With the spotlight now on hygiene, I talk to Andrea Basilova, co-founder of Slovakian firm Sensoneo, about how smart waste management fits into the new normal.
In a recent podcast, I heard the amazing story of Sensoneo’s journey. Could you tell us how you came up with the idea?
We came to the idea by chance. Namely, in our pub. During a discussion with a friend of ours, we heard about a problem in Nitra – one of the pioneering cities installing new semi-underground disposal containers in Slovakia. The city was not able to monitor when these containers were filled and very often special garbage trucks with hydraulic hands were being sent there when the containers were half empty. Thus, lots of money was being thrown into the air. The city was looking for a solution all over Europe.
My husband has a strong IT and technological background and he was managing large IT projects at that time. But here we were missing a sensor. Within our extended family, we have an uncle who is a very skilled hardware maker. At that time, he had been repairing scales in Tesco but was made redundant. And this gentleman made the first prototype of our sensor. Sensors developed across the globe were being tested and rated by Universities like Cambridge, but they chose our uncle’s sensor.
Of course, we later finetuned the product, but at the beginning he was the lone soldier who in his cottage studied all the materials in English, which he did not speak well, and put the sensor together.
At the start, the sensor was big like a shoe box but we had an enormous advantage in a customer who needed it desperately and who thus checked it, tested it, evaluated it and we were able to quickly deliver a smaller prototype. Later, we added transmission of data through IoT network.
In 2015, I signed our solution for the first national start-up award without even letting my husband know. Looking back, I wonder why they chose us for the semi-finals because at that time we were not even able to describe in a nutshell what we had to offer. We had a product but no marketing. We had one paying customer. But this proved to be the perfect scenario because many projects are done the other way round. They think about what the market might perhaps need and then they develop something but they do not have any customers. In the bootcamp for semi-finalists, we got some really useful advice from mentors, investors and other business people. And we started to think – oh boy – it seemed to be a big market. Even if we had not won, right after the competition investors started calling, offering to help us develop the business further and we started to do business.
What kind of technologies does Sensoneo use?
We use many machine learning applications, and our solutions include sensors, management system, citizen app and smart analytics.
Our ultrasonic smart sensors can monitor any type of waste in containers of various types and sizes. They can provide data in real time and ultrasound sensors proved to be very precise and resilient in bins, where the conditions can be very harsh. They are powered by replaceable batteries. It means we can prolong the life span of sensors rather than throw them away just because the battery is dead.
Monitoring frequency depends on customer’s requirements – some set it to measure each 5 minutes, others are happy to receive the info 3 times a day – it depends on the purpose. The sensor casing is made from recyclable polyamide optical fibres which makes it very resilient and eco-friendly. It can last for ten years or more. Our eco-design was recognised as one of the circular innovations of the year within MOVECO, a competition dedicated to supporting and highlighting circular innovations in the region of central Europe.
Sensors can provide a lot of other useful data to cities. Optional features are temperature measurement, GPS position, fire-alarm, tilt alarm and even monitoring of living organisms in bins.
Connectivity of our sensors is not limited to one IoT network; it can be connected to various IoT networks. Actually, Sensoneo was the first commercial installation on NBIoT network in the United States and it was a big success. In Europe, we often use LoRaWan which proved to have many benefits. But we can also use Sigfox, Cat-M or GPRS networks. We conduct all R&D of the sensors in-house.
We also use sophisticated software (Smart Analytics, Smart Route Planning and Smart Management System) with many machine learning applications and tools. They can provide cities and businesses with much more efficient and real data-driven decision making. These analytical tools can result in overall waste collection cost reduction by at least 30% and carbon emission reduction by up to 60% in cities.
Together with global provider of navigation solutions, Sygic, we developed special navigation for waste collection companies, which reflects planning and navigation in the most efficient way.
You can also use our mobile app as a citizen for free and if data is made available by the city or waste collection company, you can see where the bins are for which kind of waste, as well as how full they are, temperature, even the level of methane or other pollutants. Not every city makes their data open but it is a very good tool for providing information to citizens who can then be more actively engaged in improving the waste management system of a city.
How can Sensoneo help in times of COVID-19? What changes do you see in the world of waste and technologies due to corona?
The crisis of course enhances and drives adoption of innovative technologies. Cities, waste management companies and property managers are looking for solutions that could help them cope with the current challenges. Standard waste production hotspots have moved, households and residential areas have become the new hot spots. Higher consumption of protective equipment and longer time spent at home has led to a 25% increase in waste production.
We have developed and offer Waste Collection Efficiency Analysis to help cities and waste collection companies cope with the worsening waste situation. This system evaluates efficiency of the current set-up, simulates impacts of possible changes, and suggests new collection routes and frequencies. It is very good value for money.
Cities and waste collection companies will see very quickly how to improve their waste management and reduce cost and carbon footprint significantly.