Bboxx Taps Time Series Data to Light Up the Developing World

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Using technology to help businesses thrive is always a thrill, but it doesn’t compare to the sense of accomplishment on both a personal and organizational level when you see your tech used to positively impact humanity. It’s one thing to function in a support role for these initiatives, but it’s also important to acknowledge the businesses at the vanguard, building their primary mission around positive human and global impact.

One such business that I’m proud to call an InfluxData customer is Bboxx, a high-tech utility company that engineered a clever solution to the energy poverty issue that stymies more than 1.5 billion people globally.

For entrepreneurs in the world’s least connected places, what stands between them and success is a dearth of reliable electricity. Bboxx helps combat this with solar-powered smart batteries that power devices including lights, radios, and low-powered televisions. Small but mighty, these devices connect small business owners with their customers, extend farming capabilities, and empower children to do schoolwork and read at night.

Bboxx co-founder and CEO Mansoor Hamayun says electricity access is critical to human progress. “The moral motivation to starting Bboxx is the fact that, when people don’t have access to electricity, it limits their potential,” he says. Bboxx has deployed more than 200,000 rooftop solar units that power batteries to provide access to clean energy for cooking, school study, and running home-based businesses and farms.

Providing electricity where it’s needed

Roughly 759 million people worldwide live without access to electricity, and of those, 570 million are located in Africa. Meanwhile, another 840 million people worldwide depend on an unreliable electric grid. The primary alternative in these cases is kerosene, an unsafe and expensive fuel that spews soot and noxious fumes like carbon monoxide (CO), nitric oxides (NOx), and sulfur dioxide (SO2), which are hazardous to humans and detrimental to the environment.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of Energy For All inspired Bboxx. Because the company uses solar-powered technology, its boxes are also carbon-neutral — or even carbon-negative. Even armed with cutting-edge technology to help overcome the world’s scarcity of electricity, inherent challenges exist for monitoring power in the developing world.

In order to optimize the performance of their products, Bboxx engineers needed to understand the data streaming from their electronics and batteries. To do so, the company turned to InfluxDB, the platform built for time series data applications, to build its operating system, Bboxx Pulse. Mansoor says Pulse is able to manage Bboxx’s range of products and customers, as well as the logistics of monitoring thousands of solar panels and batteries.

Overcoming challenges in developing nations

In many developing nations, an unreliable electrical grid also means patchy internet signals. Ideally, Bboxx units connect every four hours to send text log strings when the internet is available. However, some units in remote areas can go up to six months without reporting in, creating a challenge for writing and transforming data. Further, the units collect different data at variable rates. For example, dormant units record their status every 10 minutes, but units that are charging or discharging report on every megawatt.

This is where the ability to analyze and manage time series data comes into play. To continuously monitor units and view usage patterns and anomalies that would help improve the product over time, Bboxx uses a collection agent to collect data related to how and when the units charge, usage patterns, and anomalies in battery performance that might indicate a problem.

For example, they can filter time series data collected to identify usage patterns for lead-acid batteries, a type of unit with some known issues. By combining data filters and visualization, they can quickly see if individual units are failing or just in high use.

Bboxx’s impressive results are only the beginning

More than 2 million people now have access to clean energy from Bboxx-powered homes, which would otherwise have collectively produced about 715,845 metric tons of CO2e. The company’s systems replaced 1.93 million kerosene lamps and empowered nearly 128,000 people to improve their economic activities.

Aka Koffi, a gardener from Togo, uses a solar-powered Bboxx water pump to increase his growing area. He told Bboxx that irrigating the garden and fields with a watering can was tedious. Using the new electric pumps makes the job easier and increases crop yields.

“With the solar pump, I can work until the night if I need to without paying for electricity or fuel,” he said.

Bboxx is just one example of organizations using time series data to drive innovation and, ultimately, make the world a better place. We’re proud to be associated with such organizations, and we look forward to continuing to expand our capabilities so we can further support the mission of leveraging technology for the good of humanity.