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Henry James, MD of the DBS Group

Often, product innovation comes in the form of incremental improvements to existing technology but every so often, an innovation comes along that can shift the entire landscape of an industry. Such products are few and far between, however, one company in Market Harborough may have created such an invention for the mobility sector. Speaking with DBS Technologies’ John Rees, the inventor behind a new remote battery monitoring system and Henry James, Managing Director of the DBS Group, the two discussed how their new device is planning to revolutionise the mobility scooter and powerchair market for manufacturers, retailers and end-users.

As mobility scooters continue to rise in popularity amongst those with mobility needs, there has also been a growing number of incidents relating to the products.

With some speculating there could be close to half a million mobility scooters on British pavements and roads today, reports of thefts and accidents relating to the products have become an almost daily occurrence.

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In 2015, police statistics identified over 500 scooters were stolen, with only 22 percent recovered, whilst figures from the Department of Transport revealed there were a reported 260 accidents involving mobility scooters.

It has led to manufacturers, retailers, trade associations, insurance companies, police forces, MPs and more to investigate ways of improving user safety and tackling the issues.

A new solution from the DBS Group however is aiming to help tackle many of the issues surrounding mobility vehicles by improving data capture, user safety and product design across all levels of the supply chain.

What is the BMS 24seven?

Designed with a built-in GPS functionality and linked PC-based management software, the BMS 24seven is a new, remote battery monitoring system created by DBS Technologies, the technological and development arm of the DBS Group.

“The BMS 24seven will be able to tell retailers if end-users are recharging their batteries correctly” John Rees

With a number of years’ experience working in remote monitoring for patient hoists, inventor John Rees saw the opportunity to create a battery monitoring system that would be applicable to the mobility scooter market and complement DBS Leoch’s range of specialist batteries.

“It is John’s baby and he is certainly the brains behind the product,” explained Henry James, Managing Director of the DBS Group.

“I was working with him in a former position and he took me through the idea. I’d had thoughts about a similar product for other markets so we decided to move ahead. Now we have a product that we are really excited about, particularly in regards to all of its different applications.”

The hardware itself is relatively simple. The system uses a SIM card that constantly connects the device wirelessly to the internet and sends data on a mobility scooter’s location and voltage to a cloud-based web portal in real-time via GPS.

The genius of the device lies in its cloud-based portal and extensive range of applications however, giving manufacturers keen to learn more about their products’ performance and retailers looking to offer a deeper level of customer service, precious information.

Advanced applications

Automatic alerts relating to battery life, geofencing, emergency assistance buttons and lost scooter tracking capabilities are just some of the features the product promises, says Henry.

“The device has a number of inputs and a number of outputs. The outputs could be sending a light to the mobility scooter or locking the motor down if it is on a hire fleet vehicle and has gone out of a certain radius,” he explained.

“Likewise, the monitor will feed information back from the mobility scooter to a cloud-based platform, collecting and relaying data. It enables a level of connectivity to mobility vehicles that bring them into the modern world.”

Better battery care

With patents pending in the UK, US and Europe, the company plans for the battery monitor to bring about a change in the way retailers and end-users care for mobility scooter batteries, with the system allowing for remote monitoring of a battery’s health in real-time.

“From a battery perspective, the device gathers and relays battery voltage information and through that and the online portal, we can start to see how many times the battery is being charged and cycled,” said Henry.

The system then uses that information to monitor and generate reports relating to the health of an end-user’s mobility scooter battery, detailing distance, power used, recharging and voltage.

“The BMS 24seven will be able to tell retailers if end-users are recharging their batteries correctly,” explained John.

“If someone is plugging in their scooter, charging for five minutes and unplugging it to use repeatedly, then the life of the battery is going to drop significantly.

“Rather than wait until the battery has been exhausted, the monitor can alert a dealer after three or four times that the customer is not charging it correctly so that they are able to contact their customer and address the issue.”

In addition, the system will send an alert when a battery needs replacing, allowing a retailer or customer to take action before a situation occurs.

“For retailers being able to offer this service, it is a powerful selling tool and allows them to really take their aftercare service to the next level” Henry James

“It means there is better battery care in the industry, which is what I want to see,” commented Henry.

“I want to see batteries looked after and charged correctly, so the less misuse, the better.”

Safety and security

In addition to battery care, the monitoring system will also look to tackle issues surrounding end-user safety and mobility scooter security via its tracking capabilities.

The SIM card allows the device to be tracked and it also has the ability to geofence locations, alerting the user, family members, carers or others if the mobility scooter has gone outside of a designated radius.

The device will also allow those with authorised access to be able to see immediately where the device is remotely via its online platform.

“Authorised users can see if a family member has returned home or if they are still out, if the battery on their vehicle is running low or if the scooter has remained stationary for a long time,” said Henry.

Another feature providing peace of mind is a ‘help’ switch, similar to an emergency button found on hospital beds, which allows users to send emergency messages to predetermined contacts in the event of a crisis.

Additionally, should the scooter fall over, a ‘tilt’ switch can detect the movement and alert the relevant people.

According to John, the system not only enhances user safety but the scooter’s security as well.

“The ability to track the scooter means if someone steals it, then the owner, dealership or police are able to see exactly where it is,” he observed.

“There is also an ability to add a kill-switch so when the scooter does leave a certain area, the monitor system will disable the scooter to prevent it from travelling any further. This is useful in cases of theft or for vulnerable owners that may have travelled too far safely from an area.”

For any thieves that may look to tamper with the battery monitoring device on the scooter, John added that the system would prevent the scooter from functioning.

“If someone was to try and remove the system, the mobility scooter itself would cease to function. Also, the device will send out an alert message for six-months which is powered by its own battery, alerting contacts that it has been tampered with and sending out its exact location.”

Reaching all levels of the mobility trade

DBS Technologies is now planning to connect with all levels of the mobility scooter and powerchair supply chain, with the company underlining the different benefits the innovation will offer manufacturers and retailers.

“We are planning to engage with the market on three levels, working with manufacturers, retailers and end-users,” said Henry.

“We also want there to be a hierarchy of access, whether it is very top of the supply chain, with OEMs and suppliers gathering data on their scooters, to retailers who can offer an exceptional aftercare service by having the information to pre-empt problems, all the way to the end-users and their loved-ones who get valuable peace of mind.”

Advantages for manufacturers

According to Henry, the BMS 24seven will give manufacturers the ability to benefit from intimate usage data relating to their products.

“Manufacturers can see how a product is performing, where something might be wrong, what is going right and where the potential is to improve the model. We see the BMS 24seven as being a key tool in helping to advance mobility scooter development,” he assured.

The information related to monitoring voltage of the scooters being used by end-users will provide manufacturers with data relating to consumer trends, allowing manufacturers to tailor products more to their users’ needs.

“Manufacturers need to bring their scooters into the modern world so they can understand how their machines are being used and understand if there are potential product pitfalls before they become serious problems,” continued Henry.

“This way, manufacturers will be able to stay ahead of the game and make product development decisions based on empirical data.”

Confirming to THIIS the company is already in discussions with manufacturers about the new innovation, John noted the system has received a positive response thus far.

“We have visited and shown the system to mobility scooter manufacturers who have told us that they have never seen anything like it,” he said.

“They are really excited with its potential.”

New levels of customer service for retailers

Alongside engaging with manufacturers, DBS Technologies is also keen to bring the product to the retail market, underlining the various opportunities it presents to mobility dealers.

“The BMS 24seven will allow mobility retailers to offer a level of customer service never before seen in the industry, where they can really help customers care for their batteries and extend the life of their products,” noted Henry.

By addressing issues of battery care early and replacement provision at the right time, the system is set to save end-users avoidable hassle and retailers both time and money, as well as providing a greater depth of aftersales service.

“Manufacturers can see how a product is performing, where something might be wrong, what is going right and where the potential is to improve the model.” Henry James

Receiving an alert that a mobility scooter battery’s lifespan is coming to an end, retailers can contact customers and highlight the need for battery replacement before a burdensome problem arises.

“For retailers being able to offer this service, it is a powerful selling tool and allows them to really take their aftercare service to the next level, creating packages to sell to their customers which will act as a key differentiator to their competitors,” he added.

“Having shown it to a number of retailers, there are some that are keen to purchase demo units already, so we know the demand is there.”

In particular, Henry discussed the potential of retailers offering a subscription model and earning a regular income from the product.

“For example, if the device was already fitted on a model from the manufacturer, the retailer could advertise that they work with the system, activate it on the vehicle and charge a subscription model, offering a round the clock monitoring service for a fee. There are a range of avenues for companies to engage with the product that would be beneficial for retailers.”

DBS Technologies confirmed that the online portal will also include a training platform, providing retailers with easily accessible information.

“The portal is going to be simple to use straight away, so with a few clicks, users will be able to find what they need and if not, we are only a phone call away to offer additional support. We’ll also provide marketing support, as well as an open, online forum to encourage people from all levels to feedback, share thoughts and ideas to develop it further,” commented the passionate MD.

High hopes for hire fleet

For those retailers and Shopmobilities in the industry offering a hire service of mobility vehicles, the company says the device will also be vital for monitoring and controlling their fleet.

“On the hire fleet side, we want to help those who rent their scooters ensure that the devices are being used correctly and safely,” remarked Henry.

“With the monitoring system, retailers and Shopmobilities will be able to track where their scooters are and with its ability to geofence designated zones, they can be alerted if their scooter has travelled too far or even shut the scooter down.”

Grabbing insurers’ interest

In conjunction with engaging mobility retailers and manufacturers, DBS Technologies hopes to bring insurance companies on board as well.

“We have spoken to Thatcham, as well as insurers in the industry and the feedback is really positive, especially in regards to the tracking and monitoring aspect of the product,” said Henry.

“What we are looking for is a reduction in insurance premiums and fees if the device is fitted and will provide another reason for all in the supply chain to work with the system.”

When will it enter the market?

“There is nothing like this in the industry at the moment and I think this is going to bring about a real change to the industry.” Henry James

Coming in two models – the BMS 24seven and the BMS 24seven Pro – Henry told THIIS that the product is scheduled to launch in early 2019.

“We are finalising the portal and then it will be ready to bring to market,” he confirmed.

“The company we are working with for the portal design specialise in producing this kind of system, so it will benefit from having all the right information with a really easy and simple to use interface.”

Looking to the future

Even though the product is yet to launch, Henry already has big plans for the monitoring system’s development.

“I can’t express how excited I am about the potential this holds. There really are no limits to where we can develop it as well,” he stressed.

“The device’s hardware itself will not change much now from what we have at the moment, however, most updates, improvements and developments will take place on the portal, with firmware we can push wirelessly to the device. This means for the device to become obsolete in six months, 12 months or two years’ time is extremely unlikely, as it is all developed in the backend.”

With its extensive range of applications and long-term ambitions, the new battery monitoring system seems well-placed to address many of the issues that currently exist in the world of mobility.

“We have spoken to a lot of people in the industry and we have had a lot of positive feedback. There is nothing like this in the industry at the moment and I think this is going to bring about a real change to the industry,” finished Henry.

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