Are you forgetting something? TechWatch editor Emily McDaid talks to a start-up that wants to ensure you never leave the house without your important items again.
Here’s how a typical morning at my house goes. I leave for the office, remembering my laptop but forgetting the charger. My kids’ schoolbags might have full water bottles, but their reading books could be basically anywhere.
We’ve driven a mile away from the house before remembering that my son’s glasses are by his bedside.
In a recent survey, 76pc of parents said they run late every morning, while they collect all the crucial items needed for the day – wallet, keys, phone, glasses – all the everyday items that you can’t live without.
Clearly, technology is the solution.
‘We’re electrical engineers, not fashionistas’
– NIAMH TOHILL
RFID has long been pegged as a solution to finding lost items, but I recently met a start-up with a new twist on the idea. Evy was founded by Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) electrical engineering students Niamh Tohill (CEO), Andrew Cunningham (COO), Vince Kearney, Nathan Steenson and Matthew Whiteside.
Evy will be the latest bag for gadget heads. By ‘bag’, that could be a book bag, a sports bag, a handbag – all embedded with protected antennas to pick up signals from simple RFID stickers.
In this crowded market, most lost-and-found apps rely on Bluetooth, but that requires two devices to talk to each other. Evy’s inexpensive, disposable RFID stickers can be applied to any item.
The bag registers items with stickers in a one-time process, using Evy’s accompanying app, and then you tell the app which days of the week you need to pack those items. Your bag scans its contents and alerts you to the items you forgot. The app can also sync with events happening in your calendar, for instance, reminding you to pack your passport when you’re going to the airport.
According to the founders, more than half of Americans purchased a backpack in 2013, and that number has presumably risen in recent years.
“Evy is short for everything. It looks out for you and your stuff,” said Tohill.
The backpack will be sold with five tags initially, at a price of £50, plus the free app. If you need to track more than five items, extra packs of 10 tags will cost £12. The bag will rescan the items whenever you press a button on the strap, or the rescan button on the app.
Design and development
The students have been using Arduino computer processors for the tech so far, but they hope to design their own circuit board in the future.
Tohill said: “So far, we’ve gotten £5,000 in innovation vouchers, and another £4,000 from QUB Dragons’ Den, where we came joint first. Aside from Invent, we’re also in the running for a few more competitions with prize funds.”
With any initial seed funding they come across, the team will pay for further design and development. It also needs to hire designers for the antennas inside and outside of the bag – the ‘fashion’ side of things, as Tohill calls it.
“We’re electrical engineers, not fashionistas, so we’ll take advice and input for the actual design of the bags,” she said. “Evy’s bags will target four main groups: schoolbags, handbags, travel work bags and sports bags.”
Children will lose 1,000 items throughout their school years, a survey of 2,000 UK adults recently found. On average, their bags contain items worth more than £500, according to research by John Lewis. So, the selling point for tracking technology into this market is quite clear.
Tohill also stressed that the sports market is a big area, and sporting brand O’Neills has indicated that it can manufacture the sports bag.
“It will work the same as the backpack except the antenna design will be larger, to include the whole bag in its range,” Tohill explained.
Evy is currently a finalist for the Electronics category of the Invent awards. We wish them good luck.
By Emily McDaid, editor, TechWatch
A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch
The annual Invent competition is run by Connect at Catalyst Inc, and aims to showcase the best and brightest innovators that Northern Ireland has to offer. Invent 2017 will take place on Thursday 5 October in Belfast, where 12 finalists will battle it out for a £33,000 prize fund and the chance to attend a Northern Ireland tech mission to California.