AWS Startups Blog

Built on AWS, Voltaiq Unlocks Battery-Powered Product Innovation at Amazon

Guest Post by Eli Leland, PhD, CTO and Co-Founder, Voltaiq

It’s a battery-powered world


Batteries are everywhere in today’s world. Much as microchips did through the 1980s and ‘90s, batteries are now finding their way into many devices and systems around us, and in the process are changing what we previously thought possible. Advances in lithium-ion battery technology in particular have enabled transformations in the way we connect and find information, the way we move people and goods, and the way we power our homes and buildings. These days, one might even go so far as to say that “every company is a battery company” in one way or another.

The transition to a battery-powered world is not without its challenges, however. We’ve all had the experience of our mobile phone running out of juice before lunchtime, and headline-grabbing stories of battery fires in peoples’ pockets and garages drive home the importance of making these products safe and reliable. Easier said than done when it comes to batteries.

While mature technologies like the mechanical components (springs, hinges, enclosures) and semiconductors that make up most of our devices are well understood and tend to fail in predictable ways, batteries are much more complicated. With myriad chemical and physical processes constantly unfolding inside them, and countless tiny ions “breathing” back and forth between the anode and cathode with each charge-discharge cycle, batteries in many ways are like living organisms. Because of this complexity, the only way to truly understand batteries, how they perform, how long they last, and how they fail, is to observe them under every conceivable operating condition, and take a detailed look at what you find.

Amazon as a battery leader

As a company known for innovative technology, Amazon has a few high-profile battery-powered product lines that have gained broad popularity with consumers, having introduced the Kindle e-reader in 2007, and later expanding to include products like Echo Buds, the Halo Band, and Amazon Astro. These products and many others are developed by a team within Amazon called Lab126. Initially created to develop the first Kindle, Lab126 has now expanded to develop a broad set of Amazon’s high-profile consumer electronics. And, naturally, a lot of those products have batteries in them. A lot.

It’s no surprise, then, that Lab126 has built a team tasked specifically with developing the battery power systems for these devices. It’s a big job that has a number of important facets. Because of the inherent complexity of batteries, battery system design includes steps to:

  • Choose an appropriate battery chemistry and cell design,
  • Identify a cell supplier that can deliver consistent quality,
  • Fully characterize the battery’s behavior across the full range of intended application scenarios,
  • And make sure that as long as the product is used as intended, the battery will meet the product’s warranty lifetime.

This process requires the team to test a large number of batteries (up to hundreds per new product line), and observe the detailed nuances of how each battery behaves as it is charged and discharged hundreds or even thousands of times. This work is done using specialized battery test equipment that produces large data files recording how the voltage and current rise and fall over each and every cycle, much like an EKG recording the battery’s “heartbeat.” With this quantity of battery testing and data analysis required for each product line, and product refresh cycles now being measured in months and not years, it quickly becomes a challenge to simply manage all of this data, let alone derive significant insights at scale.

Streamlining and accelerating product development with Voltaiq

Voltaiq LogoAs the Lab126 battery program grew, the team sought solutions to help them streamline, automate, and accelerate this work. They found one in 2016 when Lab126 began using Voltaiq, a cloud-based Enterprise Battery Intelligence (EBI) analytics software platform built on AWS, and offered by a Berkeley, California-based company of the same name. Founded in 2012 by two veteran energy and software entrepreneurs, Voltaiq works with a global customer base spanning transportation, consumer electronics, energy storage, and the full battery supply chain, helping them to launch products faster, optimize performance and reliability, and minimize risks from warranty returns and recalls.

The Voltaiq platform automatically aggregates and analyzes large quantities of battery data, both time-series logs of voltage and current, as well as metadata describing how batteries are built and operated, to reveal the key insights and correlations that drive battery performance and related desired business outcomes. Returning to the EKG analogy, in the same way that a cardiologist can look at the waveform of a heartbeat and identify a murmur, Voltaiq analyzes current and voltage waveforms from a battery’s operation to automatically identify signs of degradation and failure — things like unwanted chemical reactions inside the battery, signs of contamination in the battery materials, or physical deterioration of the battery’s internal structure.

At Lab126, Voltaiq automates the collection and processing of all data from across the Lab126 battery testing operation, “harmonizes” the data to a common format regardless of source, and makes this data and analysis instantly available to anyone on the team, wherever they happen to be. Today, Voltaiq is used extensively at Lab126 for developing battery-powered products.

By enabling enterprise-wide visibility, optimization, and decision making, the Lab126 battery team can move much faster, with better insight and greater automation across their product lines. “Having a centralized hub for data is critical as battery projects become more complicated. Voltaiq helps us better visualize our battery data and enables us to build safer and more dependable devices,” said Denys Zhuo, Senior Battery Systems Engineer at Lab126.

Image of Voltaiq Analysis at work

Enabling resilience for battery-powered organizations

As the Covid pandemic struck in early 2020, Voltaiq demonstrated another layer of value to the Lab126 battery team. As developers of physical products, the team was accustomed to working day-to-day at the Lab126 facility in Sunnyvale, California — suddenly the team found themselves working primarily from home. It was fortunate, then, that the automation and cloud-based nature of the Voltaiq platform enabled the team to work remotely with almost no impact to testing. ”As our team has shifted to a more remote work environment, Voltaiq enabled us to continue working well together as a team, limit the impact to battery testing and data analysis, allowing us to deliver on our objectives without any time delay,” said Bryan Holmdahl, Senior Battery Design Integrity Engineer at Lab126.

As the global wave of electrification continues to gain momentum, an increasingly broad set of companies will find that they need to develop a core competency around batteries, much the same as they have had to around the internet, and around microchips before that. Many of these businesses will need to develop capability around testing and analyzing the batteries that power their products. Typically, however, battery teams are missing both the IT infrastructure and the staff needed to properly manage and analyze the data volumes they face. Additionally, these same battery teams are under enormous time pressure to make design decisions that will have significant technical and financial impacts on the products they are bringing to market. Fortunately for Lab126 and thousands of other “battery-powered businesses”, the AWS-powered Voltaiq Enterprise Battery Intelligence platform can help them accelerate product development as they scale, with the confidence that comes from data-driven insights and decisions.

Eli Leland, Voltaiq Co-Founder Eli Leland is a Voltaiq co-founder and the company’s Chief Technical Officer. Prior to Voltaiq, Eli developed a new capacitor technology as lead engineer on a U.S Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) project at the CUNY Energy Institute. Before CUNY, Eli worked for Trilogy Software, where he successfully deployed large-scale enterprise software systems to the Fortune 500. He was a Mirzayan Policy Fellow in Energy and Environmental Systems at the National Academies in Washington, DC. Eli has an MS and PhD in mechanical engineering from UC Berkeley, and a BSE in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton.