Northwestern inventors create running-powered cell phone charger

Jordan Harrison, Assistant Campus Editor

Three Northwestern doctoral candidates recently invented a device with the ability to capture kinetic energy from movement in order to charge cell phones.

Tejas Shastry, Alex Smith and Michael Geier, doctoral candidates in materials science and engineering, won consumer favorite and $75,000 for their invention, called “myPower,” in the Clean Energy Challenge on April 3.

The device is small enough to fit in a pocket and connects to a smartphone via USB cable. It also has the ability to track how much energy it has produced and will be able to interface with social media.

“You can essentially brag to your friends,” Smith said. “It’ll tell you how much energy you’ve generated, how many steps you’ve taken, even what’s your carbon footprint offset.”

Taking 10,000 steps — an average amount of walking in one day — will add three hours to the charge on a smartphone, Smith said. Ten thousand steps plus 45 minutes of running or an hour of biking will add six hours of charge.

Smith and Shastry said they came up with the idea for the product in a class they took called “NUvention: Energy.”

“We had this idea in our mind that we wanted to solve the problem of battery life not being optimal and our smartphones dying before the end of the day,” Shastry said. “So we were trying to think of ways of capturing some of our energy because we’re all active people.”

After the class ended, they continued developing their product with funding from the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award, Shastry said.

Amy Francetic, CEO of Clean Energy Trust, mentored the trio throughout their product’s development.

“I think that they were really on track with the use case, so all of what I did and what other mentors did was help them think through the business,” she said. “I think that they already had terrific ideas about how it would be used.”

Francetic said she thought myPower would be popular with consumers in the future.

“The light bulb that really went off for me was thinking about all the people who have multiple devices — phones, tablets, wearables — that are not sitting at a desk where they can easily charge them,” she said. “I think down the line it will have a lot of appeal and a wide audience.”

MyPower will cost between $60 to $80, which is in the same price range as other fitness trackers and portable battery packs such as Fitbit and mophie.

Shastry said the team plans to launch a pilot of myPower in the next few months, noting their marketing would appeal to both sustainability and fitness markets.

“When people see how much they’re moving and see what their carbon offset is, you really appeal to everyone that way,” he said.

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