),” Syed told me. “Three years, and a lot challenges later, we launched the world’s first smart hand dryer, which not only dries your hands in 10 seconds and delivers a 97% operational saving to the facility, but also presents an opportunity to engage and inspire the user with a message or an advert that puts a smile on your face!”
Savortex is working with Kinetic Media, part of the WPP global advertising giant, to develop a smart advertising solution that one day will deliver messages tailored to the individual using it.
That will take a while to arrive. What is here already is usage data transmitted by the machines back to the facilities management about usage and footfall, so that cleaning and maintenance can be scheduled for maximum efficiency.
Savortex doesn’t exactly need to add bells and whistles to make its dryers attractive. Ahmed and his engineering team have invested heavily in developing brushless blade technology that delivers maximum drying effectiveness for minimum energy consumption.
The AdDryer and its cousins in the rest of the Savortex range are rated at 550W, which is half that of the closest competitor and less than a quarter of some of the dinosaur dryers on the market.
Based on average usage of 200 dries per day, 365 days a year with electricity charged at £0.10 per kWh, the Savortex range cost £12.41pa each to run. The nearest competitor costs over twice that, while paper towels, the ultimate benchmark against which dryers are measured, costs £1,460pa. No contest.
It was the real-world applicability of this device that persuaded Intel to get involved, because it ticks three very salient boxes: the waste and energy savings inherent in Savortex’s existing low energy products; instant data transmission to janitorial staff, and the opportunity to turn the dryer into a revenue-earner through selling advertising.
“The value (in IoT) comes from connecting things together and those things then providing information that can be used to provide business value,” Rod O’Shea, Intel’s worldwide IOT partner director, told me.
“Savortex had a solution that was deployable, and showcased a very innovative use-case, enabling energy-efficient hand drying in washrooms with the ability to share information.
“Being able to communicate to employees when they’re not sitting at a desktop or a laptop or using their phone is increasingly difficult, so it’s a great solution. I think this is a great example of a ‘thing’ generating valuable information.”
For Syed Ahmed and his team at Savortex, the opportunity to collaborate with Intel Labs on the AdDryer was heaven-sent. “All of a sudden, you go from the statistic which says 51% of people who go into a washroom don’t dry their hands,” he said, “to engaging people in a fun and interactive way while achieving the sustainability and hygiene benefits.
“It all adds up to driving down facilities management costs, with the enticing option that the advertising messages actually allow for the dryers to become cost-neutral or even revenue positive!”
The next step for Savortex, now that it is making washrooms smart, is to look at making other parts of office buildings smart, collecting data that similarly helps drive down costs and increases efficiency.
The AdDryer runs on the Intel Atom E3825 processor, with 8GB RAM, capable of running a low power dryer while at the same time supporting HD graphics. Communication is managed by an Intel Dual Band Wireless N-7620 network adapter with Intel Smart Connect Technology and Intel Ethernet Controller 1210-IT.
The AdDryer was developed in the Intel Labs, which are available to any product developer wanting to explore the connected future. Intel’s bottom line, as demonstrated by the Savortex experience, is that the business case for the product must be solid and have real-world applicability.