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It’s the Details

A couple of years ago I was stunned to find myself jazzed by batteries. I mean, how mundane can you get? A battery is a battery is a battery, right? And we keep hearing that there are needs for major breakthroughs to enable better electric cars and such, and yet those breakthroughs haven’t been obvious. Probably because they haven’t happened; development has been incremental, not a step function.

But something about Infinite Power Solutions’ story grabbed my curiosity and took me into the realm of thin-film batteries. Just to jog your memory, these guys made thin, flat, solid-state batteries – the rough size of a postage stamp. And they were pushing the limits of storage; it seemed like exciting stuff.

More recently, I was doing some battery-related stuff and wanted to contact them for comment. Ominously, they had a one-page website. It didn’t say they were dead, but… well, there are only two times when the website has one page: before launch and on the way out.

During Sensors Expo I had a conversation or two that confirmed IPS’s demise. Doors were closed. Not sure if anyone picked up the technology.

Now, this certainly wouldn’t be the first time some brash new technology company didn’t see its way through, and I don’t necessarily spend a lot of time covering folks that disappear. Prognosis is more fun than autopsy.

But I couldn’t help wondering, sort of like you wonder about those wonderful friends of yours that suddenly and without warning announce they’re getting a divorce, what happened? Things seemed so promising. Did the technology simply not pan out as expected?

I don’t have complete answers, but the things I heard had nothing to do with the fundamentals of their technology. It was about the side details. Like people being able to poke into it or bend it and create internal shorts. Or the fact that they had to be manually mounted on boards; they didn’t work well with pick-and-place automation.

If these are the things that made the difference, then, well, it’s a damn shame. Just like it is when any intriguing idea gets sidelined due to such “trivialities.”

It’s a tough call to make when you’re bringing out something fundamentally new and exciting. It’s not unusual for there to be these little nagging side issues, and the temptation is to, if not outright ignore them or pretend they’re not there (typical when the boss simply wants it to work and doesn’t want to hear about annoying details that might get in the way), then to assume that they’ll sort themselves out along the way.

And many times they do sort themselves, but it’s hard to know that in advance. In this case, if the tidbits I got were true, then they didn’t sort themselves, and they got in the way of adoption. Were they unresolvable? Did IPS simply not pay enough attention or focus on those issues? Who knows. It’s history at this point.

But it’s a reminder that it’s worth sweating the details. And if you think you have the luxury of ignoring a few annoying issues or deferring their solution, then I’ve always felt that, rather than pretending they’re not issues, everyone needs to agree that, yes, these could be issues, we don’t think they’ll be roadblocks for now, so we’ll move forward. But it also bears thinking through, what if we’re wrong? What’s Plan B?

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