March 01, 2011, 9:09 PM — Tucked in a dark corner of the Cebit trade show, in Hall 2, lies a mousetrap. Not just any old mousetrap, but a wireless-enabled one.
The trap is a standard live mousetrap, made in China and costing about €10 ($14), to which Germany company BSC Computer has attached a small wireless transmitter.
Jörg Hoffman hasn't caught any mice with the trap yet, but if he does then the transmitter will warn him that the trap needs inspecting. It doesn't matter how long he has to wait, because there's no battery in it to go flat.
The transmitter uses an extremely low-powered wireless protocol developed by Siemens in the 1990s for building automation, and later spun off into a separate company called EnOcean. Now, through the EnOcean Alliance, the company is trying to get the technology adopted as a standard by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and has built an ecosystem of 175 companies around it, according to Graham Martin, chairman and CEO of the alliance. Four of them -- EnOcean itself, Murata, IK Elektronik and Vicos -- now make the radio chips at the core of the system, he said.
"It's a bit like ZigBee, only without the battery," said Martin. ZigBee is a set of communications protocols built on the IEEE 802.15.4 low-power wireless personal area networking standard.
EnOcean's innovation was to harvest energy from the mechanical movement of light switches, swipe card readers and even door handles to power its tiny radio transmitter. Later came solar-powered thermostats, and radiator valves that used the Peltier effect to extract energy from the temperature differential between two surfaces.
Now, BSC has added "spring-loaded mouse trap" to the list of energy harvesters available.
German law requires food retailers to put out traps for mice -- but forbids the use of poison bait and requires that all traps be checked daily, said Hoffman. That requirement can prove extremely costly for a supermarket with 50 or more traps, and spending an extra €50 to €100 to wireless-enable a trap is a no-brainer if it means the trap only has to be visited when it has actually caught something, he said. It's a bonus that there are no batteries to change either.
One other element is required to make the mousetrap useful: an EnOcean-to-TCP/IP gateway so that a central computer can receive messages from the mousetraps and notify staff which ones need checking. By logging reports from all the traps and noting which ones are subsequently found to be empty, stores can identify traps subject to frequent false alarms (perhaps triggered by an accidental kick) and move them to better locations, Hoffman said.