Hearing about the startup Inductive Intelligence brings to mind the (very) old Saturday Night Live sketch about Shimmer, which was both a floor wax and a dessert topping. In the case of Inductive Intelligence, it’s both a phone charger and a portable induction heating unit that is forging an entirely new category of heatable, single-serve consumables.
Inductive Intelligence has built a square-shaped, coaster-sized device that plugs into your computer (or other power source). Using RFID, Inductive Intelligence will identify and “talk” with whatever is placed on top of it. For example: put your phone on it, and the coaster will know it’s a phone and use the Qi wireless charging standard to power it up. Place a special Inductive Intelligence container on it, and the coaster will use RFID to identify what it is, then use induction to heat up a metal insert inside the container along with an embedded temperature sensor to bring the contents (drinks, soups, etc.) up to the proper temperature. The device itself will light up when the contents are ready, or you can use an accompanying app to know when heating is done. On some products, the app will even allow you to control the temperature of the drink.
Greg Clark, Inductive Intelligence Co-Founder and CEO told me in an interview that the company’s product is about ten months away from hitting its first market in Japan, and will power a self-heating coffee can. But don’t look for Inductive Intelligence-branded devices on store shelves; the company is a B2B play, and will license its technology out to other companies who will tie it in with their own goods.
Partnering with big brands is a smart play for Inductive Intelligence. Companies like Starbucks could sell (or give away!) the induction heater and sell single-serve mocha-choco-lattes in a compatible RFID-tagged package. Take both with you to work and when you’re ready for a little caffeinated buzz, plug in the coaster, set your drink on top and voila! Heated drink, which, thanks to the power of induction, keeps the coaster device cool to the touch, so it won’t burn your fingers and is not a fire hazard.
In addition to licensing out technology, there is data to be mined and monetized by Inductive Intelligence. Because the device and app know what you’re eating/drinking and when, Clark said there are opportunities to provide said insight to interested companies (kinda like how 10:51 a.m. is peak coffee drinking time). Data can also be the basis for a replenishment or subscription service for a brand.
Induction Intelligence is the second company this year I’ve chatted with that is looking to create a new category of single-serve heated drinks. HotBot Beverages also wants to partner with larger drink brands to put a combination of special metal-lined bottles and checkout stand-based induction heaters in grocery stores. HotBot uses QR codes instead of RFID tags, but both companies are basically trying to bring the variety of drinks you find in the cold section of the supermarket to hot drinks.
But in talking with both companies, Induction Intelligence is definitely thinking bigger than HotBot — and bigger than its own coaster-sized beginnings. Clark said that Inductive Intelligence is basically about controlled heating of single-serve consumer packaging in general, and he said that there are “a ton of things we could do with meal kits.” So it’s not a stretch to imagine a complete reinvention of the TV dinner or restaurants selling home versions of their meals that can be precisely cooked in a special induction-powered cooking appliance. (Though there are already a number of companies attempting something similar already.)
That, however, is still a ways off. Inductive Intelligence is still just Clark and his Co-Founder and CTO, David Baarman (who was a founding member of the Wireless Power Consortium and has more than 900 patents granted or pending). The Grand Rapids, MI-based company is now starting to look for “pre-seed” funding in order to hire more people.
So is Inductive Intelligence a tech company, or the beginning of a potentially drastic disruption to the beverage market? It looks like both.