By Joy Fang
At an age when most people are still trying to land their first job, 23-year old Tan Yi Hao (below; right) is already running a promising start-up while still in school. The final year engineering student at the Singapore University of Technology and Design is the founder of Soezlar Technology, a company that provides easy-to-use solar power solutions.
His first invention, a simple plug-and-play battery-based solar kit, which allows users to easily harness the power of the sun to charge their mobile devices, has sold almost a thousand sets since 2014. The sets, assembled by Yi Hao himself, come with either an 18W or 30W solar panel, with the latter able to charge an iPhone from empty to full up to 12 times a day.
The idea came about when Yi Hao was studying for his ‘A’ Levels and was seeking to enrich his life with something more meaningful. He also wanted to come up with something intuitive and convenient that can lower barriers to entry for solar energy adoption.
While Yi Hao counts the popularity of his product as a great achievement, he has his sights now set on “bigger problems” to solve. To gear up for that, he has grown his one-man outfit to a team of four, made up of engineers, programmers and data analysts.
“Before that, we were focused on smaller, more practical and down-to-earth issues, and something which we could do within our means,” he explained. But he realised that his battery-based kits would soon reach a saturation point, especially in the Singapore market, where power is readily available and such kits are not really necessary, he added.
Soezlar is now hoping to move away from battery-based products. It is working on a grid connect system where it can provide solar energy that goes directly into the power grid, like AC power. The team is currently studying the different regulations, and working on “making installation so friendly that the users themselves can install them,” Yi Hao said. They hope to have a viable product within the year.
Besides this, Soezlar is also looking at tapping on the Internet of Things (IoT) for another new project. Yi Hao said he noticed that building owners and corporations racked up high utility bills, and there was often plenty of wastage.
Air-conditioning systems, for example, are often centralised, so they are turned on for a scheduled period – regardless of whether rooms are empty, he noted. His idea is to come up with a simple automated solution to monitor and control the switching on and off of air-conditioning systems.
“What if I can utilise readily available low cost sensors and deploy them in the room using a modular plug-and-play system, so it’s easy for facilities manager to implement? The sensors can then monitor the room,” he explained.
Image credit: Soezlar Technology
“These sensors can also communicate with each other, collectively gather data and transmit it all to a centralised ‘brain’. From there, we apply elements of machine-learning and big data analysis to learn usage patterns and the characteristics of a room over time.”
Yi Hao’s entrepreneurial spirit was the reason he was offered a chance to exhibit at the recent IoT Asia 2017 by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), joining established leaders such as Accenture, Amazon Web Services, Bosch Software Innovations, Dell EMC and Fujitsu Asia.
Being placed alongside such big players in the market was a huge advantage for the budding company, said Yi Hao, and allowed him to understand the current state of technology available for IoT, as well as suss out some promising leads.
For example, he got to know the owner of a company based in Silicon Valley, who was looking for a remote source of power for his sensors. Solar energy would be a great solution for that, said Yi Hao. “The exposure I got from IoT Asia helped to unlock other markets. We usually don’t have access to them as we are confined to Singapore, so this opens up our geographic outreach.”
IMDA’s PIXEL Labs also provided him with a convenient physical space to work on his product, said Yi Hao. He was able to make use of some of their hardware and tools, such as the 3D printer, to work on his components. There, he also had meetings with IMDA employees who dished out valuable advice such as how to prototype new products and business pitfalls.
Looking ahead, Yi Hao hopes to bank more on IoT to take his company forward. “Data is becoming increasingly powerful and useful, and it would be great to be able to utilise this kind of big data to make things more efficient and organised,” he said.
“There’s a lot of room for growth in this area, and with the Government spearheading the Smart Nation initiative, organisations are more readily accepting of it now than before,” he added. “That is why I’m trying to ride the incoming wave and surf along with it."