Who says you can’t learn anything at school?
About 15 months ago, three doctoral students in the engineering school at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., began developing the prototype for a cell phone charger that uses the same magnetic technology used in self-winding watches. MyPower stores energy while you exercise and uses it to charge up a cell phone or other device with a USB connection.
Now, after an intense period of testing and retesting a stream of prototypes, the trio is hunting for seed money in order to start producing the devices. Recently, they got a nice windfall, winning a $75,000 grant at the Clean Energy Challenge in Chicago last week.
“We’re ramping up for a pilot production run in the next few months,” myPower cofounder and CEO Tejas Shastry told Fox News Latino. “We will be expanding our team and going through a round of fundraising in the next year or so.”
It’s no exaggeration to say that myPower could stand a good chance of being snapped up by a tech giant in that timeframe.
One of the Clean Energy Challenge judges, Mil Ovan, a marketing executive at Navitas Systems, singled out myPower to the Chicago Tribune as an outstanding team.
MyPower began as a project in an entrepreneurship class taken by Shastry and cofounders Alexander Smith and Michael Geier. “We were are all runners and cell phone users,” Shastry said, “so we thought of making a kinetic charger for our phones that we can power up while exercising.”
“There are some self-charging units on the market already,” Shastry noted, but they are too large and too heavy to be taken along while exercising—about the size of a roll of paper towels.
“We used the same components,” Shastry said. “Our innovation is in the architecture of how those components are laid out.”
Shastry explained the beginnings. “About three weeks in,” he said, “we came up with a prototype and started getting feedback from people. We printed some of the parts in a 3D printer—that way we could make new models overnight.”
Their goal was to get the device down in mass to the point that runners and bicyclists wouldn’t notice it at all. “Our last prototype is about half the weight of a cell phone,” Shastry said.
It clips onto a belt or can be strapped onto an arm or leg or simply slipped into a pocket in order to charge. Walking 10,000 steps—a day’s worth for a fairly active person—will add about three hours of battery life to a cell phone or iPod or another device with a USB port.
Add in running for 45 minutes or cycling for an hour and that brings the device up to six extra hours of juice which myPower can store for a couple of weeks.
Shastry said, “We haven’t yet decided how large our initial production will be.”
Their web page allows people to request a myPower, and they’ve gotten around 500 pre-orders.
Shastry told Fox News Latino that while he and his cohorts are deciding on what company to contract to manufacture the devices, “we have had inquiries from smartphone manufacturers and distributors for potential partnerships.”
Bill Vourvoulias (@bvourvoulias) is an editor at Fox News Latino.