1)What trends do you see with students’ power needs?
We see that students need to plug in – they have two or three or four devices, laptops, cell phones, etc. While battery life has gotten better, there’s always that situation where you need to plug in if you didn’t plug in overnight, or if you’ve been on your device all day. We see in our research on campuses things like an older library where all of the study spaces don’t have power. Where are the students? They’re all along the walls, they’re along the perimeter because that’s where they can plug in.
2)Where might problems with power arise in these settings?
If their devices’ battery dies, that’s a problem…These might be spaces in which you want to relax and work, but you don’t have a place to plug in. That is a big issue. Some of the problems that we see are that current solutions that put power in a building are often complicated, expensive, messy; so some of the alternatives a school might have are to drill holes in the concrete floors to be able to bring power to the middle of a room and run electrical to them. Or they might have to dig a trench in the floor in the concrete and lay wires and conduit in there, etc. All of those solutions, while they work, can be messy and expensive.
3)What kinds of technologies can solve this problem?
The goal of [our solution,] Thread is to provide a power distribution solution that is simple, easy to install, easy to reconfigure, and extremely cost effective…we have a very ultra-thin solution that lays under some kind of flooring, ideally carpet and tile or some other floor covering, and it’s only three sixteenths of an inch thick…There are two primary elements. There’s the power distribution part – that goes under the carpet and brings the electrical wires and power to where you need them, and then there’s something we call the power hub – that brings the power from the floor up to where you want it, at a table surface, lounge chair, etc. This solution provides much more ease of reconfiguration of the furniture and flexibility in the classroom for all those activities that the teacher might want to use.
4)How do solutions like this affect a college’s power consumption?
I think the devices that students use are relatively low-power devices. I think [a school’s power consumption] may go up a bit, but the issue is the students need it to be able to use their devices. The feeling is people need technology, technology needs power. You can stick your head in the stand and not provide it, but then your students’ experience is not great.
5)What is the ROI of investing in a tech solution that provides power on campus?
This is a matter of giving the students and faculty the ability to work effectively wherever they want to. I think it provides an ability to create spaces that are better utilized. If a campus has a lot of in-between spaces, or lounge spaces in their libraries, but they don’t have places for students to plug in, the students will just go somewhere else. I think what this does is makes the spaces on campus more effective and have higher utilization, and makes better use of the spaces they have.
6)What steps should a college take before investing in a tech solution like this?
I think one thing campuses can do is recognize, is this a need or a problem? Through student surveys and things like that, they probably know this is a problem. Recognize and acknowledge that this is an issue and need, and then they can look at their spaces and say, how high is the use of the space, and where are students using the space? I think they’ll notice quickly that the spaces that do have power are the ones that are most utilized. That can confirm the need.
Then, they can do an audit of their spaces and say, ok, where do students need power? Once they have that map, whether it’s in a library or lounge, dorm or classroom, they can build a plan for where they need it, and assess the ways they can provide that power.