It’s not a statistic that’s well known, but one that comes easy to Wollongong entrepreneur Michael Burton. “There are 1.5 million beer kegs in Australia, and 4% go missing every year,” says Michael. “Beer kegs are so darn useful. Cut in half, they make great barbecues and smokers, and the attitude of punters is that if they’ve been left outside a pub for a week waiting to be collected then they’re fair game.”
With background in computer science and an increasing passion for home-brewing, Michael Burton and his wife Brooke had an idea to use the Internet of Things (IoT) to keep track of beer kegs. Together they founded Binary Beer in November 2016. “Talking to brewers, their biggest problem was that they would ship a keg of beer and it’s effectively lost,” says Michael. “They simply couldn’t track their kegs.”
To develop the IoT tracking device, Binary Beer joined the University of Wollongong’s start-up hub iAccelerate. Stainless steel beer kegs are designed to withstand the rigours of temperature extremes and being hurled around the place, so research and development involved a bit of rough and tumble. “We needed to know the device could take a licking and still keep transmitting,” says Michael. “Some of our team had worked in hospitality, so they put the prototype on the kegs through all sorts of tests. They even sealed it in a bath for three weeks and it kept transmitting.”
The Binary Beer device sits in a bracket on top of the keg out of the way of bar staff who tap it. “The technology is wonderful for reducing keg theft, but I knew there was a bigger picture,” says Michael. “So, in addition to tracking the location of the keg, we enabled the device to measure how much beer is left in a keg, and the temperature of the brew.”
A Binary Beer customer can call up the data and show the list of addresses of where the keg has been and the temperature at which it has been stored. “Each keg of beer has an average shelf life of 60 – 90 days, but if it’s not refrigerated it can go stale quickly,” explains Michael. “If we notice that a certain keg has been hot for a while, then we’ll come and grab it, send the customer another one, automatically.”
“The value of IoT is unlocking the business potential,” says Binary Beer founder Michael Burton, “and I wanted to make an impact on a global level.”
“Our team is in Wollongong, but our vision is global. To scale up, we need customers now and we need a network partner for us to use in a commercial space,” explains Michael.
For Michael, Vodafone was the logical choice. “One challenge has been making sure we can communicate with the kegs when they are stored in a cool room with metal walls. Vodafone offered us the most affordable product with the deepest signal penetration. They are super responsive and thorough with their technical support, and help us out wherever they can. They are like family really.”
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