February 11 is National Inventors’ Day: a great reason to celebrate our innovators’ ingenuity and ability to solve problems for customers, and for the world. Meet Ajay Raghavan, who is re-imagining batteries for the better.

Ajay Raghavan researches fiber optic battery sensors.

“The inside of a battery is a hostile environment for sensors. Nobody had really tried fiber-optic sensors, and I was an outsider coming in with another idea.” – Ajay Raghavan, PARC scientist and research fellow

As a scientist at Palo Alto Research Center (PARC, a Xerox company), Raghavan applies his expertise in sensors and smart structures to improve battery performance. The results are exceeding his wildest expectations, as well as those of his PARC colleagues.

Battery management is a tricky thing to figure out. Inaccurate battery management is a day-to-day inconvenience in things like laptops, tablets and smartphones. And, it causes large-scale industrial accidents and inefficiencies that cost the world billions each year. Inaccurate battery management is also holding back the adoption of grid storage, and the world’s transition from gas-powered to electric vehicles.

Luckily, Raghavan and his colleagues are cracking the code.

In 2012, Raghavan struck upon an idea to insert fiber-optic sensors into batteries to improve their management systems. This turned out to be the first step in a long and arduous innovation journey.

“To be honest, in battery research, there’s a long list of people who have come up with crazy ideas that have gone nowhere,” Raghavan says. “The inside of a battery is a hostile environment for sensors. Nobody had really tried fiber-optic sensors, and I was an outsider coming in with another idea.”

Raghavan and his colleagues’ project drew interest from LG Chem Power and, ultimately, was awarded a $4 million, 3-year grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

“Pretty much everyone at PARC was blow away,” Raghavan says.

The resulting SENSOR project has produced remarkable results, including better-than-industry-standard accuracy rates. Plus, the technology can shrink down to smart phone size and cost just a few hundred dollars—making it ripe for commercialization.

“Our vision is for this technology to be adopted in electric vehicles,” Raghavan says. “Then who knows where else it might go?”

See more about Ajay Raghavan as an agent of change >

Learn about the SENSOR project >

Read more from the National Inventors’ Day Series:

Part I: Xerox Celebrates National Inventors’ Day >

Part II: Michelle Chretien: Making the Un-makeable >

Part III: Guerino Sacripante: Sustainable Ink for Eco-Responsible Printing >

Part V: Gary Starkweather Invented the Laser Printer Over 40 Years Ago >