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Wireless Technologies

Crowdsourcing Innovation: Jan Willem Smeenk, SODAQ

Crowdfunding sites are offering a new path for inventors with original ideas. We talk to inventors looking to gain the public’s favour...

jan-willem-smeenk Name:  Jan Willem Smeenk

 Job title:  CEO

 Organisation: SODAQ

 Location: Hilversum, The Netherlands

 

Product: SODAQ LoRaONE

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What it does & How it works:

The LoRaONE is a development board to rapidly develop tracking devices that use the new LoRa network. We originally designed it as a wildlife tracking device to track endangered animals (and specifically the rhino) but found that the device could do much more than that. By turning it into a more universal device we think we can produce them in large numbers which will drop the price significantly, from which in turn the wildlife conservation initiatives will hugely benefit.

What makes it special:

LoRaONE is the smallest, most complete LoRa development board. It is no bigger than a matchbox, yet still has all the sensors like GPS, an accelerometer and magnetometer. It can be easily expanded with other sensors or devices. It’s basically everything developers need to create a wide range of useful IoT applications, in one very small package.

What’s your background, and what inspired you to come up with the idea?

At SODAQ we have been developing Embedded hardware for over two years now. We have been using LoRa from the beginning and with this board it all came together.

Why Kickstarter?

This is in fact our third Kickstarter campaign. We started with our SODAQ Moja and then the Autonomo. These were both successful, so reason enough to do it once more. Kickstarter is a great way to pre -finance your production but also gives you great international exposure.

Is Crowdfunding good for innovation? How so?

Yes, like I said it pre-finances production. For a startup it is quite hard to run the first batch of let's say a 1000 boards. If you produce less, the price will be too high. It is a sort of chicken-egg situation which you can break through using a Kickstarter campaign

Reactions on KS so far?

We are doing fine. We’ve reached our goal already in less than 32 hours. Now we’re at almost 200% in just a week and with 3 more weeks to go. The reactions are very positive so far.

This is your third campaign – what lessons did you learn from the previous two?

In our first campaign we might have been a bit too amateurish. The second campaign was however too slick, especially the video. It made us look like a company that didn't need the funding. I think we found the right balance in this third campaign. Of course also our products are getting better all the time :-)

When is the product due to ship?

We are planning to ship by the end of July.

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You’ve successfully funded three Kickstarter campaigns – why do you keep coming back?

I'm not sure if we would do it again. It is a lot of hard work! I think we nowhave establish our brand and we had the exposure we needed. I hope we can do it without Kickstarter from here.

What sets the LoRaOne apart from the likes of Rasberry Pi, BeagleBoard, and other developer boards?

Our expertise has always been in low power. Our boards use 100x less power than a Pi or Beagle. This means they can run on batteries for a year or longer or on a tiny solar panel forever. Our playing field is the outdoor IoT (Internet of Things) where there is no wall socket to plug in your device.

Can you explain Sodaq’s work in Africa?

I worked in Africa for many years. In 1998 I was sent by the Dutch Government to help Tanzania to get connected to the Internet and stayed for 12 years. During that time I have seen the devastating effect of poaching on the population of for instance elephants and rhino's. A lot of my friends are involved in wildlife protection so I wanted to develop a technology that can help them protect these animals. I'm writing this now in a wildlife conservation area in Northern Tanzania where, with team of five, we are now testing our boards. We have built a private LoRa network covering an area of 400 sq km in which we want to track where the rhinos are and monitor their movement to be able to protect them better. We also took the opportunity to introduce other LoRa based security measures like alarm buttons for guards and sensors on gates to check for any intruders.

Possible business use/advantage?

We believe our product is a welcome addition to existing wildlife protection technology. LoRa is an ideal way to cheap and quickly cover vast areas with a communication technology.

What’s next for the company and the product?

We are looking for all sorts of other uses for our board. We have a prototype ready for a panic button for the elderly and also we have made a tracker for shipping containers and many other ideas!

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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