Northwestern student startup AMPY responds to criticism of its charging device product

Kelli Nguyen, Reporter

A battery charger created by Northwestern graduate students billed as a device that produces electricity through physical activity is generating a different sort of buzz.

The AMPY MOVE charger, created by startup AMPY, has some users raising concerns over its effectiveness. The up and down motion of the user during exercise is intended to generate electricity, converting the physical activity into usable energy for batteries. Some users, however, are finding the product is not performing as expected.

The company’s CEO, McCormick graduate student Tejas Shastry, said the device follows through on what it advertises.

“The negative feedback has been pretty localized to a handful of individuals,” Shastry said. “We are always very cognizant of customers’ feedback and providing our customers the highest experience.”

Founded in 2014 by Shastry and graduate students Mike Geier and Alex Smith, the idea for AMPY emerged during an NUVention energy entrepreneurship class.

AMPY gained 2,573 backers and more than $300,000 in its 2014 Kickstarter campaign. In the campaign, AMPY told backers that 10,000 steps, which equates to one hour of cycling or 30 minutes of running, would produce enough electricity to power a smartphone for three hours, a smartwatch for 24 hours or a fitness tracker for 72 hours.

The AMPY MOVE, released in September 2015, has fallen short of some buyers’ expectations, such as Sean Hollister, a senior editor at tech media outlet CNET in San Francisco.

“I walked my 10,000 steps everyday for a whole week and I didn’t get that from a week’s worth, much less a day’s worth of exercise,” Hollister said of the promised amount of electricity.

Shastry said one hour of running or other cardio exercise should generate up to one hour of regular phone use or five hours of standby — a modification from the earlier promise in AMPY’s initial kickstarter campaign. Per the earlier explanation, 30 minutes of running would have given three hours of battery for a smartphone.

“It’s just an issue of everybody uses their phone a little differently and everybody works out a little differently and moves a little differently,” Shastry said.

Hollister purchased two AMPY MOVE chargers and tested them. Although the devices did indeed generate energy, he said, he concluded they did not generate nearly enough to power a phone.

His testing methods included draining the pre-charged device in order to test how much energy could be generated purely through movement.

“Each time we did find it would generate some electricity, but not enough to do anything meaningful with,” Hollister said. “Not as much as the claims they’ve been making during their Kickstarter campaign and definitely not in the use cases that they’ve been marketing to people.”

From a scientific standpoint, the AMPY MOVE device should work, said McCormick Prof. Yip-Wah Chung, co-director of the Institute for Sustainability and Energy.

“The device is based on solid scientific principles, so there’s no scientific reason why it shouldn’t work,” said Chung, who was not involved in the product’s creation.

Shastry maintained the device generates the electricity promised. The AMPY MOVE’s purpose is not for daily power, but emergency power, he said.

“People sometimes have expectations that it’s going to replace charging from the wall, and you’re not going to replace charging your phone from the wall,” Shastry said. “Phones require a lot of energy relative to their size, so if you’re looking for a replacement for plugging in every night, then AMPY isn’t the solution.”

Michael Ciuffo, a Seattle-based electrical engineer who criticized AMPY in an online article, said the problem with AMPY was the lack of concrete information on its capabilities. Its Kickstarter promised hours of use without ever specifying what an hour of use consisted of, Ciuffo said.

“They’ve been careful about what they’ve said so that nothing that they’ve said is strictly lying per se, but I think they definitely allowed people to believe the product would work better than it could without correcting them,” Ciuffo told The Daily.

Although Ciuffo and Hollister do not believe AMPY MOVE is worthwhile, they do not believe the product is a scam either.

“The functionality of the device is obviously what we’re bringing into question, but as far as where they money went, I’m sure all of it went into manufacturing and developing that product,” Ciuffo said.

Despite the negative reviews, Shastry said AMPY has only had to take back, exchange or refund less than 2 percent of more than 6,000 units worldwide.

His company is continuing to develop its technology with the hopes of releasing a second generation of the AMPY MOVE as well as wearable devices, he said.

“We’re learning what we can from those use-cases and always using that to improve the quality of the next generation of the device,” Shastry said.

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