A GIANT LEAP FOR MOULD-WARNING TOAD BUFO

Sweden A Vattenfall-designed mould-warning plastic toad named Bufo almost won an innovation price but definitely won the hearts of those who met him at his first public appearance.

A plastic mould-warning toad named Bufo came in among the top ten ideas nominated as finalists among 72 entries for a prize in an innovation competition run by Tele2 in Sweden. The toad was invented specifically for the competition in a matter of only a few weeks by Ebba Lindgren from Solution Development Nordic in BA Customer & Solutions and Pieter Weterings from Product Development in BA Heat.

“We didn’t participate to win the competition. Our primary intention was to get a better knowledge of a new type of network technology called LoRa, a “low-power wide-area network” that requires very little power in contrast to ordinary WiFi. Equipment using this technology could have a battery life of up to 10-15 years, and the Tele2 competition offered an opportunity to build a network of personal contacts in the “Internet of Things” community in Sweden and to see what usage creative brains could develop for the new  network”, Weterings explains.

Meet the mould-warning toad Bufo

Why a toad
When Lindgren and Weterings brainstormed on how to participate in the competition, their criteria were that it should be simple and straight forward. They decided on a mould warning device, but wanted it to be visually appealing, not just a “boring” technical solution.

“That was where the idea of a toad came up. A toad lives in moist environments and hibernates part of the year. The same is true of our toad. It can be placed in places susceptible to moisture and mould such as a cellar, attic and even a summer house and will sit waiting for at least 10 years without needing new batteries. If a rise in humidity above a certain level occurs, it will “croak” by sending a data package that after processing is translated into an “SMS-croak” to the customer’s mobile phone”, says Weterings.

The physical toad was home-made on a 3D printer normally used for modelling hydropower plants at Vattenfall’s R&D Department in Älvkarleby in Sweden.

More than a competition entry
“Moisture and mould is a huge problem for many house owners. This year, we will be testing a ‘mould detector’ in some of our customers’ homes in Amsterdam together with the municipality of Amsterdam and a Dutch telecommunications provider. In the city some 70,000 people experience mould problems, and we want to offer our heat customers something extra value along the lines of what we do for electricity customers”, says Weterings.

As a central element, the Amsterdam solution will incorporate concrete advice to the customer on what to do to solve a specific moisture problem and avoid mould. It may be everyday suggestions to get ventilation in your bathroom, if moisture levels remain high for too long, or open the windows in your bedroom for 30 minutes in the morning, before going to work to get rid of excess moisture accumulated during the night.

Is there a future for Bufo?
“We hadn’t planned to take Bufo any further but were surprised by the positive reactions, the visual toad got from judges and other participants during the Tele2 competition. At the competition, we learnt a lot about the underlying LoRa technology, and we have a clear ambition to use our knowledge to make living conditions better for our customers. Whether this will be in the form of Bufo however remains to be seen. We will listen to the response, we get", Weterings concludes.

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