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Wireless devices for smart energy management systems

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MICROBAT (Wireless devices for smart energy management systems)

Reporting period: 2015-05-01 to 2015-10-31

There is a growing need for smart energy-efficient homes, offices and industrial plants, and this need is increasingly being supported by legislation. Hence there is a growing market for technologies to enable this, through the deployment of smart metering, intelligent heating/air conditioning and lighting as well as control systems for energy generation and storage. To address this market, a new class of low-power wireless protocols has been developed for the automation and control of the above systems.
To date, wireless home and building automation systems that employ such protocols have seen limited adoption, despite the technology being widely available. This is mainly because existing inexpensive single-chip semiconductor radio devices are unable to fulfill the market need of whole-house coverage and low power consumption. Hence there exists a significant gap between the demand for such low-power wireless technology, and the ability of device manufacturers to supply low-cost devices of sufficient performance.
Cascoda's patented technology is unique in that it delivers standards-based single-chip radio communication with whole-house coverage, high data-link reliability and low power consumption, while using inexpensive CMOS semiconductor technology.
The objective of this project was to investigate the best fit for Cascoda’s technology in the market for energy management systems, and to develop an appropriate customer evaluation kit for the target application. Together, these items will form a solution with which manufacturers of energy management systems can quickly and easily integrate Cascoda’s technology.
The process of achieving these objectives will require the semiconductor device to undergo further testing and qualification before scaling-up. In parallel, the customer evaluation kit and high-level protocol stack will require prototyping, piloting and testing to regulatory standards. This work will take place in phase 2.
This project was divided into four sub tasks, namely the partner search, the customer search, the microcontroller identification and the development of a proof-of-concept customer evaluation kit.
The partner search began with an analysis of existing product offerings from microcontroller manufacturers that have not entered the IEEE 802.15.4 market. The deliverable was a shortlist. Cascoda then went on to identify the key stakeholders in each shortlisted organisation, and make contact with them. The following discussions led to a number of ongoing engagements. The customer search task began with Cascoda joining the ZigBee and the Thread standards organisations. Cascoda then began assessing which high-level protocol to develop, and to meet with and obtain a list of potential customers.
The Evaluation kit development task began once the microcontroller partner and device had been identified, and after feedback from potential customers has been analysed.
Task 1. Partner Search:
The purpose of the partner search was to identify potential partners, with the aim of forming a strategic alliance with at least one of them. The reason for this approach is that Cascoda can leverage the sales and marketing channels of such partners to reach well beyond its regional customer base.
Cascoda used a four-point methodology for identifying such partners: internal assessment, identifying and selecting partners, managing the relationship and maintaining an exit strategy. The internal assessment phase was relatively straightforward to complete, since there are relatively few potential candidates. Cascoda then went on to select potential candidates, based purely on the suitability of the available technology.
In order to identify key stakeholders within the candidate companies, Cascoda attended trade events and fairs. This allowed Cascoda to meet with key stakeholders and with connected organisations such as distributors. In some cases the latter formed a better route to connecting with key stakeholders. Eventually, this work allowed Cascoda to connect with key stakeholders from all candidate companies.
While discussing potential collaboration, it became evident that the challenge associated with product definition, design and development as well as product support for the IoT is huge. As a result there appears to be a consensus that, at present, one company cannot hope to dominate this market. Hence all candidate companies were willing to discuss potential collaboration, since such collaboration is seen as a requirement for success in such a challenging market.
Cascoda met with several candidate companies, with a view to developing a strategic relationship. This work resulted in a relationship with a partner that is developing an Internet of Things (IoT) platform. This partner has all the expertise required to develop this platform, except the radio-frequency device which Cascoda provides. Hence the relationship is highly synergistic.
Further discussions are ongoing with a variety of other potential partners.
Task 2. Customer Search:
The purpose of the customer search was to develop an understanding of the problems that customers have with existing technology, and to learn how to develop a solution that may overcome some of these problems while using Cascoda’s technology.
In order to make contact with customers, Cascoda began by joining the relevant standards organisations. At the time of submitting this SME Instrument Phase 1 application, the most relevant such organisation was the ZigBee Alliance. However, a new standards group has been developed which appears to be gaining traction. This standards organisation is called the Thread Group. Cascoda joined both the ZigBee Alliance and the Thread Group.
The are many hundreds of members of the standards groups, including actors at all levels of the supply chain. As such, processing the members
Contact was made with customers through the email, at trade fairs and at industry events.
While discussing with potential customers, it became evident that there was some dissatisfaction with existing products on the market. This dissatisfaction cantered on quality, and the lack of support. Concerns regarding quality related to the number of undocumented ‘bugs’ that appear to be present in existing devices, together with the lack of range.
Cascoda held a number of meetings with potential customers, both in Europe and in Asia.
Cascoda researched the relevant high-level protocols from both ZigBee and Thread, and made an internal assessment as to the suitability of Cascoda’s technology to each.
As a result of this work, Cascoda has concluded that there is a fantastic business opportunity for its technology.
Task 3. Identify Microcontroller for Evaluation Kit
As a result of the work done in 1 and 2 above, a microcontroller choice was made.
Task 4. Evaluation Kit Development
The purpose of a proof-of-concept customer evaluation kit module is to allow scientists and engineers design-in Cascoda’s products into their systems quickly and easily. The evaluation kit combines Cascoda’s IEEE 802.15.4 Transceiver Modem with a 32 bit Microcontroller in a simple temperature sensing application example. The module can operate either as a network coordinator (when it is plugged into and powered by a USB connection), or a sensing device (when unplugged and powered by battery). It establishes a sensor network using basic IEEE 802.15.4 MAC functionality.
The firmware development for the evaluation kit included the development of a comprehensive set of drivers for the microcontroller. Additional firmware implements the coordinator function, the energy scan and association function, the temperature sensor function and the low power modes.
The hardware includes a small chip antenna, a battery charger and a regulator, as well as miniature switches and a tri-colour LED for mode control and feedback.
The proof-of-concept evaluation kit module was manufactured and a few samples were built for firmware development. The initial build had a few minor hardware bugs, which were fixed in the subsequent build. The resulting proof-of-concept evaluation kit module was sent to the microcontroller for evaluation. This evaluation has led to further engagement, which is ongoing.
The conclusion of this SME Instrument Phase 1 project is that Cascoda’s product is uniquely placed to take a significant share in the market for radio semiconductor devices in the internet of things.
According to analysts, the effect of the new Thread protocol, with its backing from Google Nest and Samsung, will increase the market for IEEE 802.15.4 products quite considerably. If the Thread protocol does prove to increase the market size, then the impact of Cascoda’s technology may be greater than envisaged at the time of submitting the SME Instrument Phase 1 application.
Cascoda’s technology forms part of the IEEE 802.15.4 integrated circuit (IC) market segment. According to a recent analysts’ report, the number of IEE 802.15.4 device shipments is scheduled to increase by 550% by 2020. This would result in 2.5 Billion shipments by that year. Hence Cascoda believes this to be a high-growth, high-volume global market. There is expected to be significant uptake in the home automation, building automation, lighting and other markets:

This project targeted work programme “Stimulating the innovation potential of SMEs for a low carbon energy system” SIE-01-2014-1. Cascoda has concluded that the technology has the potential to greatly reduce energy consumption and carbon footprint by removing one of the biggest barriers to the growth of energy management and control systems for home, building and industrial markets.