Cleantech and Internet of Things Converge to Propel Innovation in the Research Triangle Region

Research Triangle Region, N.C. - Medical teams at Rex Healthcare must now manually log the temperature of all of its lab refrigerators every hour of every day to ensure precious samples are not lost to a power outage. New refrigerators installed this summer by regional startup Phononic will contain novel semiconductor cooling technology and an array of sensors that log those temps automatically in real time as well as reduce failure risk and cool more uniformly. If the power goes out, these new smart appliances can text hospital staff to alert them or kick in a redundant system to avoid disruption.

Phononic’s heating and cooling technology is one example of a convergence of clean technology, data analytics and sensor technology that is sparking an explosion of innovation in the Research Triangle Region and fast propelling the region to prominence as a nexus for the “Internet of Things.”

Phononics CEO Anthony Atti described the potential uses for his company’s new technologies along with panelists from other regional innovators March 24 at the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC) networking meeting. The meeting was held in conjunction with the inaugural Data4Decisions Conference & Exposition being held March 24-26 in Raleigh, a major U.S. hub for data science.

Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group predicts there will be 25 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2015 and 50 billion by 2020. That is ushering in a new era of technology-enabled products, services and processes that will transform the way we live, work and play.

Cree Inc.’s new Zigbee LED light bulbs, for instance, developed for Home Depot, can be controlled by a smart phone from anywhere in the world, said Cree R&D manager Matthew Reynolds.  And a new line of intelligent Cree commercial lighting products uses sensor technology to turn different lights in different rooms on, off or dim based on what is happening in each space.

The Data4Decisions conference was designed by business, government and academic partners to help business leaders understand how to use Big Data for maximum results and profits, uncover strategies that best harness its benefits, take a forward look at how to prepare for the future and network to promote collaboration and innovation.

The RTCC Advisory Council planned the smart energy track of the conference. Two days of panel discussions for that track focused on how to use data-driven energy management to improve operations and add value for customers. Speakers described innovations under way at their companies and discussed the challenges of managing rapid innovation in disruptive technologies, from a lack of standards, disparate data, need for longevity, security and intermittent connectivity to the inevitable changes in technology.

“The increased availability of sensor data that gave rise to smart meters and smart grids, along with a growing understanding of customer use patterns and demands, has created tremendous opportunity for energy and utility companies to improve operations and add value for customers,” said Gary Rackliffe, vice president smart grids North America for ABB. “The smart energy track offered a rare and valuable opportunity to learn more about the many innovations already available from our region’s companies as well as explore what is on the horizon.”

The RTCC also hosted a poster contest to showcase the talent of students and early-career professionals who are passionate about analytics and data. The three winners and their featured projects are:

  • First place – Kate Pattison, Factors for a Successful Twitter Account at Work
  • Second place – Graham Fogwell, Well Depth Analysis
  • Third place – Alavia Yahya, Bike Sharing Systems: Impact of Weather on Demand

All three students attend Wake Technical Community College’s associate in applied science degree in business analytics program, the first and only such program in the country.

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