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World's first plant-powered IoT sensor sends signal to space

16 January 2020

The world’s first plant-powered sensor transmission to a satellite has been achieved thanks to a collaboration between recent STFC business incubatee Lacuna Space and Dutch green-energy specialists Plant-e.

Together, the companies have developed an Internet of Things prototype sensor that uses electricity generated naturally by living plants, to transmit data on air humidity, pressure and temperature, straight to Lacuna's satellite operating in low orbit around Earth.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the most dynamic developments in the technology world today, helping businesses boost efficiency and growth, whilst making our lives easier.  From monitoring traffic on the roads to controlling the thermostat at home, it’s all about connecting sensors and devices over the internet. Unfortunately, coverage for this technology is not always accessible or reliable in remote and rural areas that can often be out of range.

Lacuna Space refined its technology during its time as an incubatee at the European Space Agency’s Business Incubation Centre United Kingdom (ESA BIC UK) at STFC’s Harwell Campus.

By combining the energy-harvesting technology developed by Plant-e with the extremely power efficient satellite technologies developed by Lacuna Space, an IoT service provider, this new prototype is completely self-sustaining. Using plants instead of solar power as the energy source means that the sensors can transmit data to satellites through the night as they do not rely on sunlight.

Rob Spurrett, CEO and co-founder of Lacuna Space, said: "This milestone project between Lacuna Space and Plant-e opens up a new era in sustainable satellite communications. There are many regions in the world that are difficult to reach, making regular maintenance expensive and the use of solar power impossible. Through this technology we can help people, communities and companies in those regions to improve their lives and businesses."

Managed and part-funded by STFC through the UK Space Agency, the ESA BIC UK programme enables up to 12 UK start-ups every year to use space and satellite technologies to develop revolutionary new products and services. Since opening in 2011 it has helped more than 80 start-up companies, 69 of which, including Lacuna Space, have already graduated from the centre and are now on their way to commercial success as vibrant, growing businesses.

Applications for this technology can be found in areas that require critical data gathering, such as agricultural land in remote regions, rice fields or other aquatic environments, without the need for external energy sources.

Dr Sue O’Hare, Operations Manager at the ESA BIC UK, said: “This is a particularly exciting example of what can happen when biology meets space, with far-reaching benefits for society. Companies incubated at the ESA BIC UK have a very successful track record of fundraising and development, as well as an unusually high survival rate of over 90%.  I am thrilled that we were able to support Lacuna Space through its early growth and development, and to see its increasing success, especially as the company continues to locate its business here on the Harwell Campus. This is exactly the kind of thing that STFC and the ESA BIC UK set out to help pioneering early-stage companies achieve.”

Read the full story at (link to original Plant-e/Lacuna space press release).

About the ESA BIC UK

With three business incubation sites at Harwell, Daresbury and Edinburgh, the ESA BIC UK is part of a growing network of successful ESA BICs across Europe.

Companies that join the ESA BIC UK benefit from £41,500 funding, access to IP, technologies and expertise generated by ESA research, as well as to STFC’s world class expertise and technical facilities, with dedicated business support.

Find further information about the ESA BIC UK, and how it can benefit your company, at the ESA BIC UK website, and more success stories.

Last updated: 17 January 2020

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