Ever felt lazy and left the lights on before going off to sleep? Ever had water scarcity because you forgot to turn on the water motor at odd hours? Millions of Indians face the same problem every day. Tired of sky-rocketing electricity bills and severe shortage of water, Saurav Bhaik decided to find a low-cost solution to the problem.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” he quoted Arthur C Clarke, while talking to e27.
Indeed, it’s magical that what started as a boom of smartphones and smart electronics, today has been prospered into the concept of smart homes and smart grid. As per Gartner, the total revenue generated from the IoT industry would be US$300 billion, and connected devices would be US$27 billion by 2020 globally.
Taking this journey of technology further, Bhaik, along with a “bunch of procrastinators hit by sluggishness”, developed tagPlug, modular smart plugs and switches that can “control anything from anywhere and save energy by monitoring consumption”.
Mostly, all electronics — from home to office equipment — consume about 15 to 20 per cent of the total residential and commercial electricity. And shockingly, much of this energy is consumed when such devices operate in low-power mode, like standby or sleep mode, and are not being put to actual usage. Isn’t it frustrating that all your hard earned money, which you have been paying for electricity bills, is not because you slept comfortably with the AC on or had a nice warm bath, instead it’s because you probably left your laptop and TV on sleep mode?
“One extremely easy way to reduce unnecessary electricity consumption is to use tagPlug switches. It automatically turns off plug loads when not in use, making life more comfortable. Our aim is to help make energy consumption more visible to you and help you understand how much is the actual usage,” said Bhaik, Co-founder of the Gurgaon-based tagBin and tagPlug.
From Robocon to tagPlug
Bhaik, a graduate of IIT Roorkee, started his first company tagBin, a technology-driven marketing solutions provider, when he was in his third year of engineering. During college, he was part of the Robotics Club, and he along with his Co-founder used to build high-end robots for Asia Pacific Level Robotics Competition (Robocon). He worked with team Robocon for three years and from there built his team for tagBin and tagPlug.
“Hardware products are very difficult to roll since they are not like a piece of code where if anything goes wrong, you just change it and press run. Here, the design changes in hardware require weeks or sometimes months. We spent a month in Shenzhen, which is a hardware hub. In Shenzhen, we got a chance to prototype with the factories since the IC components which are available in the Chinese market are totally different,” he explained.
“We started working for tagplug in January 2014 and after more than 50 design changes, 100 prototypes and 1000s IC burnt, we are now good to go,” he added.
The startup has distributed first 100 pieces of tagPlug to beta testers. “We just started our online pre-order a few months back and without any marketing initiatives, there are more than 1000 pre-orders. We will soon execute our marketing plan after getting a positive feedback from beta testers,” Bhaik said.
How does tagPlug control other electronic devices?
tagPlug replaces any switch in the user’s house and controls the lights that are connected to that switch. One can turn on and off those lights wirelessly from anywhere, anytime. When inside the house, the smartphone and the hardware is connected to the WiFi-router and when the user leaves the house, then the hardware and the phone are both connected to mobile data, which helps in controlling the devices back home.
Users can download the app, plug the device, configure the app and start using it. The plug continuously measures current and voltage and this data is sent to the tagPlug server over a WiFi and it converts this raw data in units of electricity consumer multiplied by unit rate (total money spent), which is finally displayed real-time in the Android app.
tagPlug has occupancy sensing, which is capable of detecting presence or absence of a person, and accordingly turns the equipment on or off. Users’ phone will turn into proximity sensor, which will turn on the lights when in a room and turn off when the user leaves the room. It also allows a user to turn on lights before entering a dark room.
One can automatically disconnect the charger of the phone the moment it’s fully charged, thus saving not just overheating of the phone but even electricity.
It makes it easy to complete the every day task of switching the water motor on and off. It allows the user to set an alarm through the app when the motor will switch on, receive feedback from motor regarding the level of water in the pipeline and accordingly switch it off.
Also Read: Can the Internet of Things transform India?
With tagPlug, users can switch on the air conditioning even before they enter the house and it also has the option of energy consumption display by different types of devices.
tagPlug is available at US$40 for consumers. It has different prices when selling directly to businesses like real estate companies. The startup is bootstrapped till now but is looking to raise funds for mass production and scaling operations.
Competition from home automation
Home automation companies are present from a very long time but most of them are expensive and require rewiring. Bhaik said, “tagPlug is totally modular, requires zero rewiring and is affordable. Our app and product is plug and play and does not requires any complex settings.”
He also explained with tagPlug that there is no Internet required at home and is only needed to control devices from outside, but with many other smart switches/plugs, an Internet router is essential. They also need a hub to connect the device to the router, while in case of tagPlug there is no additional device needed.
Challenging to do R&D in India
According to Bhaik, hardware products are very difficult to roll. It was challenging to do R&D in India because of scarcity of design prototypes and poor access to electronic components. Hence, the company moved to Shenzhen to fasten the R&D work.
Asia is an important market
The IoT space will witness a huge growth by 2020; hence, there will be a lot of businesses building smart devices solving many problems faced by industries such as health services, security and agriculture through remotely connected devices. The companies operating in this space are launching sophisticated products with a style element to trigger mass-scale adoption.
“As the market booms, we will be providing hardware module (power module , sensor and wireless communication module) which can help these business prototype and mass produce faster. We have built tagPlug in such a way that the design can be used in smart thermostats also. Asia is a very important market for us, so we will continue to expand into different parts of Asia, and then target European countries and Middle East,” he concluded.
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