It is with great pride, blood, sweat and tears, that we officially announce the release of our next generation IoT smart-grid controller – the Okra Pod Edamame  ✊⚡

This blog is the first of several that will examine and explore how Edamame works, the key driving forces behind our product development, and the road ahead. We’ll look at the impact it creates as it’s deployed in off-grid communities throughout Southeast Asia, and dig into the big-data-driven design methods and our approach to manufacturing in China.

Whether you’re an infrastructure investment fund, energy/utility company, engineer, or someone who’s just genuinely interested in the marriage of technology and social impact, we hope you find these blogs insightful, entertaining and most of all, inspirational.

Let’s Rewind

Over two years ago we deployed our proof-of-concept smart-grid controller: Pineapple. It wasn’t the prettiest, but it did succeed in showing utility companies, NGOs and governments a new way of thinking about last-mile electrification. Pineapple demonstrated that launching and operating last-mile energy projects could be an easily manageable and profitable venture. Most importantly, Pineapple enabled significant socio-economic growth for off-grid families.

Our pilot projects were eye-opening. With affordable and reliable energy access, households boosted their average income and experienced improved quality of life. From the expected lighting, fans, and phone charging, to street lighting, cold storage, water pumping, internet access, education and agri-tech (such as cricket and frog incubators), we saw communities rely on electricity for countless activities – many that we could never have predicted.

Pineapple taught us a lot and showed promise, but our impact was limited to a few hundred households; the real dream has always been to build a product that could be rolled out to millions. But building a hardware product is no trivial matter. And the process of finalising design requirements, development, and getting it ready for mass-manufacturing has been a tremendous journey.

So what is Edamame?

Edamame is the result of several years of learnings, compiled, digested and crafted into a product to do it all. For our initial release, some features may be overkill and we’ll later strip them back, but if we don’t open our partners’ and end-users’ eyes to new and bigger possibilities, we’ll never see the exponential growth that is needed to eradicate energy poverty. Here are the key reasons, Edamame is no Pineapple:

We increased the max power output by 5x (compared to Pineapple) because we see great demand for appliances like freezers, rice cookers, air conditioners, agricultural processing equipment, and other tools that would enable economic opportunities. Until families have productive power at their fingertips, it’s hard for them to imagine all the use cases.

We increased the number of individually monitored and controllable load ports to enable demand-side management as well as improved installation safety. We implemented staggered limits on the maximum power output of each load port so that we could ensure low-power essential appliances stay on during periods of scarce generation, by turning off high-power outputs only. By monitoring load ports individually, we can now dissect load profiles and analyse user behaviour in greater detail. These insights ultimately feed back into our control algorithms to drive constant improvements in reliability.

Unlike Pineapple which was designed to be a proof of concept prototype, Edamame is designed for scale. The new, custom enclosure makes installation safer and easier, and dramatically reduces risks associated with tampering and heat/dust damage. And despite having so many added features, Edamame is cheaper to produce, making it feasible to operate at scale.

These are just the features and improvements you see – our development teams have also been working on many substantial under-the-hood improvements which play a critical role in making Edamame a reliable, scalable, and maintainable. Such improvements include:

  • Custom firmware from the ground up to get off of bloated, albeit prototype-friendly, code libraries, which improves reliability and testability
  • Dual-core processing to ensure isolated computing power for the power electronics and remote cloud communications
  • Architecture and process improvements to simplify and increase robustness

From inside to out, Edamame has been carefully designed to open new doors, fix old problems, and enable deploying at scale.

Deploying

The first Edamames have been shipped from China and will be operational in Cambodia within the next couple of weeks, and the Philippines thereafter. During installations, the field teams will rely on new educational content and the improved UX of Edamame, as well as continued support from our software tools. And from the moment they’re powered up, families will benefit from greater power availability, opportunities to trial/purchase new appliances, and clear visibility of their usage and payments to help them stay in control of their power. As our partners manage and maintain these young Edamames, they will be leveraging our new grid management platform, Harvest, and continue to gather invaluable field insights to help us continue improving.

What’s next

There’s a dizzying number of ways we could hope to survey, analyze, and study the impact Edamame is having once live, but our key focus is going to be on understanding the relative value and utilisation of all the new product features. Ultimately, we want to produce the lowest-cost, highest-impact product, while delivering the most impactful feature set.

We’ll study a combination of comprehensive quantitative data being sent to the cloud directly from each Edamame, with insights and survey data collected by our field teams to gauge behaviour, satisfaction and areas for improvement. We’ll be connecting our distribution partners to carefully vetted appliance supply chains so they can stimulate load growth and end-user productivity. And we’ll rely on all links in the Edamame value chain to provide us with unique feedback that will feed into future product iterations, featues, and rollouts scheduled for later this year.

We’re a small team with lots to learn, and even though the road ahead is long, with 900 million people still without power, we hope you join us in celebrating this big milestone.

It has taken not only herculean effort from within our team, but also an unbelievable amount of time, energy, and commitment from so many partners in so many countries to get to this point. For every time we were beyond our depth and had to rely on mentors and experts to help out, we are deeply grateful. There’s much more to come, but for now, as we say here, “Power to the People!”

#PowerToThePeople