Q&A: Lord Paul Drayson discusses the future of the IoT

Drayson Technologies recently announced the discovery that unused radio frequency waves can be harvested to power low-consumption electronic devices.

Following on from this announcement, I spoke to the company's CEO and founder Lord Paul Drayson, also former Minister of Science in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, about his experiences of running his own company and the future of the Internet of Things.

  1. What do you miss most from your time as Minister of Science?

As Minster of Science, I was privileged to meet some of the best scientists and engineers in the country, working in many different areas and often using very cool science and technology. I miss that – which is why I knew when I left politics that I wanted to go back to building another science based business.

  1. You've set up several technology companies in your career, what advice would you give to anyone trying to do the same?

A key principle I’ve learnt is that when you introduce a new technology to a market, you need to create your own lead product for it. Investors and customers alike need to see that your technology is viable and commercially ready. This is what Drayson Technologies has done with Freevolt; we created the CleanSpace Tag as it demonstrates the capabilities of the Freevolt technology as well as being a terrific product in its own right.

  1. What are the best and worst aspects of running your own company?

The best aspect of running Drayson Technologies is working alongside such a hugely talented team, building a great business – step by step. It’s fantastic to be working with them. As to the worst. Email. It drives me nuts how much email I have to plough through every day.

  1. Tell us about Freevolt, Drayson Technology's new energy solution for the IoT.

Freevolt is a new, patented technology that turns ambient RF energy from wireless data (2G, 3G, 4G and WiFi) and broadcast networks into usable electricity to charge low power devices. This means devices like sensors, beacons and wearables powered by Freevolt will never need a battery change or plug in charge; something we call Perpetual Power.

The number of connected devices that form the Internet of Things is rapidly growing, with billions of small devices connected via existing data networks. With Freevolt, we now have the potential to power all of these small devices by the wireless network itself, with the CleanSpace Tag as the first commercial application.

  1. Just how much potential is there in the IoT and what are the dangers that consumers and manufacturers/developers need to be aware of?

We are now at the start of a third wave of Internet connectivity, a world where not only every one is connected wirelessly, but every thing is connected; potentially billions of small devices communicating on a global scale. The products and ideas being developed are fascinating: sensors to measure temperature, air quality, a smoke detector or a location tag on your pet can all form part of your ‘smart’ home.

We are just at the beginning of understanding the potential and the implications of this new level of device connectivity. Security is a potential concern that people need to be aware of – and focusing on applications that provide a clear consumer benefit.

  1. What does the UK have to do to stay at the forefront of technology innovation?

We must continue to invest in science and encourage young people to study the sciences. We must also encourage a can-do culture where people are prepared to try new things – and not be punished if they fail – but encouraged to try again. We need to grow small start-ups into world class companies exporting all over the world and encourage people with talent and ability to come and work here.

The UK is already one of the best countries in the world to start a new tech business – we just need to build on that.

  1. What are you most excited about in the industry at the moment and what future trends are you expecting to see?

The Internet of Things is going to continue to grow. Wearables have shown the consumer demand for connected devices. As the business world examines further uses for connected devices, whether it’s beacons, sensors or wearables, we’re going to see some amazing new developments for the IoT. Entire industries are going to undergo a period of massive transition as these technologies disrupt existing methods.

Take sensors, for example. This is one product sector where energy harvesting offers amazing options for developers. Sensory devices can be used by architects and construction companies to monitor temperatures, building stress and movements when they are integrated into a building’s materials. Previously, their integration would be limited by the requirement to have batteries changed or charged.

With Freevolt, these connected devices can operate around the clock with no need to change the battery. In the future, we’re going to see devices like these more readily integrated in buildings, by businesses, and even by people themselves.