A NEW FRONTIER: Coto Technology’s groundbreaking, miniaturized reed switch is creating new markets. Pictured above at the company’s North Kingstown headquarters are Odair Dafonseca, left, a design engineer, and Roger Lavalle, a senior test engineer.
PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
By Harold Ambler PBN Staff Writer
Given that the computing power that once required a warehouse of processing units can now be put into smartphones, it’s difficult to believe that competition to miniaturize mechanical electronic components is still on. But it is.
A case in point is the tiny, new reed switch from North Kingstown-based Coto Technology Inc. A single cubic millimeter in size and known as the RedRock, the switch has a wide variety of applications (medical prominent among them) and represents a giant step forward for Coto.
The company’s president, Jeff Bentley, said the innovation comes at a critical time.
“Coto’s primary product for the last 40 years has been the reed relay, and this is a very old technology that goes back into the early 1940s,” Bentley said. “What’s happened over the last 20 to 30 years is some of the new switching technologies, including semiconductor-based relays, have encroached on the applications.”
What that has meant, Bentley said, is that “the marketplace is shrinking, the company’s customer base is shrinking, and ultimately the company is shrinking.”
That said, the average modern home still has anywhere from 10 to 20 reed switches in it, Bentley said, with the devices at work in food processors, home appliances and, particularly, home-security systems.
Reed switches are metallic switches that are made to close when a magnet is presented. When the door of a home with a security system closes, for instance, a magnet that the security company has installed triggers the switch.
Certainly, Coto’s tiny new Red-Rock is keeping the company competitive in its traditional markets. But it is creating new markets as well.
The RedRock switch likely will be used in small, digestible cameras that can be encased in a pill, to conduct colonoscopies. Other medical uses are a new generation of smaller mounted insulin injectors for diabetics, the robotics for artificial limbs, and, inevitably, products that no one at Coto has thought of yet.
With the introduction of the Red-Rock switch, “we knew we were going to have new applications coming out of the woodwork that we hadn’t even thought about,” Bentley said. “It behooved us to get it out there early and sample it, and what we discovered was a huge diversity of applications. But the medical world has become probably the most dominant one.”
Miniaturized hearing aids are another medical application for the RedRock switch.