Marco Santarelli is the inventor of BiroRobot, an innovation awarded among the top 10 out of 700 European inventions at the 2016 Maker Faire in Rome. He is a former soccer player who holds two degrees: one in Philosophy and one in Social Physics. Currently, he is the Director of Studies on Networks and Critical Infrastructure at ReS On Network. He is also the author of a popular science project called Science In a Suitcase which showcases the history of science through experiments and music. Among his many endeavors, for over 10 years he wrote books and publications in collaboration with with the famous Italian astrophysicist and science writer Margherita Hack who passed away in 2013.
BiroRobot is a robot companion which, through infrared “eyes” and proprietary algorithms, evaluates home energy usage, finds what is wasting energy and provides solutions to reduce consumption.
The original approach to energy waste reduction of Santarelli’s creation, has propelled me to do an interview and find out if there is a BiroRobot startup on the horizon.
Is this your first invention?
“No, this is the second one. The first one is called Elastic Energy which transmit power wirelessly for over 1600 feet.”
How did you come up with the idea of BiroRobot?
“My idea is based on the framework set forth last year at the Sustainable Innovation Forum COP 21 where two concepts were discussed: minimize fuel consumption and promote maximum respect for the environment. Like never before, we have an opportunity to optimize the use of technology in energy consumption and be aware that the best way to save energy is to consume less of it. In order to consume less energy we need to understand how, when, and why we are wasting it. To do so, we need to act at the source. First of all, increase renewable energy production, second, use a technology like ours to clearly understand energy consumption and waste at home.”
How did you pick this name?
“I chose this name because the Biro pen has changed our relationship with writing and I expect that BiroRobot will change our relationship with energy consumption through better understanding.”
Why using a robot rather than a simple gadget to apply to the thermostat?
“The main reason is that the algorithm is so complex that it would not work if applied at the thermostat, it needs to move around taking into account the presence or absence of people at home, the size of the house and the ability of each appliance to maintain its energy performance at all times. Thanks to the sensors in its eyes, BiroRobot maps everything that generates energy – electricity and heat – who uses it, and how it is used. Therefore, it is difficult to embed sensors in memory sticks or magnets and still gather such a huge amount of data. The second reason is that, following the assessment of how we use or misuse energy, BiroRobot includes an educational component by describing its findings and potential solutions to adults through apps and webTV, as well as to children who are the future consumers. And what better way to explain energy consumption to kids than using a robot, which is considered a tool to understand difficult things through simple actions?”
How does it work?
“The robot, which comes with an internal memory stick with historical data about the area to be analyzed, is left in the house for 30 days. This way we can monitor energy flows, analyze consumption, leakages, use per time slot per second – while a regular power meter uses 15 minutes intervals – and we can even manage electricity trade. BiroRobot then analyses the electricity distribution network in the house and it manages the system remotely. The data for each dwelling, each utility and each delivery point as well as information on users’ habits and appliances performance, are recorded and communicated to the central system. The eyes of the robot conceal infrared sensors, behind them there is a SIM card that stores data and transmits it, inside there is an algorithm which is the real beating heart of the robot. This algorithm contains mathematical calculations describing the network operations and its ability to self-adapt to the conditions it is monitoring.”
What problem does it solve?
“It indexes in sub-behaviors. It does not spy but it helps understand.”
How much energy can it reduce when used in a suitable manner?
Who is funding BiroRobot?
“Right now we are self-funded through the Research Institute ReS On Network in London. But there is interest from some partners who will get royalties from sales. We are also planning to cover other expenses with crowdfunding.”
What differentiates you from other similar solutions on energy savings?
“Many things. For instance, this is the only solution that analyses and schedules in real time the first 15 minutes of consumption. Additionally, it does not use wires or hot spot systems but it transmits data directly through Wi-Fi. Finally, it performs a sector-based examination of energy consumption while other devices give us only a general assessment of our consumption.”
What are your target markets?
“I believe we can target the entire world because we respond to the needs of all nations in terms of reduction of greenhouse gases through small daily actions and behaviors at home.”
How are you planning to scale?
“To grow fast we will need to enter the market in 2017 with a robot that is at least in 25 houses out of 100.”
Who makes up your team?
“My team consists of more than 40 people between researchers and other professionals.”
Where are you located?
“I live and work among London, Rome and Abruzzo.”
How do you see the field of robotics in Italy?
“I find that there is still a lot of fear both to have a robot as a “partner” as well as to invest in this field. This is because we think about robotics as something to avoid or limit. Instead, we know that the classic robot model that replaces men is evolving. Robots generate solutions to better understand the world and improve it. A person, for example, can become a sort of robot by using biochips or microchips that monitor his/her physiological functions. Also, there are cars with sensors, robots that speak to us, etc. In general, anything that conveys information and is interactive can be called a robot. As Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, said at the Hanover Fair: “Everywhere we look there are examples of physical assets integrated with processes, systems and people, and exciting possibilities are being fueled by this transformation”.”