Images courtesy of the Centre for Process Innovation
Rubber • Polymers • Elastomers
Making Materials Smart

IDTechEx interviews Marcus Taylor

Question and Answer in a video interview

Silent Sensors had a stand at the IDTechEx Show in Berlin this April. Because of the great strides the company has made since the same event last year, IDTechEx wanted to interview Marcus Taylor. Here is the interview in full, together with a link to the video so you can watch it too.

Marcus Taylor
I’m at the IDTechEx show in Berlin. We’ve had a really good show. We’ve been demonstrating our Energy Harvesting and RFID products for use in rubbers elastomers and polymers. These are some examples of the work that we’ve been doing. Here you can see a supercapacitor that is very flexible and also able to withstand high temperatures, which is necessary for tyre manufacture and production.

IDTechEx
So what would this be for?

Marcus Taylor
This basically works with this. If we look at this, when I shake it, the idea is it will generate power that is then stored in the supercapacitor that is used to power this. The structure here will be implemented on this area here. This will charge a supercapacitor, which manages the power to the TPMS sensors. This runs at low frequency. This is the antenna for the 433 frequency range.

IDTechEx
So you are powering an IoT device?

Marcus Taylor
This is an IOT – and it is the Internet of Tires that we are talking about.

IDTechEx
Tires. So every every tire is going to be able to communicate by itself?

Marcus Taylor
Every tire will be able to communicate by itself; to other tyres as well in time.

IDTechEx
What are they going to say to each other?

Marcus Taylor
They’re going to be saying “I’m hot”, “my pressure is too low”, “I’m on the left you’re on the right”. “Are we going forwards or are we going backwards?” “I’m going fast – I’m slipping”. “What shall we tell the engine management unit?” We are on an autonomous vehicle now : “My tread depth is too low – we need to go for a new tire.”

IDTechEx
How can they measure all this? You have everything in there?

Marcus Taylor
This is still a basic product which has only got TPMS (temperature and pressure management system). In 2012-2014 legislation was introduced to force passenger vehicle owners to monitor their tires. About 20% of all accidents on the road are caused by under inflated tires. Under inflated tires also translate into increased fuel consumption and increased tire wear. The main driver is safety. Tires, first and foremost, are safety products.

IDTechEx
And this supercapacitor is a big deal?

Marcus Taylor
It’s a big deal because supercapacitors and capacitors in general don’t like high temperatures. Typically supercapacitors will stop working at about 80 degrees Celsius. So what’s amazing about this material is it keeps working with almost no change in efficiency up to 200 Celsius and maybe more.

IDTechEx
Tyres get that hot?

Marcus Taylor
During the vulcanization process they go up to about 160-170 Celsius for about half an hour. Any of the components that we use have to be automotive grade.

IDTechEx
So also while they drive do they get pretty hot?

Marcus Taylor
The temperature range then is from Siberia to the Sahara if you like, -50 maybe, up to 100-110 Fahrenheit. There’s two factors that cause the heat. One is the mechanical forces. It is a viscoelastic material, so the molecules rubbing together will generate heat. Then there is heat absorption from the atmosphere – if you have ever put your hand on a hot road. Here we have this energy piezoelectric harvester that is vibrating, I think at 25-30 Hertz. This is generating 2.3 volts and then its charging the cell. So this that the download and now we put a load of voltage drops. It is showing how this generating enough power now to light an LED.

IDTechEx
This is new partnership with Comberry?

Marcus Taylor
Comberry are based in Ulyanovsk in Russia, and they with their PVFD technology have developed this supercapacitor for us.

IDTechEx
Is this the one?

Marcus Taylor
This is the one.

IDTechEx
What is the capacity and lifetime and stuff like that?

Marcus Taylor
It should have a very long life. But we are not quite there yet; we are still in prototyping stage, but the capacity is sufficient to drive a circuit. This circuit here needs about 1 milliwatt. We have dimensioned everything to operate at those power requirements.

IDTechEx
So this is a combination of flexible electronics?

Marcus Taylor
It is a combination of flexible electronics, PVD and substrate materials. The substrates we have developed here have been especially formulated to be compatible with the rubber in the tire. These inks and pastes we have also developed are designed to stick to the substrate. This one is a natural rubber. This is an ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene. A lot of it is really about how do we make products that fit rubber, polymers and elastomers, because it’s a very challenging manufacturing process with vulcanization, with injection moulding, over moulding and thermoplastics. By creating materials that fit those substrates and those manufacturing processes, we are actually creating an Internet of Things for flexible materials.

IDTechEx
There’s a whole bunch of new materials around here. So what are the materials in here?

Marcus Taylor
This is silicon basically. It just shows how much we can flex the system around in order to create a fully compatible structure. Imagine that’s a tire that’s being flexed – it won’t be flexing that much in a tire, it will be flexing much less!

IDTechEx
Around here you are showing different colours.

Marcus Taylor
These are actually spin-offs; they are not core to what we are doing. These are electrochromic materials. What’s cool here is that we’ve got flexochromic materials that aren’t just blue, which is the sort of standard color, but we can do different greys and browns as well.

IDTechEx
And the ultra-low power?

Marcus Taylor
Ultra-low power kind of frames what we are doing. Everything we are doing is Ultra-low power. We have formed a number of partnerships that are giving us traction in these different industry sectors. We are developing sensing systems for dairy products and milking systems, which kind of fit together here with chemical. For aviation we are developing the sensors we have just spoken about. For marine and packaging the same thing could be repurposed for tracking containers, ULDs and packages.

IDTechEx
Are you going to go in space?

Marcus Taylor
Why not? What’s to stop us?

IDTechEx
Who will be your partner there?

Marcus Taylor
SpaceX, ESA. There’s a number of companies potentially we could go for. We are still a small start-up company: we are waiting for them to knock on our door!

IDTechEx
What does Silent Sensors mean?

Marcus Taylor
Have you ever heard a sensor making any sound? It’s the silent background of all this information and all this data that’s being generated. We have been successful I believe because we have mitigated the risk by working with world-class partners such as Artis, CPI, PCL and Tyndall. We are also very fortunate to have been awarded an instrument from Horizon 2020 through the European Commission, as well as innovate UK. We see Europe as being very key to the growth of our business.

IDTechEx
So these are all kinds of partners?

Marcus Taylor
Yes these are all kinds of partners. These are industry associations that we work with. We’ve got Smithers Rapra, who are experts In the polymer and elastomer market. We’ve got Rain RFID, which is the industry sector for RAIN. We’ve got SMMT, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, that represents the industry in the UK. We’ve got EASME, which is a European Association of logistics companies, and MIS for example: they are all about motor sport, which fits well with aviation based technology because Formula One creates all of these cool things.

IDTechEx
What’s next for your company?

Marcus Taylor
What’s next really is scale-up. We want to get our product into the market. We want to be in a tire by the end of the year, generating data and transmitting that to the Cloud. One of our end goals is to move the intelligence into the tire, what I would like to call “sentient products” by applying AI at the edge of the Cloud rather than concentrating everything up in the Cloud, so those algorithms and those business opportunities are enabled. This has a transformative effect on businesses.

IDTechEx
Does this have a microcontroller?

Marcus Taylor
It has a little micro-controller and it has a sensor. I think the whole point of this is that it’s a business transformation technology: it enables companies to go from product sales to “as a service” business model.

IDTechEx
Is that a battery?

Marcus Taylor
That’s a supercapacitor. This is actually off the shelf – I think it is Morata. All the components on here you can buy from Mouser or Digikey or whatever. Each of these components here fills a gap in the end solution and each of these components now has to be substituted with a tire compatible component.

IDTechEx
So where are you based, and how many people in the company?

Marcus Taylor
We are ten people. We are based in the UK. We have two offices, one in Sedgefield in the northeast of England and one in Swindon, which is just south west of London. We also have a small office in France in Nantes, and we have partners throughout Europe and elsewhere in the world. And of course we have a partnership with Comberry.

IDTechEx
And about IDTechEx – what do you think about the Show?

Marcus Taylor
I think it’s brilliant! I mean if it wasn’t for IDTechEx – we were here for the first year in 2017 and it was a chance encounter with Comberry that led to this partnership that we have today at this stand here in Berlin! I think for us IDTechEx has helped us grow quickly and find partnerships that we otherwise wouldn’t have found.