A FORMER electronics entrepreneur who took time out to create an upmarket leisure business is returning to the technology world with his new invention.
Aidan Ruff made his name in the 1990s heading successful Newcastle electronics development firm Quantech, which developed products for the likes of IBM.
He sold it to focus on working with his wife Helen to restore Victorian piles Ellingham Hall and Lemmington Hall in Northumberland which he turned into holiday flats and a wedding and conference venue and opened a string of holiday cottages.
But his fascination with electronics was only dormant and he is now back in business after trying to solve a problem at his cottages.
“I had been looking at how to reduce the fuel bills at our cottages when guests come and leave the heating on all the time or run it and leave the window open,” he said.
“I came up with an idea for a new kind of thermostat which can be programmed to switch on and off and keep the rooms at the right temperature without anyone having to do anything to it so it always seems the right temperature and turns off when you’re out.”
His device can learn the routine of the residents’ each day and detect through motion sensors when they are in and programme the heating to turn on and bring the place to the chosen level of warmth when they are predicted to arrive home.
Ruff spent tens of thousands of his own money developing the EcoMoneyMiser, which went on to win a British Venture Capital Association-backed competition which will see him and 11 other start-ups demonstrate their wares at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham this week.
He has launched his company Thinking Thermostat, with his project manager son Charles, in Newcastle and is in talks with councils and universities which he thinks will lead to thousands of orders.
“We’ve been trialling this in our cottages and it seems to offer a 20-30% saving in a domestic environment.
“But where we are really seeing interest is in large shared buildings such as flats or student accommodation,” said Ruff.
“There has been a great deal of interest from councils in the North East. People didn’t care about fuel bills a few years ago when prices were cheap but now there is a lot more impetus to cut costs and also to be more environmentally-friendly.”
Ruff developed the software and works on the electronics at his home Lemmington Hall, near Alnwick, and is putting together an initial 250 models. He says that if orders come in as quickly as anticipated then he will outsource some manufacturing but still apply finishing touches at home.
“I have invested a lot of money and a year of my time in this. I like being back in the business.
“I think this could be very big and we will be making thousands of these a year.
“I may have to get the manufacturing done outside but I will still bring them here.
“I think people will like to know I am keeping an eye on the quality. I enjoy it.”